BOONE, N.C. — The Appalachian State University Alumni Association has named Ronald “Steve” Norwood ’80, of Raleigh, a 2019 Outstanding Service Award recipient. Norwood was presented with his award during the Appalachian Alumni Luncheon held Friday on the university’s campus as part of homecoming weekend for his exceptional service to the university.
Norwood holds a Bachelor of Science in marketing and computer science from Appalachian and is the founder and CEO of Consolidated Asset Recovery Systems (CARS) in Raleigh — a leading provider of software and services for repossession management and remarketing.
“Steve is passionate about innovation, which aligns with the Walker College of Business’ vision and values,” said Dr. Heather Hulburt Norris, dean of Appalachian’s Walker College of Business (WCOB). “Steve frequently brings his entrepreneurship energy and expertise to the classroom, sharing a wealth of knowledge and passion with future business leaders at Appalachian.”
As a member of the advisory board for Appalachian’s Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship, Norwood shares his business acumen to support the center’s mission of helping students, faculty, staff and alumni develop and launch new business ventures.
In this video, Appalachian State University alumnus Ronald “Steve” Norwood ’80 discusses his entrepreneurial journey and the foundation for success he gained through his Appalachian education. Watch to learn more about Norwood, one of two recipients of Appalachian’s 2019 Outstanding Service Award.
Ronald ‘Steve’ Norwood: So, I am originally from Raleigh, which is fairly unusual now since Raleigh has a lot of transplants. I grew up in Raleigh, my parents grew up in Raleigh, and my grandparents grew up in Raleigh. So we go back a few generations. So, I ended up going to Appalachian State. I had never spent much time in the mountains, so spending time in the mountains was fabulous. It was a fantastic experience and got to meet a lot of people and end up creating a lot of great friendships there.
So after graduation I ended up working with a company out of Raleigh in word processing systems. Technology was just coming on. Computers were just really becoming mainstream. Having the foundational education I got from Appalachian really gave me the skill set to be able to go out and know that I could learn things that I really didn't have the education or background in. Even though I wasn't an engineer by degree, I ended up learning the technical side of technology from an engineering perspective and ended up building a career around selling very complex engineering and process management systems.
And so, I did that for eleven years. And then in the mid-nineties, I really got to the point where I wanted to start my own business but decided pretty quickly that without the experience nor the capital it's gonna be a very hard thing to do. And so I ended up doing the kind of second best thing which is I started working with early-stage companies. The nice thing about working with startup companies is you really get to do everything, you don't have the infrastructure that provides a whole marketing department or a graphics art department for building slides and other things. You really had to do it yourself. Getting the support from the university and the education that I had, I had that foundation to really go out and build the tools and the things that I needed to be successful in a start up environment. And so we were able to go out and make companies successful.
And then the tech bubble hit and kind of everything changed, and so I was in a position to really start my own business. So in my mid-to-late forties actually got together with one of my colleagues, and we came up with an idea of taking some of the things that we had learned and streamlining the supply chain for aerospace and automotive companies and apply it to a problem in the banking industry, and so we created Consolidated Asset Recovery Systems from an idea. It wasn't my garage it was in my home office but it was myself and one admin, and we built that business from 2005 and now fifteen years later we're a 50 million dollar software company with about a hundred employees. We’ve had many ups and downs but have been able to achieve and create a very successful software and technology business.
So I got back involved with the university once we moved back to Raleigh in 2004 and was very involved with the business department. The business department at that time really had the beginnings of what they were calling "the entrepreneurial program". And so I was really involved in "How does how does that program get created?" and then now I'm a part of the board that drives the strategies for the entrepreneurial program. And what we're looking to do is is find students that have great ideas that really want to create a business and be able to support them with networking, with funding, with ideas, with experience so that they don't go down that path really as naked as I did. When you do it and you don't have the support it's a lonely journey, and there's a lot of opportunities to stumble and not be successful. For me, being able to provide that back to the university and help other students go out and create successful businesses that can employ folks and can generate income that supports a large group of folks and then be able to provide that back to the university...create this ecosystem that continues to build and get stronger and stronger over time. You end up helping more and more people become successful so that was really the goal.
I look at Appalachian as…that it is a university but I look at it more as a family. I'm a part of a very big family that is based in Boone, North Carolina. It's been one of the highlights of my life. Some of my best friends to this day that I talked to on a weekly basis are folks that I met while I was at the university, and that strong family that's in the mountains is very important to me and a very key part of my life and a key part of my success.
I typically don't like recognition very much, and I'm very humbled by the whole experience that I would receive this award. I'm more about giving back to the university and being recognized for that, I think, is quite an honor. I'm very honored that the university has recognized me for the contributions that I've made. It makes me very proud and, again, it makes me very glad to be a part of this family.
In 2016, he provided seed funding for the WCOB’s Student Venture Fund — a program that enables current students to launch new businesses while promoting local and regional economic development. The fund is the first of its kind at Appalachian and one of only a few in the University of North Carolina System, according to Norris.
Norwood also has made possible the inaugural WCOB Alumni Startup Jam, an event that each year will allow Appalachian alumni to pitch business ideas to those who might provide the resources required to bring the ideas to fruition.
After graduating from Appalachian, Norwood spent 11 years building a career around selling complex engineering and process management systems, during which time he said he gained a more in-depth understanding of how technology is developed. He then began working with start-up companies in the mid-90s, helping these companies grow.
Around 2005, Norwood found himself in the position to form his own business, and he worked with colleagues to develop an idea that eventually became CARS.
Nearly 15 years later, the business, which started out of his home office, employees about 100 people and was recently included in Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 most successful companies in America.
Of his Appalachian Experience, Norwood said, “It’s been one of the highlights of my life.”
“I look at Appalachian as a family,” he said. “That strong family that’s in the mountains is very important to me — a key part of my life and a key part of my success.”
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The Appalachian State University Alumni Association consists of more than 130,000 living Appalachian alumni. Membership is free and open to all graduates of Appalachian. The association’s mission is to help alumni remember their Appalachian Experience and stay connected with current Mountaineers, and to work to ensure that those experiences are available for future Appalachian alumni by raising support for the Alumni Memorial Scholarship and The Appalachian Fund.
About the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management
At Appalachian State University, students in the Walker College of Business’ Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management learn to drive industry initiatives that develop customer satisfaction and retention, contribute to company profits and build connections with suppliers, distributors and the community. Students majoring in marketing may select a concentration in general marketing, digital marketing or sales. Students majoring in supply chain management (SCM) learn about logistics, operations, strategic sourcing, process improvement strategies and supply chain technologies, enabling them to compete in the global marketplace and help future employers reduce costs, improve profits and expand their markets. Learn more at https://marketing.appstate.edu.
About the Walker College of Business
The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and 175 graduate students in three master's programs, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business. Learn more at https://business.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.