It’s 2003, and Renzi Stone is sitting in his living room, unsure of what to do next with his life. He has a piece of paper in his hand, and on it he writes down a list of things he thinks he’s good at.
Sixteen years later, Stone is the founder and CEO of Saxum, the strategic communications company that came out of that piece of paper. Stone is also in his fourth year of a seven-year term on the OU Board of Regents.
Standing at 6’10” according to his SoonerSports player biography, Stone first came to Norman in 1996 as a basketball player who chose OU over many other schools that had offered him full-ride scholarships.
He chose OU because of the connection he felt with then-coach Kelvin Sampson and the plans former OU President David Boren had for the university, since Boren had begun to serve as president in 1994.
Stone had been trying to decide between Arizona, Purdue and OU, Sampson said, but he felt like he was not ready to go out of state quite yet.
“I was absolutely focused on ‘How could I make a difference in Oklahoma?’ both as a student-athlete as well as maybe after college,” Stone said. “I think I knew then I wanted to live here.”
A native Oklahoman, Stone grew up in Tulsa and attended Jenks High School. He comes from a family of athletes — his mother was a former swimmer at Duke University, and his father was a former Tulane football player who owned a basketball team in Tulsa.
Sampson said the Stone family reminded him of the Kennedys when he went to meet them on a home visit, and he could tell Stone was a leader the first time he saw him.
“When I left the home visit, one of my assistant coaches Jason Rabedeaux was with me, and I said, ‘Rab, that kid’s going to be a captain for us one day.’ And that came true,” Sampson said.
Stone was a forward and center for the Sooners, and he played for Sampson from 1996 to 1999. Sampson said a memory he’ll have forever of Stone’s leadership is of the 1999 NCAA tournament, when the Sooners beat UNC-Charlotte to go on to the Sweet 16.
“I get back to the locker room and Renzi's got two cans of Pepsi opened up in his hands, and he started dousing me on my head with Pepsi and everybody was just dancing and jumping around — it was just joy,” Sampson said. “That was our first NCAA tournament win, and without Renzi that doesn't happen.”
Although Stone was a history major, he said basketball was the best and hardest class he ever took at OU.
“It taught me how to get along with others. It taught me how to sacrifice my personal goals for the goals of the team. It taught me how to dig deeper than what I thought I could do,” Stone said. “It was very difficult and very rewarding.”
OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione was hired in 1998, so he has known Stone since his basketball days. He said he remembers Stone had “a lot of personality” when playing for the Sooners, slapping the floor when the team needed a burst of intensity.
“He was a team leader — very engaging — he’s one I got to know well then, and we stayed in touch ever since,” Castiglione said in an email. “I always thought his leadership skills would take him as far as he wanted to go. Actually, I could see him running for public office. He sees the world for what it can be, not just what it is.”
After college, Stone worked in marketing for Learfield Communications in OU’s athletic department, and then he went on to do color commentating for ESPN from 2001 to 2003. Then, Stone started Saxum with a list of his skills on a piece of paper.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from college,” Stone said. “History was my favorite subject, and I thought that majoring in history was a good idea because I liked it... If you are passionate about something, that's a pretty good indication of what you should do.”
The business that started from that piece of paper has been an INC. 5000 Honoree for fastest-growing privately held companies in America every year since 2011, and it now has offices in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Houston, according to its website.
“I had some skills that translated well, many of which I learned at OU,” Stone said. “I learned how to write, I learned how to communicate in front of an audience. I learned how to relate to others with teamwork.”
Stone was appointed to serve as a regent in 2015 by former Gov. Mary Fallin. He said Fallin called him one day and asked if he’d be interested in serving on the Board of Regents, and they discussed some of his thoughts on higher education and some of the challenges faced by the university.
After Fallin appointed him, Stone said the first thing he did was call up former regent Rick Dunning, whose term as a regent had concluded in March 2014.
At minimum, the volunteer position as a regent should require eight meetings a year for seven years, and with each meeting taking one or two days, the total time commitment would be between 56 and 112 days, Stone said. But Dunning told a different story — one which has rung true for Stone.
“(Dunning) said, ‘Well, I probably spent 50% of all my time on OU Board of Regents.’ And I said, ‘Huh?’” Stone said.
Stone said in an email his term as a regent has been busy since he’s been appointed, and that although there are some weeks that his duties have taken only a few hours, his work with the presidential search in March 2018 often took up 100% of his time.
“The process of putting together a selection committee, and hiring a selection firm, and receiving updates on candidates, and interviewing candidates and preparing to announce a new president... you could imagine that that might have taken up a lot of time,” Stone said. “And it did.”
Stone said balancing his workload as a regent with his other responsibilities is often difficult.
“It means I'm on the phone at 8 o'clock at night with my wife and kids asking me, ‘Who's on the call with you?’ It means, you know, stepping out of a meeting at work to address something,” Stone said. “It’s a constant balance.”
Stone said the highlights of his career as a regent have been the times he’s had the chance to talk to students, like when he got to speak to OU Legal Counsel Anil Gollahalli’s law school class in early February.
“Any time I'm in front of students and we're talking about student issues, I've loved that part of (being a regent),” Stone said.
In the midst of a presidential transition, multiple instances of racism involving the university, rounds of layoffs and the investigation of former OU president Boren for sexual misconduct, Stone said in an email that it’s been a “challenging 18 months” but it’s hard to pinpoint what the most challenging time has been for him as a regent.
“It feels like we are close to calmer times,” Stone said. “I truly believe the best days for OU are ahead of us and I’m more optimistic today than I’ve been in years.”