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Youngstown State MBA Helps Entrepreneur Aaron Tervo Expand Client Base and Boost Revenue

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Aaron Tervo knew a lot more about buildings than your average kid. “To say that construction’s in my blood is an understatement,” he laughed, given the fact hisYoungstown State MBA graduate Aaron Tervo smiling with arms crossed in a professional photo father and grandfather were both general contractors. Tervo’s dad also specialized in masonry, running his own business.

After high school, Tervo studied at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 2001. He then went to work for his father, learning the masonry business and gaining experience in the trade. Their time as colleagues lasted just a few years, however. When he was 27, his dad died of cancer. Tervo found himself at a crossroads. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life after that,” he said.

Though he considered working as a civil engineer out of state, instead he made a bold choice. “I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit,” he recalled thinking. “I said, ‘I’ll just try on my own.'” He went on to found Tervo Masonry in 2006, a company that has since served hundreds of commercial, industrial and institutional construction clients.

In June 2021, Tervo made another bold move, this time to enhance his leadership skills. He enrolled in the online General Master of Business Administration program at Youngstown State University and graduated with his MBA in December 2022.

“It has changed the way I operate and made me more successful and efficient,” he said. “It’s paid for itself probably five times [over] already.”

Building a Business, Brick by Brick

Like many small business owners, Tervo started his company on a shoestring budget. “I didn’t really have any money at the time. I couldn’t even afford a lawyer,” he remembered.  Although he knew the masonry trade, he was less experienced in management. “I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right things, making the right decisions,” he said.

Tervo eventually built a thriving business through determination and hard work, with the knowledge passed down from his family. Maintaining that success has always been a challenge, however. “It’s ten times harder than working for somebody,” he said. “It’s not a nine-to-five job when you’re self-employed. It’s a 16-hour a day job minimum. And you don’t get weekends off.”

Tervo felt an MBA could strengthen his business skill set and help him make good choices as an entrepreneur that would continue growing his company. “I wanted the financial tools that would allow me to evaluate investment opportunities,” he said, “for my business or some of the large-scale pieces of equipment that I purchased.”

How he would pursue an MBA given his schedule and family commitments was hard to imagine at first. “It was a difficult time for me to go back to school because I was just so busy,” he remembered. He had three active children who all played sports in addition to a demanding job. “But I needed it very badly too,” he said. Learning online made an MBA possible.

Meeting the Market

Once Tervo enrolled at Youngstown State, he found his online MBA coursework in financial management and leadership stimulating, and just what he was looking for. Some classes also surprised him, offering knowledge and skills he didn’t realize he needed.

Planning and Fiscal Management in Health and Human Services gave Tervo insight he could apply directly to his work with government and academic clients. He also created a new strategic plan for a local economic development board as his final project, benefitting an organization where he volunteered. “I’m a for-profit guy. I’m a capitalist. I never thought I’d be using anything I would learn in a nonprofit-type class,” he said. “There are a lot of practical applications for the material.”

The most valuable revelation Tervo experienced, however, came during his MBA marketing classes.

“I just didn’t think that I needed to do any type of marketing as a private construction firm,” he shared. “It’s typically bid-out work.” Once he learned that advertising his company’s services could boost the firm’s value for existing clients and build awareness among potential customers, that changed.

“Since we started to advertise, we’ve been increasing our growth,” he said proudly. Larger companies have also discovered Tervo Masonry due to its higher profile in the region and invited him to bid for jobs. “I would not have had that opportunity had I not put our name out there,” he added, crediting the positive results to his new MBA knowledge.

Freedom to Learn, Commitment to Serve

Being independent and self-sufficient remains important to Tervo, as an entrepreneur and as a person. While he liked interacting with his Youngstown State MBA professors and classmates, he most appreciated the fact that the program allowed him to be himself.

“I’m truly an introvert, and so for me, I like this program better than the classroom,” he confided. “Give me the information, let me learn it, do it on my own and I’m good with that.” Any support he required from YSU professors and staff was always within reach, however. “If you’re struggling with something, they will be there for you,” he said.

For Tervo, the freedom to study his way, on his time, made the process enjoyable. “It’s a fun way of learning,” he said. “It’s all core concept information that you can use for practical purposes.” He encourages other business owners (and introverts) to consider earning an MBA online, for the convenience and benefits it can provide.

Reflecting on his own journey to the degree, Tervo now thinks about his 40 year-round employees and 20 additional each summer who rely on him. “That’s a lot of families,” he said. “I want to do right by them too and run the company properly.”

He recommends seizing the day instead of waiting for the right moment to go back to school. As a proud online MBA graduate, he’s also bullish on YSU. “It’s a great program.”

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s online General Master of Business Administration  program.

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