College is often a time for students to discover what they want to be when they grow up. Many spend freshman year taking various classes in an attempt to find what it is that sparks an interest. Rex Eads grew up working on a farm, and loved it. He had always planned on going to school for agriculture engineering, and building a career in farming, like his dad. His intentions of pursuing a major in agriculture were halted when the tough economy made it difficult to see the upside of that career path. Instead, he turned his attention to engineering and computer science with the mindset of one day running his own business.
“I chose the furthest major from agriculture because of the trouble farmers were having at the time,” he said. Having an aptitude for math, it seemed like computer programming might be a better career path. Through the computer science department, Eads made friends with fellow classmates, as well as some of the professors, including the first Department Head of Computer Science Engineering, Ron Skeith. “He was my most influential professor, and became a good friend” he admits.
Attempting to balance his time between studying and starting the Society of Party Engineers with a few of his friends, Eads maintained an off campus job, as well as a work study position with the computer science department. He assisted in setting up the university’s first personal computer labs, and was involved in planning and setting up the PC labs in the Bell Engineering Center when it was built. He hired, trained and supervised all of the computer lab support staff, and helped instructors integrate PC lab work into their curriculum. He was also a teaching assistant for several computer classes. He met his wife-to-be, Jennifer Jackson, in one of the computer classes he supported. She also graduated from the U of A’s computer science engineering program.
Hands-on experience running the department’s PC labs helped him develop valuable, real-world skills. In addition, the engineering department’s Genesis incubator program gave him a unique glimpse into the exciting world of high tech business start-ups.
After graduating in 1987, Eads moved to Tulsa, OK to work as a software engineer before making the move to Portland, OR. In 1989 he started Cascade Software Consulting, which he grew to 75 employees and $12 million a year in revenues. For several years, his company was recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the region, as well as one of the Best Companies to Work For in Oregon. In 1998, the Portland Business Journal recognized him as one of the Portland Forty under 40 for being “one of Portland’s most successful and civic minded business people under the age of 40.”
In 2003, he sold his business, and now runs Next Level Consulting, a start-up consulting practice. “It’s very rewarding helping people launch new products and businesses. There’s a lot of positive energy, and everyone is so optimistic,” he said. A firm believer that he needs to be “creating excitement and being a part of it,” he enjoys the start-up environment and admits that “less than 50 percent of what I do is on my agenda for any given day. I call it ‘controlled chaos.’”
Eads and his wife take full advantage of living in the Pacific Northwest. They spend 60+ days a year camping and fishing. He fly fishes a lot, and is working on a book about vintage bamboo fly rods.
In 2012, Eads was inducted into the Arkansas Academy of Computing through the University of Arkansas computer science department, and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Arkansas College of Engineering.
“It was really awesome and a real honor to receive that award because they don’t give many of those out, especially to young people. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished a lot,” he stated.
An accomplished professional in the Portland area, Eads has never forgotten his roots. A native of Prairie Grove, AR, he credits his alma mater for much of his success. And although the Fayetteville campus may seem far away, he has yet to let it stop him from maintaining his Razorback pride.
Members of the Arkansas Alumni Association, he and his wife wanted to start reconnecting and becoming more involved. After a trip back to Fayetteville in 2012, he started reaching out to see who would be interested in getting together to cheer on the Hogs. He organized Razorback football watch parties, and began forming a Portland Area Alumni Chapter. His reasoning was simple, “As you grow older, you start looking back, and giving credit, where credit is due. Since the university contributed to my success, it feels good to give back.”
Eads understands that it might take some time to build a strong local group. He’s been gathering ideas from other alumni chapters, surveying local alumni and has plans to continue growing the local chapter.
Although his time may be precious, he has a strong grip on balancing his company, his home life and his alumni duties, and doesn’t plan on dropping the ball anytime soon.