Major in Anything...Succeed in Business

Enthusiastic alumni in the business sector mentor students and fuel the success of the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies

By Debra Steilen



At first, the first year student from New York City was thinking of majoring in psychology, then he turned his attention to economics. Later on, he considered political science. Finally, Gabe Fernandez admitted to himself that he had no clue what he wanted to do with his life. That is, until he was a junior and sat down with David Chu, associate professor of accounting and director of entrepreneurial studies and prebusiness adviser.

“We talked about the success I was having outside campus working part time for Vector Marketing,” Fernandez recalls. “Professor Chu pointed out that a sales career is not just about finance or economics; it’s about using written and verbal skills to connect with people. We decided business might be a good fit. Being able to see myself in such a role was something new and exciting to me.”

Today, Fernandez—who graduated in 2012 with a double major in philosophy and religious studies—works as an account executive with Enterprise Fleet Management in San Francisco. It was the prebusiness program at Holy Cross that changed his mindset, he says, along with that conversation with Chu. Fernandez also praises the Holy Cross executive leader workshop he attended as an undergrad. Students were paired up in teams, then asked to create a company out of nothing, he recalls. “It was the first time in my life I realized that in order to be successful you had to [go beyond] your own thoughts,” he says. “You really need to depend upon the ideas of other people.

“I had to sacrifice spring break,” he says. “But I did not regret it one bit.”

There are scores of former and current Crusaders just like Fernandez. Not only do they have the tools of a rigorous liberal arts education, commitment to lifelong learning and ability to network with alumni, but they have another weapon in their arsenal: COES. Formed in 2005, the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies (COES) is the prebusiness program at the College. It is named for Arthur A. Ciocca ’59, former CEO and owner of The Wine Group, who provided major funding for the program.

“Eighty-seven percent of Holy Cross graduates work in business roles,” points out Catherine Cote ’18, based on a recent search of the alumni database. Cote, a psychology major from Hopkinton, Mass., has taken part in multiple COES offerings, including the Women in Business Conference last November. “That’s an interesting statistic since Holy Cross doesn’t have a business major or a business college.”

The statistic makes perfect sense to Chu, who says students often come to Holy Cross wanting to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher; they don’t really understand what business is. “They think business is about suits, briefcases and working in skyscrapers. I broaden their perspective from a narrow vocational focus on one profession to an understanding that business is very broad and in the fabric of every opportunity they can imagine.”

Marios Dardas ’16 will graduate this spring with a major in computer science, then join J.P. Morgan in the New York City area as a technical analyst. The Worcester native also credits Chu and COES with influencing his perspective on business. “COES shaped me into a different kind of person,” he recalls. “I listened to alumni who told us stories about what they did when challenged ethically. They talked about trade-offs and the implications of their decisions. I learned there are many different ways to do business and tackle issues in this world.”

Chu (pictured) has been with COES since the beginning, helping students figure out which classes and internships will take them where they want to go. “My job is also to help students understand how to articulate who they are and why they should be hired— and increase their chances of getting that first job out of Holy Cross,” he says. “Once they get that first job, they’re off to the races.”

COES began as a weeklong spring break workshop in 2005. Nearly 20 students attended that first executive in residence program, which also drew Arthur Ciocca himself as an observer. “I was impressed when he described a capitalistic market guided by moral principles as the best way to run an economy and benefit society,” Chu recalls about their first meeting. “That’s his passion. I share it.”

After meeting Ciocca, Chu (who was already the prebusiness adviser) agreed to head up the entrepreneurial program that bears the donor’s name. For its first nine years, COES existed as a collection of workshops and networking opportunities— in no particular order, Chu says. As helpful as COES was, however, it needed fine-tuning to keep up with the times. So in 2014, Chu met with Margaret Freije, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, to strategize how to improve the program. “The first point Dean Freije made was that we need more structure to help guide students through this program,” Chu says. “She said they need to know which one to do first and why.”

As a result of that change, today’s COES Professional Program is a co-curricular program, not a degree or a major, and is structured around five key milestones that lead to a Certificate of Readiness. The milestones— business workshops, an internship, completion of three recommended Holy Cross courses, student club involvement and an advanced Excel workshop—enable Holy Cross students to connect their education and experience to the workplace.

“Students can stick to their major while increasing their business literacy,” Chu emphasizes. “Plus there’s a certificate they can add to their resume and make a focal point as one of their achievements at Holy Cross.”

Through business workshops, students learn technical skills and absorb detailed, industry-specific information to help them start their business careers. They’re required to start with the Fullbridge Professional Edge Program, hosted by Holy Cross. Held three times a year, Fullbridge is an intensive, six-day workshop that exposes students to a variety of business fundamentals. Sessions include balance sheet analysis, business research and team communication skills.

