Late nights, early mornings, a determined spirit and a supportive family carried Scott Carmona to success as a businessman starting in the late 1970s. Back then, the Bay City native – who married his wife Nancy at age 19 – was pursuing an education at Saginaw Valley State University, using wages earned operating small business ventures built with sweat equity.
Forty years later, some things have changed for Carmona. Other things have not. His tenacious work ethic turned fledgling entrepreneurial experiments into prosperous business enterprises that grew along the I-75 corridor, even as far south as Florida. Despite his far-reaching interests, though, he never forgot his roots in the Great Lakes Bay Region or the role his alma mater played in providing an educational foundation for his success.
Carmona and his family have pledged the lead gift for the fundraising campaign for SVSU's business school. The SVSU Board of Control approved naming the college the Scott L. Carmona College of Business & Management at the Board’s May 11 meeting. (Carmona is a member of the Board; he abstained from the vote.)
"I am thrilled to have this academic college named in honor of my family," Carmona said. "This is an honor, since my family is from the Great Lakes Bay Region, and we have SVSU alumni in our family and businesses, and we embrace that entrepreneurial spirit."
Carmona is the owner of Sunrise National Distributors Inc., a Bay City-based distributor of automotive aftermarket products. He owns and manages several real estate developments in Michigan and Florida. He also has remained active in community organizations including the Bay County Growth Alliance, the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA and the McLaren Bay Special Care Hospital board of directors. A member of the SVSU Board of Control since 2011, Carmona and his family have contributed financially to SVSU scholarship funds and academic ventures.
Carmona's entrepreneurial acumen, philanthropic vigor and tireless work ethic represent a shining example for students enrolled in the business college, said Donald Bachand, SVSU president.
"Scott and his family showed great determination and creative thinking to build successful businesses, and they continue to work hard for the successes still in front of them," Bachand said. "We thank the Carmona family for their outstanding generosity and committed support of our students and our university.
"Their story resonates with so many of our students who are driven to complete their degrees, even as they juggle work and family demands themselves. I hope our students find inspiration in the Carmona family's story, and we are proud to have the Carmona name forever associated with our institution."
Andy Bethune, executive director of the SVSU Foundation, said the Carmona family's gift is a statement that will positively affect the region for generations.
"We are grateful to the Carmonas for their generous support of our College of Business & Management campaign," Bethune said. "Their commitment is a major step forward in the growth and development of the college, and sets the tone for the importance of private philanthropy and the long-term success of our institution and the region we serve."
While the College of Business & Management has been a part of SVSU since 1972, the legacy of Carmona and his family is being attached during a turning point in its history. A $25 million, 38,500-square-foot building expansion – expected to open in January 2020 – will house the academic college's classrooms, faculty offices and business programs. Those elements are spread across SVSU's campus today.
The new space will include state-of-the-art technology such as analytics labs and a Bloomberg Trading Room, which tracks stock data in real time. Planners say the upgrades will provide hands-on learning opportunities for students while also encouraging members of the business community to visit campus and engage with students.
Carmona said his family is excited to invest in the project.
"With the success of this university's alumni and how they have spread SVSU's influence across the world, we decided we wanted to support the continued success of future generations of students from here," he said. "This expansion will give students a leg up in the business world. We want to help future generations find success."
Carmona knows the value of an SVSU education. He completed a bachelor's degree in engineering in 1981 and his son, Ryan, received a bachelor's degree in finance in 2008. Shannan Weston, the current president of Sunrise National Distributors Inc., started with the company as an intern, completing a bachelor's degree and an M.B.A. at SVSU as she climbed the ranks.
Carmona learned persistence from his father, who emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt at age 17. While attending SVSU in the late 1970s, the just-married Carmona made ends meet at first by developing a swimming pool maintenance company. It was a gritty job that required him start his days early. During his senior year, he was contracted to perform service work for Coca-Cola USA. The new opportunity led him to create a small business that specialized in repairing and remanufacturing dispensing equipment used in restaurants across the country.
"I would show up at Coca-Cola's office in Dearborn – with my shirt still dirty from working on pools – to pick up equipment to work on," he said. "I was driving all over the place, sometimes waking up at 4 in the morning and working throughout the night."
Carmona's company, National Equipment Refurbishers Inc., flourished, employing up to 50 people at one point. After 15 years, he sold the business to create and develop other companies, largely in the commercial real estate and automotive aftermarket distribution industries. Over the decades, he also pursued business interests outside of Michigan, including Texas, New Hampshire and Florida, where he developed an industrial park in the 2000s.
The entrepreneurial spirit remains strong in Carmona, who would rather talk about new opportunities than reflect on past accomplishments.
"It's hard for me to look back, because I'm always looking forward and asking, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?,'" he said. "It's the same with education. The exploration for education is endless. Let's always look ahead and learn something new."
For SVSU and its College of Business and Management, the vision for its future is clearer thanks to the generosity of a family who is helping future generations of business professionals.