Driven and Kind

Emeka Okafor receives his diploma from former School of Business Dean Curt Hunter during Commencement ceremonies at Gampel Pavilion in May 2004. ( Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos)
Emeka Okafor receives his diploma from former School of Business Dean Curt Hunter during Commencement ceremonies at Gampel Pavilion in May 2004. ( Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos)

A Dozen Years After Graduation, Basketball Star/Finance Major Emeka Okafor Still a Favorite at UConn

Some of the members of the 2004 National Championship UConn Men’s Basketball Team would wear a weight vest in practice to improve their endurance as they ran up the bleachers in the old Memorial Stadium.

Not Emeka Okafor ’04 .

Instead, he carried one of the trainers on his back as he sprinted the bleachers. Okafor was so strong, athletic, and determined that after everyone else finished a grueling practice—he would stick around and shoot baskets for an hour or more.

“He has an inner drive to excel, something that doesn’t seem to ever be quenched, that makes him the man he is today,” said former teammate and friend Justin Evanovich, now a UConn professor and managing director of Husky Sport.

Although it has been a dozen years since Okafor graduated from UConn, with a bachelor’s degree in finance earned in just three years, his name brings a smile to many faces at the School of Business and beyond.

He is arguably one of the top student-athletes to graduate from UConn, where he excelled academically. He was a pivotal part of the 2004 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Team and was named the Big East Player of the Year, before beginning a professional basketball career. He is currently a free agent in the NBA.

“There’s a lot to like about Emeka as a person,” said former Men’s Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun. “He’s a wonderful athlete, a terrific basketball player, and was an outstanding student. I still talk to him now and then. He was one of the great, successful kids; one of the best to come out of UConn.”

‘You Can Be a Rocket Scientist’ Okafor Tells Kids

Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi “Emeka” Okafor was born in Houston to parents Celestina and Pius, both natives of Nigeria. His first name means “God has done well” in the Igbo language.

From the time he was in middle school, Okafor’s parents never checked that his homework was done, or even looked at his report card. They expected their son to achieve, and he did.

“My drive came from my parents,” said Okafor, now 33. “They always wanted me to create a path toward success. They drilled into me ‘education, education, education.'”

“I learned time management when I was in middle school,” he recalled. “I was always a good student. I always liked school. I developed good habits in middle school so when I got to college it was second nature.”

That’s how he was able to graduate from college, with a degree in finance and a 3.8 GPA in three years, while playing basketball. Tom O’Brien, a finance professor and head of the department during Okafor’s time at UConn, got to know him well as his faculty adviser. Among his many accomplishments, Okafor participated in the Student Managed Fund, which gives business students a chance to gain investment skills using real money.

“He told me, ‘I want to learn how to manage a lot of money,'” O’Brien recalled. “I thought it was a business interest, but now I think he already saw that he was going to go high in the NBA draft.”

The drive to excel academically is something he has passed along to his own child. By the time his young daughter was 2, he and his wife, Ilana Nunn Okafor, were teaching her the alphabet, colors, and to count to 13.

But his interest in children’s success extends beyond his own family. Okafor has donated $350,000 to the Husky Sport Program Fund, which pairs UConn students and faculty with educational leaders and programs in Hartford’s North End to enhance opportunities for city children.

“It’s OK if you don’t play for the Rockets. You can be a rocket scientist,” he told hundreds of children at an elementary school in Hartford in 2007. “It’s OK if you don’t play for the Rams. You can be a veterinarian.”

UConn basketball center Emeka Okafor and Most Outstanding Player of the game cuts down the net following the Division I Men's Basketball championship game held at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX, in April 2004. UConn defeated Georgia Tech 82-73 for the championship title. (Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos)
UConn basketball center Emeka Okafor and Most Outstanding Player of the game cuts down the net following the Division I Men’s Basketball championship game held at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX, in April 2004. UConn defeated Georgia Tech 82-73 for the championship title. (Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos)

Calhoun Quickly Recognized Okafor’s Potential 

Calhoun was on a scouting trip in the South when he came upon Okafor. The 6-foot-10, 260-lb. Okafor hadn’t attracted the kind of attention that some of the other high school players had.

