Where Are They Now? - Q&A's With Notable Jenks Grads
Renzi Stone - Basketball Star, Business Leader, and OU Regent
From being part of the Jenks squad that defeated Kobe Bryant’s high school team to starring for the Sooners in the NCAA tournament, Renzi Stone certainly made his mark on the basketball court. Today, the JHS grad (’96) is the Chairman and CEO of Saxum, a marketing and public relations agency with offices in Oklahoma and Texas. A leader in the business community, Stone has been featured and quoted in the New York Times and on CNBC. He is a speaker and contributor to several national publications, and in 2015, Stone was appointed to a seven-year term on the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.
What are your fondest memories of attending Jenks High School?
Stone: I was a K-12 Jenks lifer. I played multiple sports growing up in Jenks. I loved how competitive Jenks was, both athletically and academically. I felt very prepared to enter college when I graduated from Jenks with 12 hours of AP credits and a host of teachers who believed in my potential and weren’t afraid to encourage me.
How did the coaches and teachers at Jenks High School prepare you to be a student-athlete at the collegiate level?
Stone: I played my first year of varsity basketball for Joe Holladay and then played three years for Scott Padek. I swam for John Turner. All three of the coaches were very different. Joe left after my freshman year for Kansas where he was an assistant coach for Roy Williams. John was a great HS coach who related well to the kids he coached. He was also flexible with me as I played both basketball and tried to swim.
Although Scott and I were never very close personally, I felt like he prepared our team to win games by how he coached us in practice. Practice is where the foundation is laid for success – in basketball and life. Adversity creates stress which is best worked out behind the scenes. Scott was good at creating stress in practice. I felt very prepared to excel in college because of my HS experiences in practice.
Which people at Jenks had the biggest impact/influence on you?
Stone: There was a football coach named Steve Elliot who ran a before-school bible study for several athletes who wanted to grow in their faith. I was always very grateful for Coach Elliot. Also, I had some great teachers. I still remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Fonder. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Fisher. My sixth grade English teacher was Mrs. Warner. I loved my 8th grade history teacher, Mrs. Clanton. I think about her big quote on the wall, “If we fail to learn history, we are destined to repeat it.”
What are some of your proudest moments and best memories of your years on the basketball court? (high school and college)
Stone: It was a real achievement making the varsity team as a freshman. That was a highlight. My sophomore year, we won the Tournament of Champions at the buzzer (I hit the shot) against Booker T. That was the only game winner I ever hit at the buzzer. We lost by one to Memorial in the State Championship game that year. That was a huge bummer. I still think about that game. I was hurt for most of my junior year and senior year – both are regrets. My senior year, our team played in the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina. In the course of the tournament, we beat Kobe Bryant’s team.
My senior year we lost in an upset in the first round to a terrible Sapulpa team. It was awful! We were number two in the state.
As for college, I had a great career at OU. I loved my coach, Kelvin Sampson. In fact, we are still close friends and talk regularly. We went to four straight NCAA tournaments including a Sweet 16. We had some great games and I played a major role on each team. I learned a ton about character, adversity and teamwork. All serve me well today.
You come from a long line of athletes…how competitive is your family?
Stone: Very competitive. My brother Grant (JHS ’97) played basketball at Long Beach State. My sister Ginny (JHS ’00) was on the track team at Duke. My father Larry played football at Tulane. My mother Vicki was a border-line Olympic swimmer and also went to Duke. My grandmother played basketball at LA Tech in the 30’s. There are more relatives, but I’ll leave it at that. Sports was an important part of my upbringing.
There was not a meal served in our home where there wasn’t a contest to see who could eat the most. I distinctly remember challenging my dad to a sprinting contest (100 meter dash) at the Jenks track when I was 14. He beat me. It was very embarrassing!
Why did you want to serve on the OU Board of Regents and how would you describe your role?
