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Network Effects: Five Questions with Robbie Sutherland

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When Robbie Sutherland, FCRH ’14, was applying to colleges, he was drawn in by the beauty of Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. He was excited about the club lacrosse team, the well-rounded curriculum, the many opportunities to study abroad, and the chance to work as a Ram Van driver. But what sealed the deal, he says, was the power of the Fordham network.

“I got help from older students, especially my fellow Ram Van drivers, who helped guide me to the right courses and professors. The professors helped me find the right major,” he says, “and the alumni network helped lead me to the right career.”

Now Sutherland, a vice president of strategic client management at Morgan Stanley, wants to do the same for current students.

One way he does this is by encouraging more financial institutions to consider liberal arts graduates. As an economics major who minored in both political science and business administration, Sutherland says he was able to use the “critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills you learn as a liberal arts student” to succeed in his Morgan Stanley internship, which led to a full-time job offer.

In his current role, Sutherland often has to coordinate among multiple teams, something he feels Fordham prepared him well for. “You’re always challenged to find creative solutions at Fordham, to maintain a strong work ethic, and to collaborate. There are great candidates at both business schools and liberal arts colleges who can do that”

He got involved with the Young Alumni Committee’s philanthropy subcommittee and later joined the Fordham University Alumni Association (FUAA) Advisory Board, where he serves on a task force focused on Fordham’s reputation. “The way people think about Fordham is important for the student and alumni experience,” Sutherland says. “I want to be at the forefront of helping Fordham stay in the limelight.”

He also wants to help his fellow alumni reframe how they think about their place in the Fordham network. That includes telling all his fellow alumni and friends about this year’s Fordham Giving Day, which spans March 4 and 5.

“People don’t realize that the amount of donors is so important, no matter how much they give,” he says, explaining that the percentage of alumni who support Fordham is seen as a sign of just how much alumni value their Fordham degree. “If you can’t give $200, give $20, or give $2.50 instead of buying coffee,” he says. “It’s all impactful.”

More importantly, he hopes that telling his own story will inspire other alumni to donate to their alma mater. “Even with financial aid, I graduated from Fordham with a lot of debt,” Sutherland says candidly. But he says he would do it all again—the value of the degree, the friendships he made, and the network he created were worth it.

“I want to combat the negative stigma folks have about giving back when you have debt. And I want to afford other students the opportunity to go to Fordham and have these experiences with less debt,” he says. “I tell them it’s not about giving because you get something physical in return. It’s giving because when you were here, you got experiences and friendships for life.

“And if you can’t give financially, mentor a student. Hire an intern. There are other ways to give back and strengthen the Fordham network.”

What are you most passionate about?
Fordham is really what I’m most passionate about. I think the opportunities that were afforded to me, the classes I got to take and the people I got to meet, it shaped my education, my career, and my life. And I’m indebted to it. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There are two, both from my parents. The first is that hard work pays off. I saw that this year when I got a promotion to vice president so early on in my career. And the hard work I do personally pays off because I get to represent organizations I love, like Fordham and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

The other one is that you need to be able to stand up for yourself and challenge the norm. I have always tried to do that, in the classroom and the workplace, and that’s helped me get to where I am today. I always had an opinion, didn’t really sit back quietly. Even though maybe something had always been done a certain way, I let my voice be heard if I thought I could provide insightful feedback. 

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
In New York City, I would say Central Park. I go up there for runs to clear my head, and it’s just so interesting that we have this green space here. It’s such a point of relief and relaxation in such a hustle-and-bustle city, especially working with finance.

In the world, it’s definitely Rome. I had a fantastic experience studying abroad there: took great classes, played on a Roman lacrosse team, built long-lasting friendships with the students I was with there from around the world. Some of my best friends are from study abroad, and I try to go back to Italy once a year.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
This is a tough one, but for a lasting influence, I think it’s The Great Gatsby, which I read in high school. What I got from it was trying to remember how precious life is, to see the true friends at hand—even though Gatsby had these huge parties, he only had one true friend in Nick—and to understand that material goods don’t fulfill your life. It’s making sure I don’t lose sight of what grounds me.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
Professor Booi Themeli. I took two Senior Values courses with him, so both centered on bringing the Jesuit identity and ideals and values into the classroom and into real-life situations. Those classes led to such great discussions. We would share thoughts about an opportunity or situation or problem and how we would handle it, and he would play devil’s advocate, and we would have to ask ourselves whether we were thinking about things ethically or economically, thinking about dollars and cents or the good of an organization. Those are decisions I have to make probably on a weekly basis at Morgan Stanley (whose four core values luckily align with the Jesuit identity), and Professor Themeli really drove those values home for me.

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