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A Passion for Fordham Basketball and Giving Back: Five Questions with John Alberto

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John Alberto, FCRH ’72, GABELLI ’75, retired in May 2016, but he is still surprised when people ask how he fills his time.

“You know, everybody asks people that and, to be honest with you, the calendar is full and it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that you do,” he says. “Babysitting grandchildren, traveling, taking extra classes here and there. It’s amazing how your calendar fills. There’s not enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.”

Over the years, however, Alberto has always found time for his alma mater. A Bronx native, he was drawn to Fordham by its reputation and its proximity to home. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and returned to get an M.B.A. during the 1970s.

He describes himself as a lifelong basketball fan who was fortunate to be at Fordham for the men’s magical 1970–1971 season, in which 29-year-old coach Digger Phelps led the team to a No. 9 season-ending ranking and a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. Since then, Alberto says, he’s been hooked on Fordham hoops. And while he recently gave up his season tickets upon moving to southern New Jersey, he still plans to attend as many home games as possible—and to continue supporting the Rams in other ways.

In 2008, he established an endowed scholarship to benefit women athletes at Fordham. The Catherine Alberto Scholarship Fund—named in honor of his mother, who died in December 2017 at the age of 105—speaks both to Alberto’s interest in philanthropy and his passion for Fordham sports.

“The female student-athlete tends be left behind a little bit and not as highlighted as much as the male student-athlete,” he says. “I just thought it’d be a really nice thing for the rower and the runner and those [playing]sports besides basketball and softball, to provide some financial assistance for those folks, too. They put in a lot of time.”

In addition to establishing the scholarship, Alberto has been a donor to both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as the softball program. He is a member of the Maroon Club, which recognizes alumni, parents, and friends who support Fordham University’s athletics programs, and is a member of the President’s Council, attending networking events, giving guest lectures, and leading classes on leadership as a mentor to students.

The reason Alberto stays so involved with his alma mater?

“Fordham is more than just an academic institution that teaches you the fundamentals of the particular academic discipline,” he explains. “[It gives you] a value system that allows you to operate within society and strive for excellence in everything that you do, but also to have a deep caring for others and … fight for justice.”

That focus on helping others is what drove Alberto in his career in human resources, most recently at Combe, where he worked for 20 years before retiring as a senior vice president. The family-run business, which is based in White Plains, New York, owns personal care brands like Just for Men, Grecian Formula, and Brylcreem.

“At Combe, the family has the same values that I had learned at Fordham,” he says. “[People] would always ask, ‘Well, what’s the profit goal for the year?’ And our answer was always, ‘That’s not why we’re in business. We’re in business because we want to make you help that person next to you have as good a life as we can possibly provide.’”

And at Fordham, Alberto notes, “You come away with a real sense that success is really not about your title, or how much money you’ve made, or if you have access to the movers and shakers of the world, and so on. It’s really what you’ve actually done with that [access], and helping those people that have the least and need the most help.”

What are you most passionate about?
Probably three things. Number one, my grandchildren. Number two, I love Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels. I can’t read enough of them. And then my third passion is Fordham basketball.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I ever received was from a business mentor who used a quote from William James: “Act as if what you do makes a difference.” And that resonated with me. It helps you think through the little acts of kindness and those things.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
Oh, my favorite place in the city is Broadway and the theater district. I am fascinated with not only actors and singers and musicians but artists and people that create, and the process that they go through to actually create things.

My favorite place in the world is Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a great city. It’s a walking city. It’s an international city. It’s just a wonderful place to be.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
I read a book a couple of years ago called Evicted written by a Harvard sociologist named Matthew Desmond. And he basically, over several years, followed the lives of landlords and tenants in some of the poorer neighborhoods in Milwaukee. And he showed how the lack of affordable housing can cause so many struggling Americans to fall deeper into poverty, job loss, the lack of health care. It all just keeps pushing people down and they can’t get out of that cycle. And when you’re paying 60, 70, 80% of your income for rent, you can see how you’re going to lose your home, an apartment, or whatever it is. If you have children, how that all then changes everything. And you can’t be a person that’s been raised in the Fordham values and not have that affect you and influence you in some way.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
Well, there’s a number of them, but I have to say Father McShane is the person I admire the most. He never fails to inspire when he speaks—and reminds us always of the mission of the University and the mission of those new graduates and older alumni.

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