Professor Michael Mullen Shares His Three Keys to Success
Michael G. Mullen, MBA CFA CAIA, the 2020 Louise F. Hegarty Excellence in Teaching Award, gave the Keynote Address at the 2021 Academic Convocation on Wednesday, August 25.
Thank you, Tom, for your kind words. Thank you, Father John, for giving me this opportunity to speak. And thank you Provost Agbényiga, our college administration, faculty, alumni, friends, and family that are here with us this afternoon.
Lastly, I would like to extend a special thanks to the students and other members of the Stonehill community who advocated my candidacy for this award.
And so, can I have a big round of applause for the greatest senior class in the history of Stonehill College—the members of the Class of 2022!
And not to be left out, can we have an even bigger welcoming round of applause for our newest members of the student body—the Class of 2025!
It is truly an honor for me to be here before you this afternoon. I have been teaching at Stonehill for nearly 11 years. I don’t know where the time went but it has had a marked impact on my life in so many ways.
I still vividly remember my first opportunity to join a business department faculty meeting when I came on board full time. At meetings end, I was pumped. I was so impressed and felt so honored to be a part of what appeared to be such a great team of people. I had no plan back then, but I knew the possibilities could be great!
Our department head at the time was Debra Salvucci. Her management style was one of encouragement, support and very student-centric. I recall before developing the syllabus for my very first course, I asked her how she wanted me to design it. She responded—“Teach a rigorous course.”
It had been a long time since I heard the word rigorous, but it was the word I needed to come out of the gates like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred. I enjoyed that course, especially the students. They were an interesting bunch with such great promise.
As I cut my teeth prepping my courses and going about learning this new profession, I realized that there was so much I needed to learn. But anytime I sought advice from members of our Department, they were always willing to help. That mattered and was a key reason why I stayed.
When I joined full time, like any good analyst, I did two important things: I first researched the coursework of some of the best undergraduate finance programs in the country, and second, I carefully analyzed the competitive strengths and weaknesses of our comp schools. I wanted to add value to Stonehill, and this was my way.
My personal goal was to ensure that our students received the finest finance education a college could offer. Professor Meng had been here just a year and Professor Ciamarra joined us several years later. Our skills, knowledge, and interests complement each other well. But importantly, we share the same idea of bringing the best education program we could.
So, while I am honored to accept this award, I do so with the entire faculty of the Business Department in mind, many of whom could be easily standing here instead of me.
Thank you, my friends, you guys are the best!
And though I do not think she is here today; I want to give my sincere thanks to the now-retired but true administrative head of our department—Carolynn McGuinness. Carolynn, your help, and words of encouragement over the years kept me sane. You are greatly missed already.
In preparation for this moment, I made a list of all the things WE did to improve the educational and professional development experience for the students at Stonehill—and not just in finance, not just in accounting, and not just in the Business Department. Those of you in the faculty throughout the College, the administration, technical support, marketing, and others that WE leaned on and especially the janitorial staff that were there to talk to me many a late night. Your contributions were invaluable and truly made a difference.
It turned out that list of accomplishments and the recognition of all the people that played a part in it was three pages long and would have likely doubled the length of this speech. So, for your sake, I am leaving it out.
But I so wanted to do it. It was not meant to be pompous. Rather it was written to illustrate that when we work together for the betterment of the students at Stonehill, we truly can create a better future for the Stonehill community.
To give you just a taste of that impact let me just say this:
- Our student organizations are among the best, honored internationally every year.
- Our coursework is “rigorous,” vibrant, forward-looking with the interests of the students first.
- When I introduce myself outside the College, I rarely hear anymore “Where’s Stonehill?”; instead, I hear, “Oh, Stonehill."
- Because of the success of our recent alums, even firms on Wall Street are now actively seeking out our graduates.
Yes, we have turned many a corner over the past decade and the outside world has taken notice.
None of this would have been possible without the strong interest and support from Dean Salvucci, Professor Duggan, our students and especially our alumni. You make the possibility a reality.
Lessons for Students
Students let me speak directly to you for a moment as I expect that I will never get the opportunity to teach or advise the vast majority of you, but the message is universal.
There are three overarching things that helped me, a young, clueless boy navigate from high school through life that I wish to share with you today:
- Make a commitment to lifelong learning as it will bring you great joy.
- Always give your best effort—you will live each day with drive and zeal.
- And when you do these two things, don’t be afraid to grab opportunity when it comes.
Let me explain:
I firmly believe that education or better said, lifelong learning, is a fundamental key to a better life and great joy.
The ideals of life-long learning were initially seeded by my observations of my parents when I was a child until I went out on my own.
I was born in New York City as the eldest child of Irish immigrant parents who had no formal education. But they understood the value that education could bring to their children. For over 500 years, Irish Catholics lived under the thumb of the British Empire. Most were uneducated, neglected, and lived on small farms to eke out an existence. Over the centuries, millions died young of famine, disease, and poverty. My parents each left their homes to seek a better life elsewhere—they came to America like many others before them.
