ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Inaugural Alumni Engagement Speaker Series features BC grads of 1975

By Noell Barnidge
Benedictine Military School conducted its Inaugural Alumni Engagement Speaker Series on March 23. The event featured BC Class of 1975 graduates Mr. Tom Hagan, Mr. Cory Highland, Mr. Tom Hussey, and Dr. Walter Muller III, who helped to educate our Cadets (the senior and junior theology classes) about how to achieve success in life.
Hagan, Highland, Hussey, and Muller spoke to Cadets in 12 theology classes from 7:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. They emphasized the importance of higher education and how to approach various career paths. They also touched on general life lessons. The objective was to provide Cadets insight into what they might expect to encounter as they set out on their own personal journeys after graduating from BC.
“These gentlemen are setting up what we hope is to become a new tradition here at Benedictine,” BC Director of Guidance and College Counseling Mrs. Sheila Crossley told the juniors in Fr. Barnabas O’Reilly’s theology class. “These are members of the BC Class of 1975 and these gentlemen have come back to give some pearls of wisdom from their life experience in the hope that maybe one day, when you guys have gone through and had your careers and done your life experience, you’ll be able to come back and give back to the boys here at Benedictine as well.”
Hagan, who earned a master’s degree in computer science at Georgia Tech, worked for IBM from 1984-2016. The former executive, who lives in Tampa, Fla., spent the majority of his career in software development. He led IBM’s global development at the time of his retirement.
“Forty-eight years ago!” Hagan said, as he smiled and looked at Muller, who both shook their heads in disbelief. “Forty-eight years ago, we were in this classroom! When you think about it, that’s pretty crazy.”
Hagan scanned the audience of Cadets and said, “What pearls of wisdom can Walter and I give you? We both worked for 40 years, so between the two of us we’ve got 80 years of experience. There’s got to be something we can tell you to help you guys. It’s like I’m giving you the answers to the test here and you’re 16 and 17 years old. Pay attention to this because we’re kind of showing you the answer sheet to things. It’s kind of analogous to that. We’re here to help you guys.”
In each session throughout the day, Hagan spoke for 15 minutes, followed by Muller, who spoke for 15 minutes.
Hagan’s lesson 1: You must be intentional about educating yourself.
“You guys have got to be intentional about educating yourself,” Hagan said. “Here you are in high school, and you’ve got a big support system in your family and all these people here at BC. And they’ll help you. But when you get to college, things are going to change. There’s nobody who is going to say, ‘Hey, man, wake up. Wake up. You’ve got an 8 o’clock class. Get out of bed.’ No one cares. If you don’t want to go to class, you don’t have to go to class. If you want to miss a test, you don’t have to take a test. But it affects you. It affects you. You need to start thinking, ‘What am I going to do when I go to college?’ You really need to think about it. I had a guy tell me one time, ‘You work hard 10 or 15 years educating yourself, and get a good degree, and the next 50 years of your life will be relatively comfortable. If you just kind of stumble along, and don’t take all of this seriously, life just goes on and on and on, and you don’t want that. Put your nose to the grindstone and study.’ You need to be thinking, ‘It falls on me. I’m responsible for my success.’”
Hagan’s lesson 2: Learning never ends.
“Invest in your best asset, which is you!” Hagan said. “Build specific skills. Communication skills are at the top of the list. Become a good public speaker. Learn to be a lover of books. The better you read, the faster you can assimilate new material. And a million other skills … think about it!”
Hagan’s lesson 3: Nothing beats hard work.
“Hard work is the key to success,” Hagan said. “Work hard to be the best you can be … in all things. I can tell you, if you’re sitting around playing video games for a fair amount of your time, there’s a guy in China who ain’t doing that. And he’ll kick your butt (in the corporate world). Hard work in anything, whether it’s studies, athletics, whatever it is, nothing beats it.”
Hagan’s lesson 4: Enjoy your life and engage.
“No matter your walk in life, there is a big, beautiful world out there waiting for you,” Hagan said. “Focus not on the ills of the world. Rather, focus on all the great and beautiful things we are blessed with, and engage, whatever your interests, whatever your passions. Participate in stuff. Don’t be a spectator in life. Go jump in the middle of stuff. Try things. Don’t limit yourself. Experience things.”
Muller, who earned a bachelor’s degree in math (1979) and a master’s degree in economics (1980) at the University of Georgia, also earned a doctorate in applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1984. He worked for Bank of America from 1990-2017 and was the Chief Investment Officer, managing $600 billion dollars at the time of his retirement. He lives in Atlanta.
“A lot of these things sound like, ‘Duh. That’s obvious’ or whatever, but all of these things, they kind of come back time and time again,” Muller said. “It’s just surprising to me, looking back, how many things I didn’t know, how clueless I was when I started college, when I started my jobs, when I changed jobs.”
Muller’s lesson 1: Life is long. You need to find something that will support your desired lifestyle and make you happy.
“Life’s not linear,” Muller said. “You’ve got to do the best you can. You’ve got to educate yourself about what you think you want to do, and then you’ve got to prepare yourself for it. And all of those things, you’re going to end up with some side trips. You’re not going up there (straight to the top) unless you’re really good and you’re really blessed. Because it’s just not the way life works. But you have to be prepared for it. You have to adapt to it. And you have to constantly be thinking forward about long-term things, and not just thinking about what you’re going to do today or tomorrow. That’s on you. You’ve got to decide what you like.”
