GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, not to smile when Arkansas swimmer Nikki Daniels talks about the plans she and her family have for after her upcoming graduation.
They’re going to open up a shrimp farm in Oxford, Kansas. The reaction is immediate. Iconic lines from the classic Oscar-winning movie Forrest Gump start to roll in the back of your mind.
Then Daniels admits that she actually calls her brother Bubba, and it’s absolutely perfect. She laughs and says, “If we could be as successful as Forrest Gump was, I’ll be happy.”
Theirs isn’t some silly Hollywood pipe dream, though. Daniels will graduate from Arkansas in May and has already started classes in its Walton College Graduate School of Business accelerated masters program. Her MBA will come with a focus in entrepreneurship.
She explains that her dad, Bob, was a crop farmer for 30 years. That sounds simple enough, until she says that he had 580 acres that he ran by himself.
“I’d like to go into business with my dad,” says Daniels, who’ll compete here in the NCAA Division I women’s swimming national championships in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke. “It’d be great to help him out. We could make a pretty good team, I think.”
Brother Bobby -- the one she calls Bubba -- will be an accountant once he finishes up school next year. Her mom, Debbie, is a pharmaceutical rep. She’s got the marketing side covered, her dad and brother the numbers, her mom the sales.
Presto. The family business, already, has far more on the ball than Forrest Gump’s dumb luck or destiny. If anybody can make a shrimp farm work in the middle of America’s heartland, they can.
“I think [Bob]’s been thinking about it for a long time, but he really just brought it to the forefront last year about this time,” Daniels adds. “We’re about to start on the building to house the shrimp in soon. We’ve done a lot of research.”
How much research? Daniels is doing her honors thesis on the shrimping industry. Before she settles down into life as a Kansas shrimp farmer, Daniels will travel just about as far from Kansas as it is possible to get.
Her MBA program is taking her all the way to India in mid-May. She’s never been out of the country before, so it’s the big jump of all big jumps to make.
“We are doing a lot of company visits,” Daniels says. “I know we get to visit Walmart and some of the bigger names that have a big presence in India and the United States. Then, we kind of just immerse ourselves in the culture. We pair up with an Indian student for a day and go to classes with them.”
A tiger sanctuary … an orphanage … Daniels is about to experience the journey of a lifetime. Her MBA program requires a trip to either India, China or Brazil, and India won out.
“I’m relatively nervous, but I’m one that can go without sleep,” Daniels says. “I can kind of go without food if I need to. I’m pretty flexible. All of us are in the same boat of not knowing what to expect.
“[The faculty advisor] says, ‘Don’t even try to picture it.’ I’m just really excited to see something different than America finally. This is a really, really cool opportunity.”
Who knows where Nikki Daniels will wind up in ten years, with a masters degree in entrepreneurship in tow and the support of her family behind her?
“Hopefully, with a big shrimp business,” she concludes with a laugh. “I guess I see myself doing something in marketing. If this doesn’t work out, then I’m sure we’re going to try something else. But the market looks good.”
Who knows? If the shrimping business takes off, maybe the Daniels family can branch out into selling boxes of chocolate, Nike shoes and ping-pong paddles.