Mendoza School of Business

Looking back

Author: Michael W. Colbert (MBA ’80)

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It was a beautiful day in mid-August 1978.  The sky was blue, and the sun was shining.  I had never been on the campus at Notre Dame and with great anticipation looked skyward to spot the Administrative Building (a.k.a. The Golden Dome) to check in and get registered for MBA classes and my new residence at married student housing, University Village.  As I approached the building admiring the trees, grass and surroundings, I could hear faintly in the background the sounds of the Notre Dame Band, already hard at work practicing for the home opener only two weeks away.  I knew I was at home.

It was not the first time I had heard the Fight Song played.  Growing up as an Irish Catholic in Dedham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, I had had lots of exposure to college football, stories of Frank Leahy at Boston College (my father’s alma mater), and the legends of Knute Rockne and Notre Dame. The ND football replay narrated by Lindsey Nelson on Sunday mornings no doubt was the reason for our 12-noon mass ritual.  I also had the opportunity to meet several Boston area ND alumni when my father would take me to the Boston Catholic Alumni Sodality meetings, frequented by many BC, Holy Cross and Georgetown alumni.

As a Cadet at West Point in the Fall of 1969, my first trip as a Plebe was to join the entire Corps of Cadets for a game in early October against the Fighting Irish.  We marched out onto Yankee Stadium during the pre-game ceremonies and were greeted with polite applause.  Later while seated in the stands, we watched the ND Band get greeted with a thunderous ovation from the standing crowd.  I remember remarking to the cadet next to me, “I thought it was a home game for us.”  Even our West Point parish priest (ND alumnus) who was at the game with us with his “Go Army” pin on his jacket got into the act as he revealed his “Go Irish” pin on the inside of his jacket.  The New York/ ND crowd rooting for Parseghian, Theismann and the Irish had indeed a good day:  Notre Dame 45 – Army 0.

After my four years at West Point and five years on active duty, the last four of which were in Germany, it was indeed fun and energizing to be at Notre Dame and a part of the early years of the MBA program.  In those days life was simple.  All our classes were in the old Hayes-Healy building and most of my lunches were a few steps away in the Huddle.  I made regular use of the Library and the ACC racquetball courts. Our class was small, about 80 people including about a dozen MBA/JD joint degree program students.  For me our class seemed diverse, with multiple students from Central America, Mexico, Asian Americans (India) and yes, even women (first time since my 6th grade year).  We were a close-knit group as we followed a mostly preset, required two-year curriculum and saw one another every day.

As I reflect on the meaning and influence of this period, I always go back to the people at and around Notre Dame who made a difference in my life.

  1.  Rev. David Schlaver, Admissions.  Rev. Schlaver was in constant contact with me from the time I expressed interest in Notre Dame.  He sent multiple letters to me at my duty station in Germany, encouraging me to consider Notre Dame.  Most of all, he made me feel welcomed and wanted.  This ultimately made my decision to confirm my spot easier, turning down admission to other exceptional programs like Dartmouth.  Thank you, Rev Schlaver!
  2. Professor Ken Milani, MBA Prof of Budgeting. Our MBA Class of 1980 was blessed to have an outstanding cadre of professors (Chang, Tavis, Kennedy and others).  Of particular impact to me was one of our first classes with Prof. Milani.  After he introduced himself to the class, one astute classmate of mine asked him if he could share why, given all his exceptional academic credentials and previous corporate work experience (Johnson & Johnson), he would choose to teach and live at Notre Dame.  His answer stuck with me:” There are more good people here per square foot than anywhere else on the planet.”  Well said, Prof. Milani.
  3. Roland Kelly, ND ’50, Marketing Director, St Joseph Bank and Trust Company, South Bend.  My 2nd year at Notre Dame gave me a unique opportunity to work part time for Roland as a Bank MBA intern.  In addition to learning about the inner workings of a community bank, it also gave me expanded access to many other alumni at the bank, notably the President Mr. Richard Rosenthal (later Athletic Director at ND), Chuck Lennon (later Alumni Director at ND) and Pat Novitski, Loan Officer (former ND Captain of the hockey team).  Roland Kelly especially gave me some very meaningful advice and was a living example of caring for others and giving back to the community. Note: I was reminded of this last year when reading a story in Note Dame Magazine written by his son Jason Kelly ’95, who articulated the beauty and magic of living in small town South Bend, Indiana.
  4. The extended Notre Dame/ South Bend community.  My wife Kathleen and I took away special community experiences which made this MBA school period even more meaningful.  Kathleen was able to meet numerous South Bend business leaders in her role as an Administrator with the Michiana Arts and Sciences Council housed at Century Center.  Likewise, during the Christmas season, she was able to participate in a special choir assembled by Prof. Isele at the Department of Music.  Our community service extended to the local United States Army Reserve unit, the 428th Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters, where I met community leaders from the Fire Dept, the Police Dept, the local high school, local business and even the South Bend Tribune. I was made local Headquarters Battery Commander, received a promotion and was propelled to remain active in the Reserves, eventually retiring as a Lt Colonel.  I am forever grateful to all those who helped along the way.

The Mendoza experience is wonderful to reflect on and one which ages well with time.  I was privileged to be one of the Teaching Assistants in our class which gave me the opportunity to assist and support some of the undergraduates in the College of Business.  I came to know and love many of my MBA classmates. Amidst all of our required structured course of study, it was not lost on us that one of our required courses was a semester class on “Business Ethics,” one of the first such courses of its time.  As I look back now at a business career spanning four decades, my experience at Notre Dame, the values solidified, and the spirit of helping community all served me well.  Whether hiring, training and developing others or making investment management decisions or serving on nonprofit Boards, I was always compelled to do the “right” thing, seeking understanding and doing so with confidence and compassion.

As I write this, I continue to look forward to making a positive impact and doing what I can to think of others and improve our community.  I am now on my third tour as a senior AmeriCorps volunteer through Experience Matters.  Currently I am assigned to Opportunities for Youth in Phoenix, an organization focused on helping the disconnected 16–24-year-old target group with getting back on track, whether it be through an educational or employment pathway.  Onward!

Topics: MBA