Texas A&M University has announced that former student Arch “Beaver” Aplin III — one of the university’s most successful entrepreneurs — is contributing $50 million toward establishing an academic center that will serve as an immersive learning laboratory for students.
“When Beaver Aplin does something, it’s never halfway!” said Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp. “The love he has and shows for Texas A&M and Aggies is inspirational and appreciated. This is an awesome gift and will position Texas A&M to become the top hospitality program in the nation.”
The Aplin Center will offer a transformational student experience through new university programs in hospitality, retail studies and food product development involving innovative degree programs including viticulture, fermentation processes, coffee, and food science. The facility also will house product development laboratories and food tasting centers which can be utilized in partnership with related industries.
The center will include outdoor and indoor student recreational space, as well as retail and food service areas managed by students and faculty through the educational programs.
The Aplin Center will host corporate training and recruiting programs, along with professional development opportunities. Workforce training based on industry needs will be a key component of the center.
Primary academic partners will be the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mays Business School, although other academic units will be involved in specialty projects.
Texas A&M President Dr. M. Katherine Banks said the Aplin Center will allow for more entrepreneurial activities for students across disciplines.
“Arch ‘Beaver’ Aplin is a true visionary and one of the most creative entrepreneurs I have known,” Banks said. “He remains connected to his university, speaking to many students who share his passion for business and product development. Through this generous gift, he is creating a living, learning laboratory that will provide transformational opportunities for our students. The Aplin Center will positively impact Aggies for generations to come.”
Aplin said Banks’ vision of a world-class hospitality entrepreneurship program is “just what Texas A&M needs and I’m proud to have an opportunity to be involved.”
The 1980 graduate, who earned a construction science degree from A&M, opened his first Buc-ee’s in Lake Jackson, Texas two years after commencement. He built the iconic, multi-million-dollar business on several promises: pristine restrooms, scores of fuel pumps, a vast selection of food and consumer items, and well-paid employees.
“We want to create a learning, gathering space on the A&M campus that exemplifies hospitality,” Aplin said. “A place where people come together. A place where the Aggie culture can thrive – a happy place.”
Aplin’s tenacious work ethic isn’t just reserved for his business: He serves as chairman of Texas Parks and Wildlife, is on the ERCOT Board Selection Committee, is a lifetime member of both the Coastal Conservation Association and the 100 Club of Brazoria County, and is on the Lieutenant Governor’s Transportation Advisory Board and the Board of Directors of The Association of Former Students.
Porter S. Garner III ’79, President and CEO of The Association, praised Aplin as a genuine and humble leader who cares deeply about others.
“Beaver is a tremendous asset to The Association’s board and to the worldwide Aggie Network,” Garner said. “Everything he does is top of its class, and I know the Aplin Center will be as well. This unprecedented gift is further testament to his deep love and affinity for Texas A&M and Texas Aggies.”
The former Brazosport Independent School District board president has received many accolades from his alma mater, including Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture and the MB Zale Visionary Merchant Award from the Texas A&M Center for Retailing Studies. This fall, Aplin will be honored by the Mosbacher Institute at the Bush School of Government and Public Service with the McLean Leadership in Business Award for his “inspiring entrepreneurship and business leadership and commitment to serve the critical needs in the communities he serves.”
While the Buc-ee’s empire initially stood out from its competition based on clean bathrooms, quirky advertising and a strong brand, it grew into a powerhouse by consistently applying excellent customer service with the Buc-ee’s brand. His mantra: Exceed customers’ expectations.
His stores offer health insurance to employees and pay more than twice the amount of minimum wage, both evidence of a healthy business approach that further pushes Buc-ee’s into the convenience store stratosphere.
Aplin’s $50 million contribution to build the center highlighting his namesake is one of the largest gifts A&M has received from a single donor.
The center, which will highlight co-developed products, will be built across the street from the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center at the intersection of Wellborn Road and the pedestrian tunnel that functions as the main foot and automobile traffic corridor on campus, in the shadow of Kyle Field.
July 28 marks the 40th anniversary of Aplin opening the first Buc-ee’s. His business has expanded into five other states and development is under way on another five.
Aplin returns regularly to his alma mater to talk to students. While at the Mays Business School for a lecture in 2012, Aplin read from a letter written by a Florida Gators football fan following a visit to College Station. It relayed how the fan experienced genuine friendliness and hospitality during his stay.
“It was pervasive and natural. It was culture,” Aplin told the class, adding that he returns to the letter for inspiration during pivotal moments at work. “I have to remember—I’ve gotta stay Beaver. I’ve gotta stay Buc-ee’s. I’ve gotta stay Aggie and I’ve gotta stay who I am.”