Forthea President Christopher Pappas has been honored as a member of the Houston Business Journal 40 Under 40 Class of 2013. The award profiles top young business leaders in the Houston area “who contribute to their companies, industries and community in an impressive way.”
The 40 Under 40 award is the latest in a series of recognitions for our Houston digital marketing agency in 2013. We also made HBJ’s list of 2013 Best Places to Work, its Houston Fast 100 list of fastest growing companies, and its list of Largest Houston-Area Advertising Agencies.
Chris usually likes to deflect praise while insisting that the team take credit for successes, which is something we’re admittedly fine with. But we also realize we have a special leader in Chris and we feel that his induction in the 40 Under 40 Class of 2013 is a good opportunity to shine the spotlight on him for a change.
So, without further ado, here’s our interview with Chris.
Forthea: What was your dream job when you were a kid?
Chris: My dream job was to be a doctor or surgeon. I’ve always been fond of the technical and scientific side of medicine. My grandfather was an ophthalmologist and my great uncle was a cardiovascular surgeon. I was fortunate to be able to spend a good amount of time with them growing up. I learned a lot from them and admired them a great deal.
I had planned on studying pre-med during my first semester at Vanderbilt University. But after a couple of computer science and philosophy classes, I pulled the plug. I have a number of very close friends that choose medicine, however, and I really respect them for it. It’s not an easy path.
What keeps you motivated?
Having big goals that can be achieved. Goals that you know will make a difference but that you can also chip away at every day. Also, leading a team that cares about being really good at what we do. Our team has achieved a lot in the past few years and we’re just as excited about the enormous potential we have in front of us. Obviously, I’m quite proud of them.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Drumming. I’ve been playing for 20 years and I’ve found that there’s nothing quite like it for clearing the head.
Tell us something interesting about you that most people don’t know.
I would probably be a college professor somewhere, chasing tenure, had I not accidentally gotten off the academic path earlier in my career. After Vanderbilt, I went straight to the University of Texas to pursue a Ph.D. in formal logic. I was there for four years; studying, writing papers for publication, and teaching classes. I loved it.
By 2005, I had completed all necessary coursework and selected my dissertation committee. However, that summer I was involved with a database project that would radically shift my academic trajectory. By the end of the year I had decided to take a leave of absence from the program to co-found a company that was being spun-off from that project. Making the transition was a significant decision and I’ll never forget how crazy a time it was.
For example, I was allowed to skip a separate Master degree since I was set on going into academia and had only pursued a Ph.D. But when I told them I was taking leave my professors convinced me to complete the Master’s thesis before I left, just in case I didn’t come back. To put this in perspective, one would typically take a year or two to complete a thesis. But because of my last-minute decision I had less than four weeks.
I can recall a lot of desk sleeping, which literally means students fall asleep at their desks because they’re studying all the time. And I remember the almost daily calls from disgruntled librarians trying to get me to return some of the 300-plus library books I had checked out for research.
In the end, I completed the thesis and got it approved. But I owe two of my graduate advisors, Sahotra Sarkar and David Morton, a big debt of gratitude for even allowing me to attempt such a thing.
How do you feel about being honored as a member of HBJ’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2013?
I feel humbled. There are many really exceptional people on that list. Moreover, it was an enjoyable experience meeting the other honorees. But a recognition like this is shared with everyone else in my life, both personally and professionally. My family and my team at Forthea deserve the real recognition.