“I learned how to read a financial statement because of Fullbridge,” Cote says. “But the part I loved the best was that they put us on teams to choose a company, analyze it financially and present it to a board of pretend investors. By the end of the week, we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We operated like a well-oiled machine.”

After Fullbridge, students choose two elective workshops that help them explore potential business careers. The list includes Finance Boot Camp; Entrepreneurship Deep Dive; Nonprofit Careers Conference; Marketing Communications and Sales; and Principled Leadership. The Future Steps capstone is a required two-day workshop for students who have completed at least two other offerings. Participants work with alumni through a series of exercises designed to build each student’s personal brand and value proposition by connecting their liberal arts education and experience to the marketplace.

Andrew Smith ’19, from Cincinnati, participated in Finance Boot Camp. “We learned what bankers do every single day and what they love about their jobs,” says Smith, an economics and history major. He says he has a passion for financial markets and has known for years that he wanted to pursue a business career. “We were actually on the trading floor on Wall Street. Finance Boot Camp was my best COES experience so far.”

Casey Carty ’18, of Harveys Lake, Pa., took part in the Marketing Communications and Sales workshop last March. “I was able to test my creativity and get past boundaries that I thought were limits to me,” says Carty, who is a political science major. “This workshop taught me I have much more to offer than surface-level skills.”

Students also expand their business skills by taking three courses from a list provided by the COES program. Many of the classes deal with economics or accounting, but others reach outside standard financial fare—ranging from persuasive communications to basic acting.

Why such a wide range of courses? Real-world business is more than just economic models and financial numbers, Chu says. After a few years in the business sector, most people move away from crunching numbers to managing people, presenting and persuading. “You need emotional intelligence to understand your colleagues and teams, your customer, your investor and your boss—which requires people skills,” he says. “Therefore, we also want students to take courses in persuasive communications, rhetoric, speaking and even basic acting. That’s how you present yourself in front of an audience. And that’s important.”

Active participation in a COES club helps students develop their business skills, understand current events related to their field of interest and network with successful alumni. Students choose from The Agency, the Entrepreneurs Group, the Finance Club and the Sales and Management Club.

Smith is very involved in the Finance Club, which helps prepare students for future financial careers and provides valuable introductions to Holy Cross graduates in the corporate world. “As much as COES can teach you about the business world, these people can teach you about the skills you need to get the job,” Smith says.

The river of opportunity running through COES’ success is fed by Holy Cross alumni who eagerly give back to their alma mater. Graduates speak at conferences, host site visits, judge workshop presentations, hire interns, share tips and advice and broaden students’ networks through referrals to business colleagues. And all the COES workshops are taught by real-world practitioners who bring their knowledge and experience back to Holy Cross, Chu says.

“I could hire faculty from a business school to teach the same things, but these alumni are role models for our students,” he says. “Alumni can relate to them because they were once students here themselves.”

In fact, it’s alumni who are often responsible for steering students into business-related internships, a COES milestone that is central to the success of the program. Take Anne Schiffman Fink ’85, P17, president of PepsiCo Global Foodservice, for example.

"It's so satisfying to see students who have interned and been hired [at PepsiCo]; they have been standouts,” Fink says. “They tend to be excellent communicators, dig into critical problems and they’re not afraid to ask questions to really understand the ‘why’ and arrive at solutions that work for the business.” Fink regularly sponsors internships, and she has been actively involved with the Career Advisor Network, the Prebusiness Program and the Women in Business Conference (where she served as keynote speaker in 2014).

Ben Shephard ’05 participated in the beginnings of the COES program, then known as the Arthur A. Ciocca Executive in Residence Program. “I didn’t appreciate or understand the finance world as a freshman at Holy Cross,” recalls Shephard, now an investment banker for Credit Suisse in New York City. “It took me three internships to find out what I wanted to do when I graduated. I remember reaching out to the managing director at J.P. Morgan [a Holy Cross alumnus] during one of my internships; he has been a mentor ever since.”

Joan Hogan Gillman ’85 is also a mentor to alumni and current students alike. She was an English/premed major on the Hill and is now executive vice president and chief operating officer of media services for Time Warner Cable in New York City. A Holy Cross Trustee and 2015 Sanctae Crucis Award winner, Gillman has long worked with the Holy Cross career development center to bring students into her company as interns and employees. She got involved early on with the annual Women in Business Conference, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in November 2015. This event links alumnae who are proven leaders and innovators at the top of their business careers with students interested in entering the field.

