By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Long before he completed an MBA degree from Grand Canyon University, Mario B. Avery was putting into practice the tools he gathered in his management courses as an online student in the Colangelo College of Business.
That knowledge — of managerial effectiveness, setting and achieving objectives and assessing a staff’s efficiency and a project’s probability of success — enabled Avery to help put his city’s fall festival on the map.
“My courses played a critical role in growing our fall festival from 400 people in attendance in 2009 to more than 25,000 in 2017,” said Avery, who during those same years went from serving his final year on the Fairburn (Ga.) City Council to being in his final year as its mayor. “It would have been virtually impossible for the city’s staff and myself to successfully manage an event this size without using some of the valuable tools I acquired from GCU.”
The 52-year-old Atlanta native, who became Fairburn’s first African-American mayor in its 156-year history, received his MBA with an emphasis in project management during commencement Saturday in GCU Arena. His wife, Diana, and several family members were on hand to cheer him.
High praise for the Colangelo college
Avery, a compliance manager for Fulton County, heard about GCU from a friend, an Atlanta Fire Department captain who was pursuing his MBA there and highly recommended its instructors and courses. Avery checked out the curriculum and, although he hadn’t taken any online courses before, he viewed it as a “marriage made in heaven.”
“It was a blessing because I was on the city council and had a full-time job, and it was impossible for me to be in a classroom setting then,” he said. “I learned pretty quickly how critical time management was, and I established several hours after work each day to do schoolwork and also on weekends.”
Avery found his courses in managerial accounting and finance, fundamentals of project management and agile project management to be the most enjoyable. He adapted quickly to working sight unseen with other students in his classes and assuming a team leader role.
Avery had to take a break in his degree program in 2009 because of responsibilities at work and on the council and to assist Diana with acquiring a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Series 7 license and ultimately a certified financial planner license, which led to the opening of her financial services company. There, he is Chief Operating Officer and Business Development Manager.
But Avery jumped right back into school in February 2017 and completed his degree earlier this month.
Moving his city forward
“I only wish I’d finished my degree earlier in my term as mayor because several of my courses were so beneficial in preparations and projections and in establishing probabilities for success,” Avery said. “Looking back on the fall festival, one of the key factors was helping us to properly project our mission, what we were trying to achieve and in assessing those deliverables.”
GCU’s Gantt Chart & Smart Sheet Program enabled the Fairburn staff to organize and manage a parade that drew 4,000 participants, included more than 40 mayors and state officials, seven college and high school bands and cheer squads, and fire and police vehicles from 30 agencies, and properly secured the parade route for legendary Georgia Rep. John Lewis.
Other benchmarks of his mayoral tenure in Fairburn, a city of nearly 14,000 people 20 miles southwest of Atlanta, include a dramatic reduction in its crime rate, recruiting a new executive team for the city, and attracting Google, Smuckers, Duracell and other major corporations, resulting in the creation of more than 5,000 jobs.
Closest to his heart is a $15 million renovation of the city’s Duncan Park, now considered a community jewel, starting a youth academy that introduces elementary and middle school students to high-profile private and public leaders, and training high school students for summer jobs in city government.
“The value of a job can literally be the difference between life and death, and I want these kids to see that they can be — all that they can be,” Avery said.
Avery chose not to run for re-election because of direction he received from God that another life chapter awaits, using his spiritual gift of teaching. He has served his church in the Adult Education Ministry and currently serves in the Prayer Ministry. Avery wants to consult, teach and train corporate and government leaders about goal-setting, creating cohesive work environments and management.
That seems like a move of which Jerry Colangelo would approve.