Stone: Serving my alma mater as a regent is a dream come true. Yes, there are great perks to being a Regent. The football tickets are pretty good! But the most important role is I’m one of seven governing board members who have the opportunity to make a difference in our university community and in the state through decisions we make. The University of Oklahoma plays an integral role in the economic and societal health of our state. OU is a $2.5 billion enterprise when you add in the health science center in Oklahoma City. It is like running a fortune 500 company with 18-22 year olds who are our customers. With that demographic, something is always bound to go wrong, so we deal with crisis management on a regular basis. At the same time, you would be amazed at the talent that comes through our many colleges. This year’s freshman class has the highest enrollment ever, the highest ACT scores ever (27 average), the highest applicant pool ever (15,000) and the most National Merit Scholars of any public or private university in the country. Specifically, our Regent role is to hire and oversee the president and govern the university’s finances. It is a complex organization and I have enjoyed every minute of my involvement and consider it a high privilege to serve a seven-year term.
How did you become Chairman and CEO at Saxum?
Stone: As I shared above, I started Saxum when I was 25. I had been working at another company doing public relations and public affairs work sprinkled in with some marketing. I wasn’t thrilled about my career progress and was thinking about going to law or business school. I sat down one day and wrote on a piece of paper everything that I was good at. The left column was for areas I thought I could provide value. The right column was for areas to stay away from. I asked myself if someone would pay me to do the things on the left and whether I was savvy enough to find someone else to do the areas on the right. Now thirteen years later, I have an agency that employs nearly 50 people in Oklahoma and Texas. Being CEO sounds great for a 25 year old (and 38 year old for that matter), but titles are earned and it has taken many years for me to earn the respect of clients and team members alike. I love what I do.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your job?
Stone: Marketing is changing. You don’t need me to point that out, it’s obvious. We are all tethered to our portable devices (phones, tablets, laptops) and we are more wary than ever about people pushing their product or message on us. We tune out advertising and discount the advice from paid spokespeople. We hate politicians who are selling ideas. The best advice on purchase or adoption comes from friends. So our challenge is to influence people at micro levels. Times are changing and we have to be adaptable and change too.
Change is also the most rewarding part of our business. Since marketing and communication is being disrupted, there are so many opportunities to steal market share from competitors (Think Google from newspapers) and even create new markets (Think Facebook and SnapChat). I love the challenge of a changing environment. Secondly, I really enjoy the people and clients that I work with. Nothing is more satisfying than to see someone grow in their career and know you had a part in their development. Also, it is very satisfying to see your ideas at work for clients and see them accomplish the objectives that they set.
How do the lessons learned on the basketball court help you in your business?
Stone: Three key lessons:
- Always touch the line. In college, if you missed the line on a sprint by one inch, the entire sprint had to be started over. “But it’s just an inch,” I would think. No, that inch represents a commitment to details and a focus on excellence. That one inch is often the difference between winning and losing.
- Learn how to get along. I played with two guys from Mexico, a teammate from the Ukraine and a brother from Brooklyn. I jokingly say, “…and I didn’t speak any of their native languages.” Basketball brought together black, white, Hispanic, short, tall, gay, and straight people from all walks of life. It was a very important lesson learned early on; know how to get along with all teammates.
- Be honest. Whether it was Scott Padek or Kelvin Sampson, both were good at pointing out strengths and weaknesses. It was important in basketball and life to be honest with myself about my own shortcomings. Either work to minimize them or get rid of them altogether. So many people in the world are not self-aware of their personal weaknesses, or even can tell you their strengths. It is incredibly frustrating in life to work with incompetence. I pride myself in knowing who I am and knowing what value I bring and staying away from areas I am not good at.
What does the future hold for you, personally and professionally?
Stone: No idea! That’s the great part about the future. I am an avid goal-setter, so I definitely have things I’m working towards. I also like to remain open-minded about opportunities that come my way. Jenks definitely prepared me for my future and I thank any of my former teachers who are reading this. The best advice I can give them is to keep on encouraging kids to go for it.