“Emeka wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen,’’ Calhoun recalled. “I fell in love with his game. After I saw him play, I said, ‘I think I’ve figured out how we can win another national championship!'”

Okafor chose UConn over Arkansas and Vanderbilt. From 2001 to 2004, he played with UConn greats Charles Villanueva, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Ben Gordon and Josh Boone, all who ultimately played in the NBA.

“Early on he was not a big-name player, but had a big game,” Calhoun said. He was imminently coach-able, but he wasn’t afraid to politely question decision. “He is a special guy. In 40 years of coaching, you get a lot of good ones but Emeka, he’s one of the very special guys.”

Okafor’s claim-to-fame is his defensive talent, especially his shot-blocking. Despite being plagued by back problems for much of the 2003–04 season, Okafor led UConn to its second national title in six seasons by defeating Georgia Tech for the championship.

“Being in the Final Four and winning the National Championship was the highlight of my college career. It was an unbelievable experience and one that I will always treasure,” he said.

Okafor was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. In addition, Okafor led the nation in blocks that season and was also named National Defensive Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

He graduated as Connecticut’s leader in blocked shots with 441. Okafor was made a member of the 2004 U.S. National Men’s Basketball Team which represented the U.S. at the Olympics in Athens and won a bronze medal. In February 2007, Okafor was inducted to the Husky Ring of Honor at UConn.

Okafor recalls that one of his professors in a summer class in 2003 predicted good things would happen for the team. He thinks the good wishes rubbed off.

“The following year, we won the championship,” he said. “Often times I’ll think of that!”

Known as a leader, Okafor said it is a trait that shows up in different ways and times. “I’ve always believed you should show up and do what you’re supposed to do. I like to keep people going in the right direction,” he said. “If I see people going askew, I try to corral them and keep them on track. That’s my style.”

Former UConn President Phil Austin was at the helm of the university in 2004 and witnessed not only the men’s national championship basketball victory but the women’s as well, beating archrival the Tennessee Lady Vols.

After the men won the national championship, the university got a call from a cable TV station asking Okafor to come to New York for an interview, which he willingly did. The interview lasted less than 10 minutes, a short time considering the 240-mile round-trip travel from Storrs.

Austin said he apologized for asking the basketball star to spend so much time in travel, but Okafor was exceptionally good natured and shrugged it off. Another student would have been disappointed or annoyed, but not Okafor.

“Emeka is an outstanding young man. In addition to being an excellent student and athlete, he is a fine gentleman, mature beyond his years and a warm, friendly person,” Austin said.

‘To Have That in My Back Pocket Is Priceless’

Despite a grueling academic and scholastic schedule, Okafor insists he found plenty of time to enjoy a social life at UConn.

“I remember arriving on campus and getting there early to get the lay of the land. I walked into the dorm room that was the size of a closet and thought, ‘This is where it’s happening!'” he joked.

“Because I’m from Houston, we don’t have much of a Fall. The leaves go from green to brown and that’s it. Driving up to UConn, I remember seeing the bright reds, yellows and oranges, and, later, watching it snow and remembering how different it was from home.”

“I had an absolute blast at UConn,” he said. “I’m still friends with my teammates and friends from my freshmen year in Shakespeare West. I had a good academic, athletic and social experience.”

The decision to study finance was an easy one, Okafor said. “Business intrigued me,” he said. “I always liked numbers.”

“He was a great student and a great finance major,” O’Brien said. “He would overwhelm his studies. He was one of the very best. He dominated his school work. He, naturally, spent a lot of his time playing and practicing basketball so he really had to squeeze in his scholastic excellence with the rest of it.”

“Having a business background helps with many things, like managing money and taxes and so much more,” Okafor said. “For me it was an excellent base. To have that in my back pocket is priceless.”

“I would say students today should make their college experience well rounded,” he said. “Hit the books hard, but also talk to people and make many friends. This is a very special time; a very unique situation to have your peer group and time just to learn. Definitely embrace it!”