Muller’s lesson 2: You can never have enough skills. Keep building your human capital. No one ever has enough to rest on their laurels and coast. You can always get better and there will always be someone out there that may be better. Every decision you make has an impact on your future opportunity set. You don’t want to constrain your future self by not putting in the hard work today.
“When I started at Bank of America, we had a room of 70 people with six computers. My group was three people. We had three of them. When I left Bank of America, I had a group of 130 people, and we had 30,000 computers. And they ran constantly. All they did was run because I wanted to know if this happens in the market or that happens in the market, what could possibly happen. You’ve got to plan. But I loved it.”
Muller’s lesson 3: Work hard and be a team player. You have complete control over how much effort you put into any task, and developing a reputation as a problem solver and team player is invaluable. Additionally, your reputation follows you forever. Maintain your integrity and treat everyone with respect.
“I’ve given this advice to my kids and everyone,” Muller said. “I got it from a professor when I was at MIT getting my Ph.D. I did reasonably well in school. I did OK. But when you get in a class at MIT, with guys who are going to win the Nobel Prize and things like that, and you watch how fast guys’ brains really work, and you know, these guys are just so talented, so smart, and you’re trying to hold your own. And it’s hard. And my advisor said, ‘Look, Walter, you know, you’re like me, you’re pretty smart. But you can outwork these guys. That’s the thing you control. Nobody controls how hard you work.”
Muller opened the floor for questions and, right off the bat, a Cadet raised his hand and asked a humdinger. “At the lowest point of your career, how did you turn it around?” the Cadet asked.
Said Muller, “That’s a good question. I’d say for me, if I made a mistake or did something wrong – and if you’re a trader, you lose money – you’ve just got to put your head down and say, ‘I know I can contribute. I know I can add value.’ And you just do the best you can and keep plugging forward. Don’t give up. That’s what I did when I lost money in trading. And I’ll tell you, I lost plenty. I remember during the financial crisis, I went into the head guys and said, ‘This is like a knife fight. The markets are moving around every day, and we lost – and the numbers don’t matter – we lost $100 million dollars. We lost $100 million yesterday. I think we’re alright. I think things are going to come back.’ I think the main thing is you look back and you say you made a mistake. You take a hard, honest look, and you say ‘Why did I make that mistake? Was there something I could have done better. How do I fix that?’ And you’re honest about it. You don’t try and hide. You say, ‘This is what I’ve got to do. This is how I can fix it and do better.’ You feel bad. There’s just no two ways about it.”
In a session in Theology Department Chair Mr. Jason Pascual’s theology class, Highland and Hussey spoke with seniors. Highland, who attended Temple University on a basketball scholarship and later Columbia University’s School of International Affairs in New York City, worked many years for Toyota’s corporate office in Manhattan. He also has lived in Paris, France.
Highland’s lessons:
  • Work hard in school. It matters!
  • Once you have a job, any job, work hard and save.
  • Pursue your passion. But not if it’s extremely unlikely or nearly impossible. At least have a fallback plan.
  • List your likes and dislikes.
  • Be a problem-solver, not a problem-causer.
  • Be flexible. Learn new things.
  • Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Treat all people with dignity and respect. Do nothing to hurt yourself or others. Try your very best at everything you do.
“I spent most of my career at Toyota in New York City, managing research and planning, where we try to figure out how many cars and trucks we need to make and sell over a period of time,” Highland said. “When I was managing this group at Toyota, I got a bunch of resumes, and I’m sitting there with 60 resumes and I divided them up into three columns: 1. Yes, I want to interview. 2. Maybe, I want to interview. Let me take a look at this resume again. And 3. No, I do not want to interview you. Do you know what made me put resumes in that third column? Here’s what puts you in the no column: typos, misspellings, grammatical errors. You can’t write. That either means that you don’t know how to write, in which case, I’m not interested in interviewing you because it’s not going to work out or it means that you do know how to write but you don’t care and you’re lazy. That also means you’re not going to work out in my group at Toyota.
“If you only remember one thing, one sentence that comes out of my mouth today, here it is: Don’t lie, cheat or steal,” Highland continued. “Treat all people with dignity and respect. Never do anything to harm yourself or others. And always try your very best at everything you do. If you do those things, and also if you’re blessed with good health, you’re very, very likely to be successful and happy in your life.”
Mr. Hussey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial management at Georgia Tech, is a lifelong Savannah resident. He worked at Savannah Electric and Power, originally doing industrial engineering and statistics, before becoming a 40-year financial advisor and wealth manager. He is the Senior Vice President of Investments at Raymond James.
Hussey’s lessons:
  • Be genuine and true to yourself.
  • Do things you are passionate about.
  • Truly valuable learning is going to come from places you don’t expect.
  • Accountability is everything in the real world.
  • The value of camaraderie and relationships in navigating life.
“In life, we probably learn a lot more from what we do wrong than from anything we do right,” Hussey said. “I thought about, in my life, the bad decision I’ve made. And very nearly every bad decision I ever made, I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I knew I was doing the wrong thing and I did it anyway. And, by the way, as you go through life, you spend your first half of your life denying your mistakes and making excuses and blaming other people. I’ve spent the second half of my life owning my mistakes and trying to learn from them. So I’m going to give you some advice. Skip the first half, OK? Own your mistakes and learn from them.”
Collectively, Hagan, Highland, Hussey, and Muller created a list of “our best lessons for success in life.” They are:
  • Know that you are the single person ultimately responsible for your personal success.
  • Work hard. Nothing drives success more than hard work itself.
  • Learning is a lifelong endeavor. Embrace it every day.
  • Be a man of integrity, at all times, in all you do.
  • And remember, Forward, Always Forward!