“The Holy Cross experience continues to play an important role in my life,” Gillman says. “The rigorous academics, the close-knit community and the mission of men and women for others have provided me with a strong foundation for a successful life and career. Returning to Holy Cross to support programs for students, from internships to prebusiness programs, is personally rewarding. There is not an encounter where I do not learn something from the students or the interns that makes me a better person and leader. For this reason, I make a point of prioritizing time for mentoring both in the workplace and with my alma mater.”

Brian Kelley ’83 shares Gillman’s passion for giving back. The current vice chairman of Keurig Green Mountain in Boston and Holy Cross Trustee took part in the original executive in residence workshop in 2005 as a mentor, and has continued his involvement with COES since then. He has presented “Moving a Global Enterprise Forward” at multiple executive leadership workshops and also participated in the Marketing Communications and Sales workshop last March. There, Kelley and one of his senior executives presented four teams of students with actual business problems and evaluated the teams’ solutions.

“I will tell you that I never dreamed of being a CEO as a student at Holy Cross,” says the former economics major and Crusader football player. “But I loved the marketplace and the dynamic nature of business, people and competition. At Holy Cross, I saw how business could be a passion, and I know how valuable it was for Holy Cross graduates to take an interest in me. That’s why I interact with students now. I really value it, and I learn as much from the students as they do from me.”

Alumni involvement is the lifeblood of COES, Chu emphasizes. “Since 2005, more than 300 students have participated in COES workshops,” he says. “I am looking forward to seeing many of these former students return to help future generations of Holy Cross students succeed in the same way they have succeeded.”

Donna Le ’11 is among them. She majored in both economics and Chinese language (Mandarin) and is now a relationship manager at Bloomberg L.P. in New York City. She participated in a five-day executive leadership workshop at Holy Cross, a logical extension to her undergraduate role as student organizer of the Women in Business Conference. “The prebusiness program helped me build my confidence,” says Le, who continues to network with current students. “So many people helped me along the way; now it’s time for me to pay it forward.”

Clint Greenleaf ’97 credits Holy Cross with giving him the freedom to figure out what he wanted to learn. “Being exposed to entrepreneurial ideas helped me go out and do what I wanted to do,” says Greenleaf, who majored in economics and accounting. He originally intended to join the Marines, but instead became an entrepreneur. Greenleaf is now the founder and CEO of HomePlate Peanut Butter in Austin, Texas.

“That’s why I love giving back,” says Greenleaf, who has led many COES summer workshops on how to generate ideas and turn them into businesses. “I’m returning the favor of spending four years at Holy Cross.”

What will COES look like in five years? Professor Chu says he hopes to see it become a signature program at the College. “COES will be one of the main reasons students come here, because it works in tandem with a liberal arts education to educate students holistically,” he says. “It will become an integral part of the Holy Cross ecosystem.” ■

Photos by Tom Rettig and Rob Carlin

Arthur A. Ciocca ’59, Entrepreneur and Namesake of COES

Retired wine executive Arthur A. Ciocca ’59 likes to grow things. No, he’s not a farmer; he’s the entrepreneur who formed The Wine Group (TWG) in 1981, when he and his associates purchased wine assets from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Since then, TWG has grown into the third-largest wine company in the United States by sales volume—with a portfolio of leading brands that include Franzia, Cupcake and Almaden.

TWG’s core values echo ideals Ciocca learned at Holy Cross as an undergraduate. “We are responsible and trustworthy, displaying integrity, commitment to ethical behavior and a collaborative teamwork environment,” says the company’s website. Ciocca emphasized that approach in 2005 when he donated funds that endowed the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies (COES). He believed then—and now—that Holy Cross students could tackle business ventures with an ethical perspective, thanks to their rigorous, Jesuit-influenced education.

Ciocca also believes in the participation of alumni who have become high-level business executives. “I learned more from my mentors and role models as a young man than I ever did from the books I read,” he recalls. So it’s only fitting that dozens of successful Holy Cross grads have been involved in COES from the very first executive in residence workshop to today. COES has aided more than 2,500 students with programming that meshes principled leadership with smart decision-making. And Ciocca maintains it is more important than ever for Holy Cross students to understand what it means to create long-term, sustainable and real value.

“Growth that occurs as a result of favoritism, cronyism or corporate welfare benefits a few, at the expense of the common good,” he says. “Real value creation is consistent with meritocracy and Holy Cross values.”

Ciocca also challenges students to take a proprietary interest in everything they do. “Think like an owner,” he says. “It broadens your perspective, sharpens your vision and enables you to make much better long-term decisions.” ■