My father was a hardworking man. But he was also one of the kindest men I have ever known. He arrived in America by himself at about the age of 20, you know, around your age. He took manual labor jobs for a while, but to become a citizen, he had to enlist in the army.
He used to say it wasn’t all bad. He got a free trip to camp in Kentucky, then later a somewhat scenic train ride to Seattle, followed by a cruise to Korea.
After his death, a close family friend shared with me that my dad was a machine gunner in the Army 24th Infantry and fought in some of the fiercest battles against the Chinese Red Army in the mountains of North Korea. But remarkably, he survived and that is how he became a U.S. citizen.
My mother came alone to the U.S at the age of 16 to live with an aunt in Cleveland. You see, her mother died of an aneurysm about 6 months after the birth of her little sister. She barely knew her mom. Her father was ill most of his life after developing Black Lung working in the coal mines of England. He died when she was about 25. She was mostly raised by neighbors and her older brothers. When she turned 21, she left Cleveland and moved to New York City, taking a job as a maid for a wealthy CBS Executive on 5th Avenue. She was a gutsy woman but often troubled by her difficult childhood. My dad was better at hiding his personal challenges.
My mom was an intelligent woman. She ran the household. My dad was never good with financial decisions, of any kind. But he worked six days a week often with overtime. They had a goal—to buy their own home and to give their children an education. And together, they succeeded.
The greatest gift my parents gave my sisters and me was the opportunity for an education. We all went to Catholic grade and high schools. Due to my often- questionable behavior, I served an additional four years at a Jesuit-run institution called Fordham University.
I am fully confident that my sisters would agree with me that it was education that changed the direction of the Mullen Family Tree.
But now with education comes the responsibility to do something meaningful with it. And that is where EFFORT comes into play.
My mother was the queen of the one-liners. “Nothing worthwhile is easy,” she often said. And she was right. Effort leverages education to good things. But it is more than just working hard. You need to learn to work smart.
Working smart means that there is a direct, efficient, measurable benefit from your actions to yourself and to others around you. For that, you are likely to be most rewarded.
“When you truly like what you do, work is almost effortless.” Hey, that is not a bad one-liner—mom would be proud.
But I stole this line from many a Stonehill alum that were once in your shoes. Most who are now doing very, very well.
The other interesting thing about effort is that it creates opportunity.
I came to Boston some 30 years ago. It was for a job that could potentially change my life that I almost did not take. That is a story for another time.
My nine years at Cowen as a sell-side analyst in the medical technology field was personally very demanding, and it took a lot out of me. I suppose having a young family and commuting three hours a day did not help either. But it was incredibly rewarding. We raised capital and promoted companies that developed important lifesaving technologies that are in use today worldwide.
Our team was the best on Wall Street bar none, advising companies, doctors, hospitals, and investors all around the world. Being the best meant that you (1) you never looked back over your shoulder, (2) you sought continuous improvement on everything you did, and (3) you led by example.
Over my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best and most interesting people in the world. My address book today includes outstanding CEOs, CFOs, retired and active executives, incredible members of the investment community, and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, all of whom have done some amazing things for mankind.
I also need to thank my former clients here in the U.S. and my colleagues in Switzerland for their generous assistance in supporting our educational efforts at Stonehill throughout the past decade.
Especially my good friends John Manieri and his wife Cindy who just had a baby in the past week, my friend of 20 years, Cyrill Zimmerman, our colleagues in Switzerland - Oliver Kubli, Samuel Stursberg, and Marvin Ng (who is based in Singapore). These are among many others that have contributed their time to our finance program to make it one of the best.
This leads me to my last key point—readiness.
You can be very knowledgeable and work smart but will you be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they come.
When you are blessed with a sound education and you commit to working hard, especially in your younger years, opportunity abounds no matter who you are.
But you must be aware and willing to take risks. Reach out and grab that opportunity. The rewards can be beyond your imagination—they were mine.
Let me close with this final message
I am very proud of all my students. I have challenged them to find their best and the vast majority accepted that challenge and left this College believing in themselves and their future.
Even though I have had an interesting career and a good life, I still see through the eyes of a 20-something-year-old—just like you. And I, too, sometimes feel lost, sad, lacking in courage, and sometimes fear the dark side of our human nature.
But my wonderful wife of 37 years this Sept. 1 has brought balance to these fears and joy to my life. My two children are the best things we have ever made. And those of you that have heard me describe our little Maltese at home—yes, he is still evil.
We need to be optimistic about the future and feel free to choose our life path. But we also must take personal responsibility for our past decisions and to plan for the many personal challenges ahead.
We live in an incredible age. We are at the pinnacle of advancement in human history with the highest standards of living that man has ever experienced.
But this world can be a chaotic and often a difficult place to live for many, many people, especially when those exercising their free will, do so at others expense. That I believe is the greatest sin of all and the most unfortunate consequence of this great gift.
In summary, think of life—both your personal and professional—as a wonderous opportunity. Dig deep inside your soul and truly be the best that you can be.
It will make you happy and those around you proud to know you.