Dennis Pfendler (center) leads Uptown Karate’s adult training session at the Oregon Coast. (Photos courtesy of Dennis Pfendler)

MBA Student Nears Milestone of Graduating at 70

By Mia Gleason

OMBA student Dennis Pfendler and his wife, Sue, in at a training for karate instructors.
When Dennis Pfendler graduates with an online MBA from the Carson College of Business in May, he will be fulfilling a long-held dream.

“A lot of sacrifice has been required of me during this journey, but one thing I learned long ago is that things worth having require commitment,” says Pfendler, a small business owner from Vancouver, Washington.

Pfendler, who will be 70 when he graduates, had an interrupted educational journey. He attended community college as a young man before going to work in the automotive industry. During those years, he was busy raising a family and involved in competitive hobbies that included car racing, sailing, and tennis.

After starting his own company, Pfendler began thinking about returning to college.

“Entrepreneurial experience taught me that trial and error was not the right way to run a business,” he says. “I knew there was a lot I could learn.”

Pfendler earned his bachelor’s degree in arts and letters from Portland State University in 2015.

“The feeling of accomplishment was euphoric,” says Pfendler, a first-generation college graduate. “I wanted more, even at age 65.”

After looking into MBA programs, Pfendler felt the Carson College of Business was his best choice. He preferred a Washington-based program, and the coursework focus matched his expectations.

“The most challenging part has been allocating time for school while working for myself,” he says. “The most rewarding part is experiencing the benefits of an education I can apply in real time.”

Drawing on his MBA coursework during the pandemic

Pfendler runs two small businesses in Vancouver, Washington—Uptown Karate and Balanced Water Solutions.

“Our mission evolved around serving the community,” Pfendler says. “With Uptown Karate, we work with the public school system, providing after school programs for underprivileged children. Balanced Water Solutions provides drinking water treatment for homes and businesses.”

During COVID-19, Pfendler drew on his MBA studies to address the impacts to both of his businesses. Uptown Karate was closed for four months due to the pandemic. In July, the studio reopened at reduced capacity and added online classes. Balanced Water Solutions also experienced revenue loss.

“I focused on economies of scope and broadening my service offerings,” Pfendler says. “With a wider variety of offerings in both businesses, I’ve been able to diversify my revenue stream.”

Pfendler says the pandemic has been challenging but manageable, thanks to the education he has received as an MBA student.

“The MBA helped me keep operations efficient, which benefitted my bottom line,” he says.

The value of understanding business law

Dennis Pfendler at a black belt training session.

One of Pfendler’s favorite classes was a business law course taught by Timothy Larson, an adjunct faculty member at WSU Vancouver.

“As a small business owner who doesn’t have an attorney on retainer, understanding business law is crucial,” he says.

The class also gave him a familiarity with local city statutes. That background has been helpful in his interactions with the city of Vancouver related to downtown parking and other city issues affecting small businesses, he says.

Pfendler says he would recommend the Carson College’s online MBA program to other business owners as an investment in their future.

“The rewards of the program for benefitting small business far outweigh the cost.”

Impact of earning an MBA

“I am inspired by and proud of Dennis’s curiosity and his pursuit of education over the course of his lifetime,” says Cheryl Oliver, associate dean for professional programs. “The MBA program is intended to be valuable for students at any stage of their career and long into their future.”

The program works to ensure that students can apply the tools they learn to add value to their businesses, communities, and personal pursuits, Oliver says.

“I am grateful Dennis chose to pursue his MBA at WSU,” Oliver adds. “Growing his businesses and supporting the health and well-being of his community perfectly captures the Carson Coug spirit. The opportunity a quality business education provides—not only to an individual but to those in their sphere of influence and beyond—is immeasurable.”

As for what comes next for Pfendler, he seems to have a simple plan.

“I’m hoping to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that at 70, I earned my MBA from Washington State University. That is something I can be proud of.”

Learn more about the Carson College of Business online MBA programs.