Okafor said today he is teaching himself to play the piano, he loves to read, and he is involved in several youth organizations that merge health, basketball and education.

Basketball and Beyond 

On June 24, 2004, Okafor was taken second in the NBA draft, joining the Charlotte Bobcats. The powerful center had a successful first season, adapting well to the demands of professional basketball. In 2005, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year.

In 2005-06, an ankle injury limited his playing time. But one of the highlights of that year occurred on Dec. 29, 2006, during a home game versus the LA Lakers, when Okafor scored 22 points, had 25 rebounds and four blocks in a nail-biting 133-124 triple overtime win. In 2008, he signed a six-year, $72 million deal with the Bobcats, then the largest contract in franchise history.

Okafor eventually was traded to New Orleans Hornets, where he played from 2009 to 2012, including his first trip to the NBA playoffs. He spent the 2012-13 season with the Washington Wizards, then was traded to the Phoenix Suns. A herniated disk in his neck has kept him from the game since.

Okafor said he talks to Coach Calhoun often and sees current Coach Kevin Ollie at the games. “The UConn family is a very close-knit unit,” he said. “They’re really like a second family.”

Students will often ask Evanovich about Okafor and his athletic achievements. But that only scratches the surface of a man who is kind-hearted and family oriented, he said.

“What they don’t know from the statistics is that he is such a special person, so humble, with a tireless commitment to improvement,” Evanovich said. “He is just a kind person. At 6-foot-10, everyone turns and looks at him. I’ve never once seen him be rude. He is always kind.”

When asked what his plans are after his basketball career is complete, Okafor bursts out laughing. “I have no clue,” he said. “It’s a wide world out there. I was fortunate to be able to follow my passion. I like to do things well, to find something to pour myself into. The challenge is to find that thing that gets you up and going in the morning.”

Whatever direction his life takes after basketball, his friends predict he will remain as powerful an achiever off the court.

“I can tell you, without a doubt, he believes in making a difference,” Calhoun said.

“There are a lot of impressive facets to who he is,” Evanovich said. “He has a desire to learn about the world, to be a global citizen. He makes it a point to see the world, celebrate and honor that understanding.”

O’Brien also sees a future in leadership for his former student. “Emeka was so brilliant, I could easily see him being a political or an international leader,” O’Brien said.

A ‘No Phony Gimmicks’ Guy

UConn School of Business 75th Anniversary (Bob's Discount Furniture)
UConn School of Business 75th Anniversary

Alumnus Bob Kaufman, Founder of Bob’s Discount Furniture: ‘I Believe Everyone Should Work for Themselves!’

One of the biggest decisions that anyone will make in life is whether to work for themselves—or work for someone else, said UConn business school alumnus Bob Kaufman ’74, founder and president emeritus of Bob’s Discount Furniture.

“I believe that everyone should work for themselves,” said the man who created the rapidly-growing, 73-store furniture giant. Thanks to his prolific advertising, Kaufman is arguably one of the most recognized people on television.

“Being an entrepreneur is harder, and easier, than you would think. It takes more time than you can imagine and, yes, you can work for less than minimum wage,” he said. “But the rewards are enormous. I feel like I’ve won the lottery.”

Established in 1991, the furniture giant Bob’s Discount Furniture now sells more than $1.1 billion in furniture annually, with stores in the Northeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. It is ranked 14th among U.S. furniture retailers. Kaufman remains an active executive and the third-largest shareholder in the company, which is now owned by Bain Capital.

Working Hard for the Money

Kaufman’s focus on giving customers real value and “no phony gimmicks” has its roots in several key experiences in his early life. But probably the most profound was working as a factory supervisor, making parts for cars and boats.

“I worked 65 hours a week. I supervised 20 people on the production line. It taught me how hard people work for their money!” he said. “We worked 5 ½ days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and then 6:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday.”

“After 2 ½ years there, I realized that I would be there my whole life if I didn’t do something. I was getting burned out. One day, my sister came down to the lake where I lived for the day. We went to the beach, and I was exhausted, and I fell asleep. I woke up at 5:30 p.m., and she was gone. At that moment I knew it was time to try something else,” he said.

