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Stars of HGTV's "Fixer Upper" Charm Audience at ODU

By Brendan O'Hallarn and Noell Saunders

Jeff Tanner, dean of the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University, took a big chance on a student when he was at Baylor University.

A student named Chip Gaines, with a track record of mediocre academic performance, sought Tanner's approval of his madcap plan to finish his degree by taking 24 hours of classwork in one semester. He was juggling several entrepreneurial ventures and wanted to finish as quickly as he could to launch his business career full-time.

"I told Chip there was nothing in his academic record to suggest he would be successful at this. But I took a risk. I felt he was one of those people who, when he gave you his word, he'd come through," Tanner said.

Did he ever.

Today, Chip Gaines is one-half of the dynamic duo (along with wife Joanna) that produces HGTV's hit program "Fixer Upper." On Monday, Nov. 28, one day before the premiere of Season 4 of "Fixer Upper," Chip and Joanna Gaines charmed a large crowd of fans at ODU's Ted Constant Convocation Center. The visit was the signature event of the celebration of entrepreneurship at Old Dominion University during the month of November.

Chip Gaines said he wanted to appear at Old Dominion because of the warm feelings he still has for Tanner nearly 20 years after he took a chance on Gaines. "Dr. Tanner is a dear friend of mine. He was very encouraging for a struggling Baylor student dying for somebody to believe in him," he said.

Chip and Joanna Gaines delivered the Landmark Executive-in-Residence lecture at the University, although you could hardly call the hour-long presentation a "lecture." Instead, it was lively, playful banter between husband and wife, who juggle four children with several businesses and life as reality TV stars.

Joanna related the story of how the couple met, and how she quickly came to learn his quirks - that he frequently stretched himself thin running several businesses and had no bank account even as an entrepreneur.

"The first words I said to myself when we started dating was, 'Buckle up, this is going to be quite a ride,'" she said.

In "Fixer Upper," the couple turns dilapidated but high-potential houses into showplaces that help revitalize neighborhoods throughout central Texas. The program is one of the most popular on HGTV and has attracted an avid following nationwide.

Gaines has been a business owner since his days at Baylor. While still a student, Gaines ran a wash-and-fold laundry service and a lawn business, and he sold fireworks.

He pursued his entrepreneurial passion after graduating from Baylor, joined by Joanna. Together, they own and operate Magnolia Homes, a remodeling and design business in Waco, Texas.

Magnolia also includes a real estate business, vacation rentals and a retail shop, and a restaurant will soon open in Texas. Gaines will appear on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine in December, and a magazine feature will spotlight Magnolia.

Fans were excited to see Chip and Joanna, some for the first time in person. Their dedication to rebuilding homes and creating businesses inspired many in the audience.

"I enjoy seeing how they brought it back to life. Downtown Waco is nothing like it was 10 years ago," said fan Michael Arthur Tynan.

Some attendees gushed about Chip and Joanna's humorous personalities and love of family.

"I love their morals and values and how family-oriented they are. They've given me so many ideas for my own home," said Robin Healey.

"I think a lot of students can learn from Chip and Joanna. It takes all the business elements the business school offers," said Jonathan Guion, a board member for Old Dominion's E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate.

ODU's celebration of National Entrepreneurship Month also included the second annual Student Entrepreneurial Expo at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center and the induction of the third class of the Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.

The Strome College of Business Landmark Executive-in-Residence speaker series is designed to enrich students' entrepreneurial spirit, their awareness of the success that can be built on their academic experience and their understanding of the importance of leading with integrity.

Established in 2001, the Landmark Executive-in-Residence program is funded by an endowment from a group of former Landmark Communications executives in honor of Frank Batten Sr., former chairman of the executive committee of the Landmark board and the first rector of the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors.

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