Texas Tech University

To Know Them Is to Love Them

December 22, 2023

To Know Them Is to Love Them

With a significant gift and strong values, Terry and Susan Lyons are paving the future for the Terry Lyons School of Accounting.

Altruism with vision, success with humility and philanthropy with impact – these are all traits people strive to demonstrate in their lives.

These also are the traits nearly every person who has met Terry and Susan Lyons says they naturally embody.

Terry is the founder of Academic HealthPlans (AHP), the market leader in student health insurance. However, his business success did not come overnight. Rooted in what Susan describes as “humble beginnings,” Terry leaned on his family, business relationships and accounting education from Texas Tech University to build his career into what it is today.

“I think the one thing that has brought me success in business is that I look forward, I look down the road to see what is changing and what is happening,” Terry said. “Part of success is always looking to what you are going to change. We have to think bigger, find more people, more experienced people in what we're doing.”

If you go back to the beginning of Terry's journey, you would find yourself in Gainesville, Texas, where he grew up. He started college at what is now North Central Texas College, a community college in his hometown. During his first two years of college, he had a part-time job at a local machine trucking company doing accounting work.

“I was a first-generation student,” Terry said. “My parents didn't go to college and had limited resources. My parents gave me a small check and said, ‘Here, make it as far as you can go.'”

From there, Terry traveled to Lubbock where he enrolled in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business as an accounting major. He was introduced to the option by a professor at his community college who had business associates in Lubbock and at Texas Tech. Not only had the professor encouraged him to attend college there, but he also helped him get a job at Bolinger, Segars, Gilbert & Moss, a local accounting firm.

The Lyonses

Terry graduated with his bachelor's degree in accounting from Texas Tech in 1980. Through both work and school, Terry built relationships in the accounting industry that took him to his first job as an auditor at Ernst and Whinney (now EY) in Fort Worth and became a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

“I was there about three years,” Terry said. “I always thought I'd be in public accounting. I actually thought that was my whole career. If I could ever be partner, I would have it made. It'd be easy street if I was a partner of a big firm.”

However, Terry's interests led him away from easy street and down a less traveled path. One of his managers at EY left public accounting to work as the chief financial officer at United Insurance Company, Inc. (UICI) – Student Insurance Division, and later recruited Terry to join him. In eight years, Terry worked his way up to be chief underwriting officer.

Like in many large corporate companies, changes began to take place, and Terry decided it was time to pivot and try something new. He began looking into other jobs, but he kept coming back to starting his own company.

Terry had taken a special interest in the division of the company that specialized in college health, and staying true to his mantra for success, he looked forward and knew this was a niche where he could make a business. It was then that Academic HealthPlans (AHP) was born.

Admittedly, Terry confesses the early years of starting his new company were difficult. He founded AHP in December 1998. The year before, he and Susan had triplet boys in addition to their 4-year-old daughter. 

“The car was too small, the house was too small, I didn't have a job and I was starting a new company with no salary,” Terry said. “So, the first couple years were a little stressful, but in the end, I think it was the right move. Things rolled that way, and I think you have to be willing to take a risk and look for opportunities or see what gets thrown out in front of you every now and then.”

Terry started AHP in his home but rented a small office and hired a part-time assistant shortly after. A couple of years later, he hired a full-time marketing professional to make cold calls and help get his foot in the door. 

He spent the early years of the company on the road driving across Texas to meet with every college he could and building his team. By establishing solid relationships and hiring the right staff, AHP began to grow. 

Terry had the opportunity to take his company in different directions with new products and other options. However, he stuck to becoming the best at what they started with, collegiate health insurance – a decision he credits to the early success of the company. 

“Now that we're a larger company, we also do a lot of intercollegiate sports, a lot of study abroad, a lot of telemedicine products,” Terry said. “But in the early days, I think staying focused on what we knew we could sell and build and becoming the best at that was the right move. Once you're the best at that, then you can branch into other products.”

Not only did Terry make sound business decisions, but Susan credits his success to his determination, work ethic and family values. While his work was obviously important to him, she and their children remained a priority.

“When you're an entrepreneur, you have to work really hard at it and put all the time and the effort into it to make it successful,” Susan said. “But he still made all the important things if there was a dance recital or a big game or whatever. I did the day-to-day, the soccer practices and the dance practices, but he made sure his calendar was scheduled around a lot of the kids' activities.”

