Professor Lary Cowart in the classroomDr. Lary Cowart touched the lives of thousands of students before retiring in May 2020. During his 30-year tenure as a business professor, he instilled in his students a love of real estate finance and aptitude to succeed.

 

Chad T. Hagwood, Senior Managing Director for Hunt Real Estate Capital, graduated from the Collat School of Business in 1994 and credits Cowart with influencing his career. Cowart served as a role model to Hagwood as a student and offered advice and guidance through the years. The two have remained close friends, so much so that Hagwood named a classroom  in the Collat School of Business building in honor of Cowart.

The two recently connected on Zoom to catch up and discuss Cowart’s legacy and plans for retirement. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Listen to some of the interview...

 

Chad HagwoodChad Hagwood:  For those who don’t know you, give us a little background and history —where you grew up, where you lived . . .

Lary Cowart: Okay. I am an army brat. Lived in France when I was really young then came back to the U.S., lived in Colorado, then went back to Huntsville where I’m originally from. Then we went to the Panama Canal Zone. I got to travel the world a little bit and see a lot of different things as a kid. But if you say where did I grow up, I’d say Huntsville, Alabama.

CH:  That’s a lot of travel to make your way to Alabama. Can you remember when you first started thinking about becoming a professor and what your thought process was?

LC:  I thought that I wanted to be a coach, which is a teaching position in and of itself. I went that direction for a while, then switched over to business. I was influenced by some great business professors, so 10 years after I got out of college, I decided that they did the right thing, and I’m going to do the right thing, too. I decided to do what was necessary to become a college professor, which was to get a Ph.D.

CH:  Where did you get your Ph.D. from?

LC:  University of Georgia. I got it in real estate with a concentration in corporate finance. At UAB, I taught real estate primarily and a lot of corporate finance as well.

CH:  You got your Ph.D. You got out. What did you do then?

LC:  My first teaching job out of UGA was at the University of Southern Mississippi. That was kind of a fluke because they had a professor go on a sabbatical late in the year, and I hadn’t finished my dissertation. Southern Miss called UGA and asked if they had anyone who could teach for a year. I went on a one-year contract. I taught for two years.

CH:  I imagine that was an invaluable learning experience.

LC:  Oh yes, it was. You know, it’s like any other job. When you first come out, you’re not sure you know anything.

CH:  You spent some time at Sam Houston State University as well, right?

I went there for one year, and then I came to UAB in 1991. I came in a class that had people like Frank Messina, Julio Rivera and Sanjay Singh. That was my cohort when I came in 1991.

CH:  What was the first course you taught at UAB?

LC:  The first course I got to teach at UAB that first semester was Real Estate Principles, and I also taught Real Estate Investments.

CH:  So tell us a funny story from your time in the classroom at UAB, something that makes you or your peers at UAB laugh?

LC:  I had a student who wanted to tape me. She wanted to tape the lectures. And so she brought a boombox. I believe you were in one of the classes she was in. So, she set it on her desk, and she had one tape. She would tape a one-hour lecture in two-hour classes, and then she would turn [the tape] over and tape over the first hour. She always only ended up with one hour’s worth of lecture. But she had that big boombox. She couldn’t write on her desk because the boombox was as big as the top of the table for her.

CH:  I remember it distinctly. It was old school. The one-hour tape. Thirty minutes each side. You got the last hour of the lesson.

LC:  That was a funny one.

CH:  So how did you see teaching and instruction change over the years during your tenure at UAB and other schools?

LC:  I think the change in technology has been probably the biggest driving force that I’ve seen that’s changed things in university learning and teaching. It’s really accelerated in the last four years with online classes. But even prior to the online classes, it was building up to where we are today with classes filmed and then put online, so that students could come back later and watch the same lecture they already heard – or maybe the one they missed.

The tools for professors are so much better. We laugh about PowerPoint, but it’s a whole lot better than those little sheets that we used to put up there on the projector. But now you can do so many things.

CH:  You left UAB for a little while. You came back in what year?

LC:  2007.

CH:  What brought you back to UAB?

LC:  Well, I’ve always loved UAB. In 2007, an opening came up and there was a demand for real estate. Lance Nell called and asked me if I wanted to come back for a year and teach real estate because they had no one teaching it. There was great demand for the course. So, in 2007, I returned to UAB for a one-year visiting position, and I left last month.

CH:  Your classes were always so well organized, so well thought-out, such an intersection of practical knowledge and academic knowledge. They always stood out. What were the classes that you really enjoyed teaching?

LC:  My favorite classes to teach were FN 475: Real Estate Investments and MBA 625: Real Estate Investment Decisions. The topic is valuation of real estate. It’s for the entrepreneur, and I teach it by way of case study. I lecture for about half of the course, and then we have team presentations of Harvard cases from real estate. Those are the most fun to teach.

Professor Cowart with students in the Chad Thomas Hagwood Finance LabCH:  That was a very powerful teaching method, in my opinion. The importance of pitching a deal every day, no matter what it is, is such a critical art. You did a remarkable job helping young people become much better as they left the school than many other students have.

So we talked about funny moments, what are some of your favorite memories over your career?

LC:  I have lots of wonderful memories of adjourning class and then the class going on to discuss real estate and other things that came into mind late into the evening after those night classes were over.                                                                                                            

Also I’d say my favorite memories include the relationships with the professors at UAB. UAB is just full of great individuals in the business school. I think I said earlier that when I came in 1991, my hiring cohort included Frank Messina. What an asset he has been. And Julio Rivera. And Sanjay Singh. When you look at that little class of brand-new professors that came to UAB in 1991, you know that was just a great cohort to learn from and work with.

CH:  You’ve always talked about the power of goals. What are some of your goals—I know you got a lot of them—that you want to accomplish as you enter into a new and great chapter of your life?

LC:  Well, you know, retirement thus far hasn’t been exactly what I thought it was going to be because I can’t go anywhere. Traveling was one of the things that Cyndy [Lary’s wife] wants to do and something I want to do with her. We had a big trip to France planned, and I was going to go back to the little town where I lived as an Army brat – Metz, France. We planned to leave as soon as I retired. My contract ended on May 15. May 16, I was headed to France. But instead, I was quarantined.

But there are so many great parts of the United States to see. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot more than maybe Cyndy has, so I want to travel. I love going to the National Parks out west. I spent a good bit of time in New England, and I want her to see some of the things that are up there. I do want to go back to France because I still remember my address when I lived there. I want know if it looks anything like what I think it looks like.

I do not plan on being inactive. I plan to continue to do some appraisal work, and I might come back and teach as an adjunct in the spring if they give me the opportunity to teach Real Estate Investments again.

Professor Lary Cowart at the UAB Finance Awards Banquet 2013CH:  Well, you have had a tremendous impact on a lot of people, and you’re certainly one of the more well-known professors at UAB’s business school, no doubt about it. You’re well-admired not only by your peers, but also by a legion of fans and former students. Tell us what you think your legacy is for UAB and the school, community and your students.

LC:  If I have any legacy, it’s about the people I was around. It’s the people I got to learn from, that I got to work with and the students that I’ve had. I really appreciate it when I hear back from a student that I haven’t seen or heard from in 10 years or something. Just last week, I had one. I had him in classes in 2008 or 2009, and he’s now a professor. He’s an engineer by trade, so he’s not a real estate professor or anything, but he did tell me that I was a little bit of an influence in him choosing that career. It was nice of him to just ring me up and say, “Hope you’re doing okay in all this trouble.”

So, to me, it’s the students that I hope I helped. It’s the people at UAB and what they have taught me. It’s the opportunities they gave me to make myself better and to try to be a good model for my students.