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A GATHERING PLACE FOR STORYTELLING ABOUT DEPAUW UNIVERSITY
is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.
DePauw nurtured Kristie Carter’s early inklings of entrepreneurship
Kristie Carter can’t figure out where her kindergarten journal might be. Not that that’s so surprising for a 32-year-old member of the Class of 2009.
But she knows she kept it; over all these years, she hasn’t wanted to part with the eerily prophetic drawing that an entrepreneurial prodigy had sketched on its back.
“I’ve got a little stick figure and the building says ‘Carter Inc.’ and there’s a stick figure in this building,” she says, gesturing, “that says ‘Kristie Inc.’ So I’m looking out of this building at this building, because I own the whole street.
“So I knew very young that I wanted to own my own business. I didn’t have a clue what, right? I didn’t know what opportunities were going to come about.”
This was before the elementary school days when she arose at midnight or 1 a.m. so she could accompany her grandmother – and share in the profits – from the elder woman’s commercial newspaper-delivery route. Before she had fallen into an accidental but highly lucrative candy-selling business at her middle school, only to be expelled for operating it. Before she, as a high school senior, partnered with her brother to buy a used Ford Expedition limousine that they rented out for proms and parties.
And before that fledgling business grew to the 34-vehicle fleet deployed by Carter’s Aadvanced Limousines, a company based on the southeast side of Indianapolis, just a few miles from the epicenter of Carter’s childhood. (She inherited the intentionally misspelled relic of a moniker from an uncle’s previous business, so named for advantage in the Yellow Pages.)
Her motivation, she says, was to avoid living paycheck to paycheck, being “stuck at that hourly wage forever.” That, or something worse.
“We grew up in an apartment complex, a low-income one,” Carter says, with neither sentimentality nor self-pity. “So the neighborhood, the streets, raised me. My mom was a single parent. She was struggling to put food on the table and was running around left and right … All my friends turned out either pregnant or on drugs or locked up, so I have no idea how I successfully made it out. Because I’m pretty much one of the only ones who did something in life.”
A seventh-grade Carter had two packets of candy, and a friend wondered if she had more. “I said, no. She said, ‘I’ll give you $5.’ I thought, $5 for two Airheads? Phew. I’ll bring four tomorrow. And it just started happening. I brought more and more and more and more.”
Her mother, then working at Sam’s Club, used her employee discount to buy big bags of candy for Carter to sell. But the school’s administrators warned her to knock it off. And warned her. And warned her.
“They told me about six times to quit. I didn’t,” she says. Finally, “it got real serious. There was a police officer involved. They put me in handcuffs and put me in a room with no windows, no phone, no nothing.” The administrators called her mother and threatened Kristie with juvenile hall. “You all have got to figure it out,” Carter recalls her mother, who wasn’t supposed to use the phone at work, nervously saying. So Kristie, a preteen itching to get out of there, signed a document, unknowingly acknowledging 13 violations of school policy and agreeing to a 10-day suspension, pending expulsion.
With the help of a lawyer, intervention by a sympathetic administrator and considerable haggling, the Carters ultimately accepted Kristie’s expulsion for the third quarter of seventh grade, with the proviso that she – an A student – be allowed to start eighth grade with her class. She did so, and her old customers immediately began clamoring for candy.
“By the time they actually expelled me, I was making about $800 to $1,000 a week profit. I mean, you can’t just walk away from your job,” she says. “… And so I sold candy. I was much more discreet about it. I didn’t get caught.”
Fast forward to Warren Central High School. She and her brother Ken, often with the help of their uncles or friends, “would save up our money and we would randomly rent a limo.” After being stranded three times by unscrupulous drivers, the siblings joked about buying their own limousine.
Not long afterward, her brother’s roommate was perusing an auto trader magazine and spotted a used limousine for sale. One thing led to another, and she and Ken bought the vehicle and began renting it out.
Meanwhile, Kristie’s high school counselor reminded her that she had not completed the “plans after high school” form. “I’m like, eh, I don’t plan on going to college; there’s no reason to give you a blank form so I didn’t waste your time,” Carter says.
Counselor Craig Clark was having none of that; Kristie had the third-highest grade point average in her graduating class of 778. “She was bright and she was hard-working and she was competitive in school,” he recalls. “I had 400 kids as my caseload, but there are a few that you always have a certain bond or connection with, and she was one of them … If I would tell her to do something, she would always come through for me, no matter what the situation was. As a counselor, that’s all you could ask of a student.”
She doesn’t overanalyze, which many people do. She has an idea; she goes out and does it. She makes it happen. That’s Kristie Carter. And that’s something I don’t think you can teach people. I think there are people who are risk-averse and there are people who are risk-takers. And she’s a risk-taker.– Gary Lemon
Clark explained to her the value of college and the financial aid that would make it possible for even a student from an impoverished family to attend. He also tapped her English teacher, Rich Dayment, a 1977 DePauw graduate, and together they persuaded her to visit four schools, including DePauw.
