When Matt Williamson (MBA ’05) came to UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate in 1990, he pursued a double major in political science and philosophy, or, as Williamson explains it, “what we should do and what we actually do.”
Now, with two degrees from Carolina and more than 20 years in between, Williamson’s career as an entrepreneur seems about as far from his original studies as possible. Yet to those who know him, his tireless work ethic, enthusiasm and leadership abilities make him ideally suited to the role of an entrepreneur.
“Matt fuses the mindset of an entrepreneur with the maturity of a corporate leader,” says Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Williamson’s former professor. “He brings a sense of sophistication and approaches the market with a real gut feel and intuition.”
In 2011, Williamson launched his startup company Windsor Circle with fellow UNC Kenan-Flagler graduate Brad McGinity (MBA ’11). The firm, which offers software-as-a-service in retention marketing to help retailers better understand and market to their existing customers, has seen remarkable growth and its clients have reported significant return on investment. Quickly approaching the end of its second year in business, Windsor Circle employs 11 people, but Williamson hopes that number will grow to a company of 300 at “the center of the retention marketing universe.”
While at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Williamson studied entrepreneurship and finance, and served as president of the MBA Student Association (MBASA). “He did a really good job of reaching out to all of his classmates and bringing them together,” says Meghan Gosk, MBA Program senior associate director “He’s an incredibly motivated individual and really represents everything that UNC Kenan-Flagler is.”
Williamson attributes much of his success with Windsor Circle to his education at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “I met some of my initial investors through Kenan-Flagler, my business partner was a fellow grad, I won money through a school challenge, and one of our current customers was my boss when I interned between my first and second years,” Williamson says. “A lot of what we’ve done is directly related to my time at UNC.”
UNC Kenan-Flagler’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County through the “House that Kenan-Flagler Built” represents Williamson’s greatest legacy to the school. Deeply involved in the organization since launching the first public high school chapter of Habitat for Humanity in Durham, Williamson, along with a team of administrators and other students, approached Steve Jones, then-dean of UNC Kenan-Flagler, with the idea to forge a full partnership between the school and the Orange County chapter. “I feel that Habitat provides the opportunity to engage with people that might not be like you while doing something good – that’s hard to argue against,” Williamson says.
Immediately after graduation Williamson served six years on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, including two as its president, before stepping down to launch Windsor Circle. Williamson’s simultaneous commitment to both innovative business and community service illustrate the core values of UNC Kenan-Flagler.
“As a consequence of Matt’s encouragement and cheerleading, we are just finishing our ninth Habitat house in Orange County and we’ve done four houses in Honduras and Guatemala for the Habitat for Humanity Global Village initiative,” says Jean Elia, associate dean for strategy and administration at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “He absolutely gets the idea of community, and he’s a leader who knows how to encourage others.”
As a new CEO, Williamson is enjoying the opportunity to expand those leadership skills at Windsor Circle.
“When you start a new company, it’s your baby and everything from thought to execution to what goes on the company t-shirt boils back to what you want it to be,” he says. “You’re both rewarded and held accountable for operating in an unknown environment, which is really exciting.”