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Giving Our Students the “Dual Package”

Posted: January 2, 2019

An Interview with Dennis McCarthy,
VP for Finance and TAC Dad


Note: Joining the College’s administrative faculty this year is the new vice president for finance, Dennis McCarthy. A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Business School, Mr. McCarthy spent four decades in the investment-banking industry, holding executive positions at such firms as EF Hutton, Drexel Burnham Lambert and, most recently, Boustead Securities. He is also a TAC parent: His eldest daughter, Kim, graduated from the College in 2011, and her husband, Paul Lazenby (’10), is the director of the College’s Annual Fund.


How did you first get into investment banking?

This is one of the stories I tell the students here — you don’t necessarily have to know exactly where you’re going! It was sometime in the second semester of my second year at Harvard Business School that I was doing my laundry and chatting with the guy sitting across from me. He started describing his summer internship in investment banking, and that was really the first time I had ever heard about the industry. It sounded interesting. So I researched it. I started applying for jobs and got one after I graduated. I then stayed in the industry, with different firms, for 40 years.

And how did you first learn about Thomas Aquinas College?

Well, that’s also one of those serendipitous stories. My oldest daughter, Kimmie, was in her junior year of high school, and my wife attended a prayer breakfast at the Los Angeles Cathedral, where she happened to be seated at the table with the College’s president at the time, Tom Dillon. As a result of that discussion, my wife and daughter later traveled up to visit the College, and when I learned about it, I fell in love with the school right away.

My experience at college was sort of the reverse of Thomas Aquinas College: Georgetown was a relatively large school; it had around 5,000 undergraduate students and lots of lecture classes. I was good at lecture classes, good at taking notes and responding, so I did well in that, but I realized afterward that never once after graduating from college did I use any of the skills of note-taking and regurgitation. I used other skills that, fortunately, I had developed through my work experience. So I was attuned to the weaknesses, or the flaws, of a traditional lecture format, and when I heard about TAC, I became a very strong advocate of the Discussion Method as a much better way of conducting education.

Your own education was focused toward a specific line of work. Were you concerned that a liberal arts education would not sufficiently prepare your daughter for a career?

No. I was a business major in college, and when I went to Harvard Business School, there was a young fellow in my study group who had been an English major at Williams College. I observed that, within a few weeks of starting Harvard Business School, he was on par with all of us who had had four years of business training. I observed up close that our majors made no difference. He was a bright guy; he absorbed the material very quickly and was at no disadvantage within just weeks. And Harvard Business School is not a weak program!

So I learned that the vocational aspect of college is not really that important, and was able to then counsel Kimmie that I didn’t find that to be an issue whatsoever.

Does the TAC education lend itself well to the business world?

Oh, sure. I see proof positive of that in my son-in-law, Paul (Lazenby ’10). While still a student at TAC, Paul was fortunate to interview for a management-training program at a big global company. One of the interview assignments was, “Stand up and deliver a PowerPoint about yourself.” His fellow applicants — young people from various other schools which were more technically oriented — were stumbling around and uncomfortable standing up in front of people to deliver any kind of message, let alone something as easy as, “Who am I.” But for a TAC grad, that was a piece of cake. How many times during the course of four years do students get called on to stand in front of their peers and describe something much more technical than who they are? And so, right off the bat, Paul started to shine.

There are some basic things that TAC students just understand as a result of four years of experience that other students don’t have, and these are key elements: a little bit of respect for authority, how to describe yourself, how to stand in front of a group of people and speak.

I’ve seen story after story of how young people from TAC prove that they have the kind of knowledge, intellect, and ability to achieve in any industry. They are not afraid of working with an Excel spreadsheet. That’s just not something that’s off-putting to them. Just like they wouldn’t hesitate to dive into Senior Math — or, frankly, Freshman Math. I sat in on Dr. Augros’ Senior Math class. That is not an easy program. For anyone who can get through that program, most of this other work that they are going to experience in grad school or on the job is manageable.

How did you come to work for the College?

Well, I have been an advocate of the school since before Kimmie started her freshman year, and in the course of time I had gotten to know President McLean and much of the team here. Around the time that they were formulating a succession plan for Peter DeLuca, Dr. McLean reached out to me. As it happened, after 40 years of investment banking, I was considering a change. I had been praying, “Lord, give me some guidance as to what you would like me to do with my talents.” And so when Dr. McLean called, I thought, “OK, I get it. I get it. I hear the message, and I am interested. It’s a school I love, and this is the opportunity for me to apply my talents in these next 40 years.”

Tell us about the video you made for your LinkedIn page.

We’re a small school, and we don’t have the football team that Notre Dame has, or the alumni base in Southern California that a USC or a UCLA has. So I am trying to create some awareness among employers of TAC as a place where students are well-trained, social, and hard-working. So if they see a TAC résumé, it will catch their attention, and they will give the applicant the benefit of the doubt. Or, better yet, I want them to reach out to us if they are looking to fill an opening someplace: “Hey, I saw your video about TAC students. Anybody want to go to the Midwest? I’m looking for somebody in Chicago.”

So I made this video, which answers the question, “Why, after 40 years of investment banking, did I make this change?” And the answer is, because the students here are a very good group of students — this is the kind of young adult we need to have more of for the workplace today.

I’m reaching out to my contact base, and my contact base on LinkedIn is pretty big, in the 3,000 zone. The video has gone well beyond that. It’s received more than 7,000 views, including 1,000 CEOs and 2,000 CFOs of American corporations. I have received a lot of feedback from my Harvard Business School classmates and colleagues and clients that I have had over the years, who are impressed by the students. It’s all very positive because, unfortunately, a lot of young people don’t have the greatest reputation. Especially among people of my generation, young people are perceived as entitled, or whiny, or self-absorbed. The whole message of my video was, “That’s not this group. This group has got a great, hard-working work ethic which you see both inside the classroom and in their Service Scholarship jobs.”

What advice do you give to the College’s students?

A lot of students come to me — I think because I’ve come from the business world — asking for career advice. I try to encourage them so that they will graduate not only with all the skills we develop here, but also with an awareness of those skills and the ability to market them in the business world. I think our students are going to be extremely successful with that dual package: the skills that they learn here combined with the marketing tools to show them off.

Dennis McCarthy
Tim Cantu (’10)

“Thomas Aquinas College was outstanding preparation for my future career. The great books curriculum hones critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that are absolutely essential every day in law school and as an attorney. To receive this education while also attending a school with a deep and profound Catholic culture was the most valuable college experience I could have had.”

– Tim Cantu (’10)

Attorney, Pepple Cantu Schmidt

“Thomas Aquinas College is uniquely positioned and equipped to let light shine once more in our world, in our society, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships.”

– Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.

Archbishop of Oklahoma City