UConn Students Fascinated by TV Icon

Kaufman, who hasn’t granted an interview in 20 years, agreed to speak about his experiences in hopes of helping future business leaders at his alma mater.

The last time Kaufman spoke at UConn, in 1995, he was thrown for a loop. Twice a year, Kaufman would speak with a UConn business fraternity, but this time organizers told him the location had been moved. When he arrived at the Student Union, every seat was taken, people were standing in the back, and many were being turned away at the door.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of people there,” he said, with amazement. “I realize now that 20- and 30-year-olds have seen my ads since they were kids. They were curious about me. It was the last presentation I did. I wouldn’t have gone if I’d known it was that big. I would have been too scared!”

Despite his boisterous and take-charge TV demeanor, Kaufman describes himself as an extreme introvert, who, nevertheless, likes people. He went through high school with barely a friend. That all changed when he arrived in Storrs for his junior and senior years and there he formed long-lasting friendships. Today, despite his enormous success, he remains as humble and self-effacing as he was back at UConn—but now he no longer sports a ponytail.

Still the fame mystifies him. His office constantly gets requests for photos and autographs. “The irony is that almost nobody was photographed less than me as a kid,” said Kaufman, who tapes two Bob’s TV commercials a week. To now be one of the most recognizable faces in the Northeast is “odd to say the least,” he said.

An Accident Changed His Life

What changed Kaufman’s life forever was a devastating motorcycle accident in 1976, in which he broke his collarbone and almost lost his right leg. He was working as the manager of a Radio Shack store in Groton, Conn., at the time and was headed to a meeting in his native West Hartford. He became distracted and hit a telephone pole.

“The accident absolutely changed my life,” he said. His right leg was so badly injured that doctors almost amputated it. They predicted he would never walk again. His leg and foot are still partially paralyzed. His recovery took almost a year.

“Whenever you’re faced with your mortality, it changes your outlook. Heck, I was 25-years old and felt immortal,” he said. “It was a turning point. I developed a new mindset that said, ‘Get serious. What are you going to do with your life?'”

With the damage to his leg, it became difficult for Kaufman to get a good night’s sleep. A friend recommended he try a waterbed, which he did, and he loved it.

Before long, Kaufman, who describes himself as “very risk-averse” decided to sell the waterbeds that had been his salvation. He partnered with a distant cousin, Gene Rosenberg, who had a great deal of business smarts—and who offered good advice.

He was able to sell waterbeds for half the price of the competition. “It was truly a super deal,” he said. He would lease a space in larger stores and sell his waterbeds there. But by the 1980s, the waterbed business was all washed up and the industry crashed.

If ever there was a true example of the expression, “when one door closes, another door opens,” this was it. Kaufman had developed connections in the furniture business—selling dressers and nightstands to accompany the waterbeds—and he was able to negotiate a deal with the landlord of his Newington shop.

The landlord would pay the taxes, heat and other utilities, and, in return, Kaufman gave him a percentage of sales. In March 1991, in the midst of a recession, Kaufman launched his furniture business.

“I think of UConn and the importance of having a great business plan, and, honestly, none of that happened,” said Kaufman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from UConn in 1974.

Rosenberg was an ideal business partner in many ways, including that he was more willing to take a gamble than the younger Kaufman. “We joke that if it was up to Gene, we’d have had 100 stores the first year,” Kaufman said. “And if it was up to me, we’d still have two.”

Growing, Growing, Growing

Following the success of the first store, Kaufman and Rosenberg expanded into Windsor, then Middletown, and added a fourth store in Willimantic, all using a percent-of-sales agreement that kept fixed costs low.

“We were the only low-cost furniture company. People wanted good quality and one low price. They hated haggling,” he said. “The lowest price and the highest quality, that’s the bedrock of our company.”

To bolster business, Kaufman accepted any speaking engagement he could get—with the Lion’s Club or the Jaycees, at high schools, or whomever a group would welcome him. He would take his beloved dad, an advertising executive with 50 years of experience, with him on those trips. In 1995 alone, the business grew 54 percent.

