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April 10, 2015
This story is featured in the spring 2015 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To view the magazine in its entirety online, click here.
Rich Tokheim '82, '85 may be the co-owner of a different kind of football team and inhabit a region better known as Cornhusker territory, but he makes no effort to hide his Bearcat pride.
"Bearcats are always welcome here," he says sitting on the mezzanine level of Ralston Arena, where his Omaha Beef professional indoor football team calls home.
Since purchasing the franchise in 2012, Tokheim, an avid Northwest football fan, has worked to mold the Omaha Beef into a similar brand of family-friendly entertainment that Bearcat fans are accustomed to experiencing at Northwest.
"I always had a dream to own a sports team," Tokheim said. "We tried to look at some basketball and minor league baseball teams and never really made it work. This was a good fit and it just came up at the right time."
At 16 years old, the Omaha Beef is the longest-operating franchise in arena football. When the franchise was in jeopardy in 2012, rival team owners and fans approached Tokheim and encouraged him to buy the team.
"For about eight months I kept saying no, that we had our hands full," Tokheim said. "But then my wife convinced me at the final hour that the team wouldn't continue to go unless we stepped up and bought it."
It was not an easy transition, Tokheim admits. In addition to bringing the franchise's finances under control, the team had to change leagues and Tokheim negotiated a new lease with Ralston Arena. While Tokheim is majority owner and his brother, Jim, is minority owner, they administer day-to-day operations of the Omaha Beef together.
"We've made a lot of changes," he said. "There are some things the fans have liked and some they haven't, and there are a lot of moving parts when you're dealing with players, coaches, cheerleaders. I have a whole new respect for administrators and coaches and what they have to deal with on a daily basis."
Tokheim's acquisition of the Omaha Beef is just the most recent in a series of business deals that have made him a well-regarded entrepreneur in the Omaha area. He also owns a trio of fan apparel shops in the Omaha area, having opened two Husker
Express stores and a downtown store called The Dugout since 2008.
Tokheim got his start in the fan apparel business in 1997 when he began selling T-shirts out of a 10-by-10 foot tent on some land his father owned adjacent to Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, the former home of the College World Series.
The venture was an instant success that led to the launch of an online store and eventually his brick-and-mortar locations.
"The College World Series brings 30,000 people a day, so you can't miss with that many people," Tokheim said.
"They find out about us, they like our service, they like our prices, and then they come back to our website and our stores the rest of the year."
After earning his accounting and Master of Business Administration degrees from Northwest, Tokheim went to work as a corporate auditor for Union Pacific where he was employed for five years. In 1989, he founded Investment Research Company, a business he maintains today that develops models for trading currencies and commodities.
Tokheim, a native of Charter Oak, Iowa, says he opted to attend Northwest after a recruiter visited his high school and sold him on the advantages of the University – and he didn't want to attend the same Nebraska institution each of his six older brothers and sisters attended.
At Northwest, he was active in the accounting society and finance club in addition to joining the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and playing intramural sports.
More importantly, Tokheim credits the business faculty who mentored him and provided valuable instruction to help him be successful – people like Drs. Edward and Sharon Browning, Dr. Pat McLaughlin, Roger Woods, Dr. John Baker, Don Minyard and Dr. Elwyn DeVore.
"I remember the Brownings always saying, ‘You're getting the same education here that you're getting at Harvard,' and we bought into that," Tokheim said.
"At Northwest, we always felt like we were underdogs. So we had to kind of outsmart, outwork, outthink everybody else, and I think you take that mentality out into the world. Sometimes you don't know how you're going to get it done, but you're going to get it done, and I think that's where that Northwest has just been terrific."
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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