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Urging Lehigh Alumni to Pay It Forward

The 2018 Lehigh Wall Street Council (LWSC) Spring Reception included featured remarks by Frank Ingrassia ’75 ’16P (second from right), Lehigh University Board of Trustees member and president and CEO of Clever Devices, and the presentation of the third annual James A. Greenleaf Award to Mike Connor ’80 ’14P (second from left), LWSC vice president and executive director of DriveWealth. With Ingrassia and Connor are (from left) Nandu Nayar, professor and chair of the College of Business and Economics’ department of finance and the Hans J. Bär Endowed Chair in Finance; Georgette Chapman Phillips, Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P and Lisa. A. Clayton ’13P Dean of the College of Business and Economics; and Andrew Fife ’85, LWSC president and head of sales for CressCap Investment Research.

The first time Frank Ingrassia ’75 ’16P set eyes on Lehigh was the day his parents dropped him off in front of Drinker Hall his freshman year.

“I was the first of my family to go to college, including my cousins, aunts, and uncles,” said Ingrassia in his keynote address to fellow alumni at the Lehigh Wall Street Council (LWSC) Spring Reception held May 1 at Manhattan’s Upper Story by Charlie Palmer. “Turns out, those were the most formative four years of my life; the experience shaped who I am.”

As the turnout for the reception showed, Ingrassia is certainly not alone. He is part of a strong, loyal group of graduates and is a member of a growing, thriving network of Lehigh alumni who work in the financial services industry. More than 150 alumni and students with graduation years spanning from the 1960s to 2019 attended the reception. The evening also included the presentation of the third annual James A. Greenleaf Award.

Ingrassia, president and CEO of Clever Devices, Ltd., was introduced by Georgette Chapman Phillips, Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P and Lisa. A. Clayton ’13P Dean of the College of Business and Economics. Phillips spoke about Ingrassia’s illustrious career and his commitment to Lehigh — Ingrassia is a long-standing Lehigh University Board of Trustees member and with his wife, Elizabeth, generously supports students and faculty with his philanthropy. Phillips also spoke of the importance of alumni, like Ingrassia, who carry out Lehigh’s mission.

“Our Lehigh alumni are the essence of what we do because they take our message out to the world and amplify it for all to hear,” she said.

In his remarks, Ingrassia recounted his “unplanned and unscripted” career, which included more than 30 years on Wall Street. He started at Standard and Poors, eventually moving to Goldman Sachs, where he became general partner. He retired from Goldman Sachs in 2008 after 26 years with the company. He now leads Clever Devices, a transit technology company that provides sustainable, smart-bus systems to over 200 transit agencies in North America.

“There have been two main themes in my life — Lehigh and Wall Street. The same is true for many of you,” said Ingrassia, who went on to tout his Lehigh education, admitting that he started out as an engineering major before switching to business. "It was the perfect blend of business and problem-solving skills. My first two years of undergraduate engineering taught me to think like an engineer — those skills still help me to this day.”

Very straightforward in how alumni can give back to Lehigh, Ingrassia said, “Get more involved. Volunteer. Get on committees and subcommittees. Give money, hire Lehigh grads, and promote Lehigh in your company.”

Andrew Fife ’85, president of the Lehigh Wall Street Council, said the spring reception really highlights the council’s efforts to bring the Lehigh community together and pointed out the breadth of Lehigh constituents in the room.

“There is representation from alumni, faculty, and leadership, which showcases the importance of carrying the Lehigh spirit that exists both in the alumni community and on campus,” said Fife. “For the students, this strong network shows there are a lot of people who care about them and want to help them further their careers.”

The Soul Behind the Spirit

Some say that in business, success is based on who you know. For those with a business or economics degree from Lehigh, the person to know was James A. Greenleaf, the late professor emeritus of finance and law who passed away in July 2015. His actions to help students and alumni make professional connections developed into the cornerstone of the Lehigh Wall Street Council ethos that exists today.

To honor Greenleaf, the Lehigh Wall Street Council began the tradition of presenting the James A. Greenleaf Award in 2016. The award is presented annually to an alumnus who has had success in the financial services industry and also made it a priority to give back to Lehigh with their time and volunteerism. Nandu Nayar, professor and chair of the department of finance and the Hans J. Bär Endowed Chair in Finance, presented this year’s award to Mike Connor ’80 ’14P, a founding member of the Lehigh Wall Street Council and executive director of DriveWealth, a brokerage services and wealth management and advisory firm.

Nayar said that Connor embodies the spirit of Greenleaf in his dedication to the university and to the students of the College of Business and Economics.

“Mike Connor more than lives up to the same ideals,” said Nayar.

Connor earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting and served Lehigh in many capacities, including as a member of the university’s board of trustees from 2015 to 2017. He also held several leadership positions on the Lehigh University Alumni Association (LUAA) board of directors, including president and senior vice president. He was a class correspondent and class vice president, a Greek alumni advisor, and a member of the Greek Alumni Council. As a past president of the LWSC, he continues to serve on the leadership team. His generosity to the university includes supporting the College of Business and Economics, the Martindale Center, the Lehigh Wall Street Council, Phi Gamma Delta, and the Lehigh Fund.

As he accepted his award, Connor continued praise of Greenleaf — a man who he called a friend.

“Jim did two things really well,” said Connor. “He kept in touch with students as they went through their careers, and he liked to bring current students to Wall Street to meet alumni working there.”

Connor also spoke of the benefits of being a Lehigh Wall Street Council member and gave advice specific to both younger and older alumni.

“To those of you who are younger, I say, stay in touch with your professors. They can help you in every aspect of your life, especially the professional part,” he said. To the more seasoned business people in the room, he advised, “Stay involved. Make Lehigh front of mind, but focus on the students, not just the institution. Understand the product Lehigh produces — it’s fabulous.”

A survey of the room showed people doing just that. They were mingling with alumni from other years, laughing and talking about plans for the future and stories from the past. It was a true testament to the support and positivity Greenleaf left behind.

Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P, chairman, Lehigh University Board of Trustees, referred to the Lehigh Wall Street Council as an example of all the things that make Lehigh great.

“The turnout, the energy, the willingness to share and collaborate…it’s very special,” Clayton said.

Investment in Lehigh’s Product

Many freshly graduated students have hit the ground running with their financial careers, in part because of the support of fellow Lehigh alumni in the business world. One in attendance was Ryan Cooke ’15, who is the third generation of his family to attend Lehigh.

“When you’re at school, you hear about what life is going to be like in the real world, but until you’re out there, you don’t really know what to expect,” said Cooke, who said that when he graduated from Lehigh, he received professional advice from LWSC member David Beard ’80 ’11P. Cooke now works on the New York Stock Exchange. “This event and the Lehigh Wall Street Council Financial Services Forum in the fall let students know there are alumni who want to help them, both in terms of what they can expect and to actually make connections.”

Scott Sterrett ’05 pointed out the responsibility of alumni to keep the network alive and well. “Like any relationship, a network is a function of what you make it. You get out what you put in, and sometimes, you have to pay it forward.”

Elizabeth Shimer Bowers

Photos by John Kish IV