The first three were a bust, and the visit to DePauw started out badly. “I quickly learned there’s no entrepreneurship (program) at DePauw,” she says. “So I called Craig Clark and said, ‘What are we doing again? You’ve got me at this college … I want to be self-employed and this school doesn’t offer that. He’s like, ‘Well, there’s this Management Fellows Program. I set you up an interview.”
Carter grudgingly met with then-director Gary Lemon, a professor of economics and management. She was sold on the program.
“I don’t know anybody who started with so little who has made so much of their own life,” Lemon says. “She doesn’t overanalyze, which many people do. She has an idea; she goes out and does it. She makes it happen. That’s Kristie Carter. And that’s something I don’t think you can teach people. I think there are people who are risk-averse and there are people who are risk-takers. And she’s a risk-taker.”
Still, Carter struggled at DePauw. She suffered from culture shock, she says. What’s more, her mind was elsewhere; she and her brother had purchased two more limos over the summer before she entered DePauw, and she sometimes left class to take business-related calls – much to the consternation of at least one professor, she recalls. Her GPA plummeted below the cutoff for participation in management fellows, and she was ejected from the very program that had sold her on DePauw. College, she decided, wasn’t for her, and she asked Lemon to sign withdrawal papers. He refused and urged her to stick it out for another semester.
“I don’t want to stick it out anymore,” she recalls saying. “And he’s like, ‘No, Kristie; you’ve got to. You’ve got to.’ And I was like, then I want to be a part of your program.” Lemon told her that she could participate in management fellows programming but the designation wouldn’t be on her diploma. “I’m not ever going to hand my resume to anybody; that’s not my goal,” she says. “I wasn’t in it so I could graduate with a title … so that was that.”
Says Lemon: “She would always participate; she was always networking. She always wrote thank-you notes to people … The advantage to Kristie of DePauw University was networking. It wasn’t particularly the classes. It was the people she met, the opportunities she took advantage of. She took advantage more than any other student I can think of – all the thousands in 40 years.”
One of the opportunities was to intern for six months at BrandEra, the Texas marketing firm founded by Beth Hentze Owens ’89, who Lemon says was a role model for Carter. “In my opinion,” he says, “entrepreneurs are born, not made. Both of them are.”
Owens says of Carter: “She’s just a rock star.”
Back then, Carter says, “I didn’t quite understand the value it would bring, but I think Beth’s internship was phenomenal to me because it was a woman-owned, very small business. So not only did I get an internship – yes, technically they’re a marketing firm – but I got the true experience of what is it like to be self-employed.”
So I knew very young that I wanted to own my own business. I didn’t have a clue what, right? I didn’t know what opportunities were going to come about.– Kristie Carter
Her participation in the Bonner Scholars Program, a scholarship program for students with high financial need through which she volunteered at Asbury Towers Retirement Community and a dog shelter and did Spanish tutoring, “helped with my culture shock,” she says. And the personal relationships she developed, especially with Lemon and his wife Susan and with Sandy Smith, manager of programming and outreach at the McDermond Center for Management and Entrepreneurship and “an awesome support system,” kept her in school.
Despite her early skepticism about a college education, DePauw “actually kicked me into gear” and exposed her “to opportunities that I had no idea existed, put me in touch with people that I had no idea were even attainable … The value that the alums bring to the table: I don’t know that every single student on campus sees that value or understands that network or understands that potential or even appreciates the events, the opportunities that are presented in front of their face. And they don’t take advantage of it. It’s insane.”
These days, she is president of a growing company that employs more than 40 people as chauffeurs, office staffers and mechanics. She occasionally drives a limo for repeat clients who ask for her, and she complies, wearing a black suit and a petite, licensed 380 revolver in an ankle holster. (“When you’re a female and you’re out driving late at night, you never know what’s going to happen,” she says.) She also dabbles in side businesses; in the summer after high school, her vending company installed snack machines in the teachers’ break room at the very school that expelled her.
She doesn’t know what the future will bring. “As an entrepreneur, you can’t really have a plan,” she says. “You just kind of have to wing it and be open to opportunities when they come about, because you never know what’s going to come your way. You’ve just got to always be looking.”
Kristie Carter's Pathway
Sketches her entrepreneurial dreams on the back of her kindergarten journal.
Serves a 45-day expulsion from seventh grade for selling candy to classmates.
Spring and summer 2005
Buys her first limousine in March; rents it to prom-goers in April. Graduates from high school in May. Buys two more limousines and installs snack machines in her old middle school in the summer.
Enters DePauw as a management fellow.
Spring and summer 2008
Interns with BrandEra in Arlington, Texas. Spends fall semester studying in Spain.
Graduates from DePauw with a major in economics, a minor in Spanish and a seven-vehicle limo fleet.
Adds her 34th vehicle to Aadvanced Limousines’ fleet and employs more than 40 people.
is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.