When Terry started AHP, he had one employee and one university client. Today, he has propelled the company to more than 150 employees, 400 universities and 500,000 insured student members with a prominent national presence. In 2020, Terry sold AHP to Risk Strategies, a leading national specialty insurance brokerage and risk management firm, where he now serves as the national education practice leader.

Throughout his career, Terry has remained connected to Texas Tech. He is an avid fan of Red Raider athletics and attends football games with his sons and family whenever he has the chance. In 2019, his daughter, Paige, graduated from Texas Tech School of Law. His son, Layton, holds three degrees from Texas Tech, a bachelor's degree in accounting and master's degrees in sports management and business administration

Terry serves on the Rawls College Advisory Council and was named the distinguished alumnus for what is now the Terry Lyons School of Accounting in 2022. Through these pathways, Terry was able to reconnect with the academic side of his alma mater and see the needs in the Rawls College and the accounting program. 

The Lyons School of Accounting is home to more than 650 students and 27 faculty members with specializations throughout the accounting industry. It offers a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in accounting, a Master of Science (MS) in accounting, an Accelerated BBA to MS in accounting program and a Doctorate in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting

Underscoring the faculty and leadership's commitment to students as well as their academic rigor and accountability, the Lyons School of Accounting boasts the record of being the first separately accredited accounting school in Texas – an accolade held by only 1% of business schools globally.

“For students who graduate with a degree in accounting from Texas Tech, the sky is literally the limit in terms of their career possibilities,” said Kirsten A. Cook, director of the Lyons School of Accounting and Frank M. Burke Chair in Taxation. “We have alumni in the biggest corporations and the biggest accounting firms in the world that recruit every single student they can get from Texas Tech.”

However, national enrollment in accounting programs has been declining for years. From 2016 to 2022, the number of U.S. accounting graduates has declined by a staggering 18.22%. The decrease in graduates of accounting at Texas Tech is slightly lower for the same time frame at 16.86%. 

One factor that can discourage students from enrolling in an accounting program is the 150 hours of college credit that is required to become a CPA, as opposed to the 120 hours required for a typical four-year bachelor's degree. Combined with starting salaries that can be lower than other financial disciplines, students are choosing other options. 

Faculty and leadership in the school began searching for ways to attract students to pursue degrees in accounting. They began looking at increasing student scholarships, encouraging more research and developing more industry connections. However, one factor was missing – funding.

Lyons naming event

This is where the Lyons stepped up to the plate. 

“We started talking about it,” Terry said. “What they could do with it, what the endowment would do as far as scholarships, faculty, how it could help the school even outside the geographical boundary of Texas. And what it could do with a financial gift…we got excited about it and thought it felt like the right thing to do.”

In December 2023, the Lyons made a significant gift to the school, and to honor their generosity, the school was renamed the Terry Lyons School of Accounting. 

The gift from the Lyonses will provide comprehensive support to the Lyons School of Accounting by funding student scholarships, empowering faculty to conduct cutting-edge accounting research, expanding industry connections and supporting other areas of greatest need.

For both Terry and Susan, their primary focus for this gift was helping students and raising the school to its full potential. Through the Rawls Advisory Council, Terry mentored students, and Susan saw the impact scholarships have on students through her work with the Board of Trustees at her alma mater, Texas Wesleyan University.

“Being a first-generation student, Texas Tech provided the foundation for my career, giving me education and building relationships that were crucial to my business and life success,” Terry said. “Contributing to Texas Tech and the School of Accounting to help elevate this program feels like the perfect way to give back.

“This gift is not just a financial contribution, it's an investment in students and their future in accounting education. It's a step toward building an environment where innovation, critical thinking and excellence are not just encouraged, but they are the standard. We are setting the stage for the School of Accounting to continue its legacy of shaping the minds that will lead the world of business.”

Susan echoed these sentiments.

“I think it's important knowing that we come from humble beginnings,” Susan said. “Knowing that we were first-generation students may help other first-generation students to know the type of success that is possible. We have talked about different ways to give back and helping students seemed like the best way to do that.”

The Lyonses embody the traits that faculty, staff and leadership in Rawls College strive to emulate and encourage their students to mirror themselves. From their generosity and humility to their work ethic and integrity, Terry and Susan improve the lives of all those who encounter them. Now, with this gift, they will enrich the lives of students for generations to come.

“I cannot imagine a better name, a better family to be associated with the Lyons School of Accounting,” Cook said, “or for our students to strive to emulate and look up to as the people who saw their potential and decided to make this gift to support their success and the success of all future generations of accounting students who come through our programs.”

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