Author: Thomas F. Klein (BBA '76)
Congratulations to the Mendoza College of Business on its centennial! For my family, this is also a milestone year, namely the 80th year of our association with Mendoza. My father, John Louis Klein, started in the College in 1941, as a major in Accounting. I would follow in his footsteps 32 years later. My father left Notre Dame after two years to become an Officer and Pilot of a B-26 Bomber during World War II, earning the Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters. But his early days at Notre Dame formed the man and businessman he would become. As President of Klein’s Auto Rental, our family corporation, and as a licensed Funeral Director and Real Estate Broker, he epitomized Mendoza’s call to Grow the Good. In his professional career, he fought for the rights of his unionized employees, despite being a senior member of his industry’s management organization. As President of the St. Mary’s Parish School Board in Manhasset, NY, he strove to imbue the schools he helped grow with the love he had of teaching the Catholic Faith in word and deed. And in his later years, he continued a life of service as an EMT for his retirement community.
This love of service was ingrained in me from my earliest days and led me to serve the physically challenged children and adults who attended the Viscardi Center on Long Island. This then drove me to enroll in Notre Dame as a Pre-Med major. After two years, I moved to Mendoza as an Accounting major, which echoes what my favorite professor, Ken Milani, calls the “move from pre-Accounting”. That move paved the way to a 43-year career on Wall Street.
Through my professional years, the teachings of Fr. Oliver Williams, and his focus on ethics in business stayed with me and buoyed me when faced with unethical and inequitable behavior. In my own way, I endeavored to live the vision he painted of a community of integrity and concern for all employees. This led to my career focus on change in the businesses I supported. And although I never held a formal job as an accountant, my degree opened doors in the fields of Brokerage, Banking and ultimately regulation, at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The analytical thinking and formal training inculcated at Mendoza led me to question established practices and procedures, which culminated in becoming a founding Partner of the Capital Markets Company of New York (now Capco). Our goal was to provide the kind of consulting advice and support that we would have liked to receive as industry practitioners, and to offer our expertise and perspective toward supporting major Financial Industry changes in the U.S. and Canada. Of particular significance during my consulting years was the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, and the way in which the Financial Services Industry pulled together to re-establish itself quickly and collaboratively. The focus was very Mendoza-like, in that our collective efforts were directed toward the greater industry good, and the clients we served. I have also been fortunate to have built a network of close friends and former Mendoza students who have supported me throughout my career and reinforced the values and perspectives that Notre Dame nourished.
In my current post-retirement career as a Professor of Accounting at St. John’s University in New York, I try to instill that same vision and focus in my students. And I have been pleased by the students’ embracing of the concepts of fairness and ethical business dealings. I saw this as well in the Notre Dame students that I was fortunate enough to mentor during my business years. They are focused on bettering the professions and society in which they work and live. My hope for them is that they carry the strength of their convictions into every field they choose. To support this, my hope for Notre Dame is to continue to provide the highest quality and real world-based professional training as well as a well-rounded exposure to the humanities that will enable its graduates to form judgements based on knowledge and faith.
I would be remiss if I did not credit my wife of 38 years, Mary Ann, with providing me the strength, support and encouragement that have enabled me to deal with personal and professional struggles over the years. A life-long teacher, she has shown me the real meaning of service and devotion. May our future graduates form such life-long bonds with friends and partners that will sustain them through the inevitable challenges they will face in their future.