While a student at Fordham University, Gerald C. Crotty, FCRH ’73, president of Weichert Enterprise, LLC, started out in biology, moved to English and ended up becoming a lawyer and chief counsel for Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Brian W. MacLean, FCRH ’75, president and chief operating officer of The Travelers Companies, savored his eclectic art history classes and “counterculture” mindset while at Fordham in the seventies. He later discovered a talent for business leadership.
Colleen M. Jones, GBA ’88, senior vice president, Klingenstein Fields & Co., LLC, attended night school and achieved success as a woman in business despite the lack of networking, mentoring and job placement programs.
And Edward M. Stroz, CBA ’79, co-president of Stroz Friedberg, LLC, recalls he was not the “strongest applicant” for college. But his real-world skills landed him a career in the FBI and subsequent success launching a computer forensics firm.
Today, all four alumni bring their life experience and style back to the University as members of Fordham’s President’s Council, a group of 80 talented and successful alumni whose allegiance to and love of Fordham has forged a lasting bond between themselves and their alma mater.
The council was the brainchild of Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, who had implemented a similar group of talented alumni, the Business Council, in 1998, when he was president of the University of Scranton. Since its inception in 2003, the President’s Council has performed a range of activities on behalf of Fordham, its top-level initiative being the University’s annual signature fundraising event, the Fordham Founder’s Award Dinner.
Recently the council has boosted its campus activities. The initiatives include mentoring students in the University’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), reaching out one-on-one to prospective students to encourage them to choose Fordham, and speaking to classes as part of an executive-in-residence program.
“The value of engaging some of our most accomplished alumni in Fordham’s mission is immeasurable,” said Father McShane. “The council members’ diverse talents, energy and commitment to the University—and of course the leadership role they take with our annual Founder’s Dinner—have had an energizing effect that has been felt across the University. Perhaps most importantly, students have been the direct beneficiaries of the council’s largesse, through mentoring, scholarship support and its executive-in-residence program. The Fordham community is enriched by the council members’ generous hearts and steady presence.”
“These are 80 folks who feel that Fordham really transformed their lives,” said Julie Fissinger, development officer for the President’s Council. “Now that they’re well established in their own careers, they’re looking to help create Fordham leaders in the next generation.”
Crotty, who was appointed chair of the council in June, stressed that even though on-campus activities are not the primary focus of the council, they are, nonetheless, initiatives he hopes to expand over the next few years.
And, he adds, they are fun. Whether talking to business students or to students majoring in the liberal arts, council members say they value the chance to interact with those whose shoes they’ve walked in.
“From our perspective, it’s a thrill to come back to the campus,” said Crotty, who recently conducted a question-and-answer session for arts and sciences seniors contemplating whether or not to go to law school—a dilemma he said he knows something about. “There are always students who stay behind to talk, to get as much out of it as possible. They ask intelligent, insightful questions.”
As part of the council’s executive-in-residence program, MacLean recently spoke to professor Steve Wilson’s undergraduate business class. As president of a Fortune 100 company, MacLean talked about how to effectively manage professional talent. As a beneficiary of Fordham’s mission to educate the whole person, he recounted his own journey from working-class Queens.
“I didn’t grow up with college-educated parents, so I was incredibly naïve as to what existed in the world regarding professional opportunities, much more than students today,” said MacLean, who spent five years working in government doing criminal investigations before he moved into the world of insurance. “While I don’t remember any alumni coming in from the outside and talking about their professional experiences, I recall having great professors and being raised in an environment where you learned to think creatively.
“The more we council members can balance what students are hearing on the academic side with real world experiences, the better.”
Stroz recently found himself, by chance, in the position of helping the son of one of his employees choose Fordham over a state school, by offering both financial support and mentoring. “I wasn’t the strongest applicant and I remember that,” he said. “I felt that they probably took a bit of a gamble on me, and that I got a very solid education. [Now] I try to bring that Jesuit ideal . . . to the people I come in contact with.”
Having not had a Fordham mentor herself, Jones has chosen to do one-on-one mentoring at GBA and at HEOP, a program that supports students whose academic performance and income would otherwise make college just beyond reach. She helped HEOP senior Patricia Cepeda, CBA ’09, and two GBA students hone their resumes and prepare for professional interviews. She also provided a professional reference. Jones even brought one of the students into her office to meet a head trader and try out the Thompson Reuters system and Bloomberg terminals in preparation for an internship.
“I really enjoy giving back to the school,” said Jones, who keeps in touch with protégés through lunches and e-mails. “It is one of the Jesuit principles and is my genuine philosophy in life.”
Crotty is committed to raising Fordham’s profile in the New York City community. He is also ready to cultivate on-campus programs in which today’s generation of leaders give back to students who may be tomorrow’s leaders—and perhaps future council members themselves.
“It would be a waste not to harness all of the energy, intelligence and alumni power that the council has for service to the University,” he said.