Rosenberg was a great mentor and gave Kaufman the best advice he has ever received. “He said, ‘It’s all about your people. If the people who work for you aren’t happy, your customers won’t be happy,'” Kaufman recalled.

The delivery people have to be as courteous as the salespeople, or the whole company fails, he said. Before his employees can take to the selling floor, they must go through a three-week training session. Depending on their success, they can earn between $40,000 and $100,000 a year.

Kaufman makes it a point to meet every employee.

“I don’t want anyone to say, ‘I work at Bob’s Discount Furniture, but I’ve never met Bob,'” he said. “We run it like a small, family business.”

Kaufman will tell you the success of his business is predicated on good quality and a fair price. But as the business grew by leaps-and-bounds, Kaufman worked hard to make sure it never lost its core. “People do recognize value,” he said. “People are smart. They will respond if you give them a good deal. My success is 100 percent testament to that.”

At one point Raymour & Flanigan offered to buy out the company.

“We all got together over lunch, and started a conversation about the future of the company. We had 500 employees. I knew them all by name because I’d hired them. All of these people helped me to grow, and if we sold, many of them would be out of work,” he said. “We declined.”

The company is now owned by Bain but Kaufman remains active in the business and said he is inspired by the management team. “I’ve never been more excited about the future of the company. We will be in the top five in a few years,” he predicted. “Nobody is opening stores like we are. The growth projection is spectacular.”

Not Your Typical Pitchman

When Kaufman told his dad, Leo Kaufman, a decorated World War II veteran and advertising guru, that he planned to do his own ads, his father’s enthusiasm was non-existent.

“He said, ‘Son. I love you dearly, but you look like crap and your voice is worse. Don’t do it.’ Obviously, I ignored his advice,” Kaufman said. “The reason it works is because every business wants customer attention. But how do you get through the din? By not being your typical pitchman. By having a scratchy voice. By dressing in jeans and a polo shirt. I would work at the warehouse, go do an ad, and go back to the warehouse in the same clothes,” Kaufman said. (Many incorrectly believe Cathy Poulin, the woman who appears in his commercials is his spouse, but she’s the retailer’s public relations/outreach director.)

He has spent millions on advertising.

“I became the brand. People feel like they know me,” Kaufman said. “Do I give up some privacy? Yes. People come up when I’m in Kohl’s or Walmart and they say hello. I like people. We spend millions and millions on those ads, so I guess I’d be disappointed if they didn’t recognize me. Generally, people are happy to see me. Why begrudge that attention when that’s what made it all possible?”

One of the hallmarks of Bob’s is the large café in each store.

“The decision to put a café in the store was easy,” he said. “I read that buying furniture is the third most stressful experience in life, only surpassed by buying a house and a car. I wondered how we could make people more comfortable. Why not offer them freshly baked cookies? When I’m chewing on a cookie, I can’t be stressed. A lot of people stop in after lunch for a cookie, a piece of candy or a cup of coffee. They are always welcome. They may not buy something today, but they’ll be back.”

The furniture business has both changed and remained the same over the years, Kaufman said. “It’s a fashion business now,” he said. “We offer the latest, greatest fashions for your home.”

The company uses American products as well as imports from 10 or 11 countries. The stairway bunk, which retails for $699, comes from a Brazilian forest and the company sells 150 of them a week. The Bob-O-Pedic mattress has earned accolades from Consumer Reports. Ninety-five percent of the stores’ merchandise is in stock and can be delivered immediately.

“On a business level, I see myself as a serial entrepreneur, but I also think of myself as the waterbed guy!” Kaufman said. He also owns five construction companies and is involved in homebuilding in Salem and Colchester, Conn., as well as property in Misquamicut, R.I., the latter a business fondly named Tequila Associates.

At UConn, Kaufman Made Life-long Friendships

Kaufman describes himself as “a pariah” at Conard High School in West Hartford, Conn. “I didn’t have more than one friend. I was very shy, I wore horn-rimmed glasses and probably weighed 117 pounds,” he said. “I went through anonymously.”

He made the dean’s list at Bentley College but left after freshman year because he didn’t think his accounting major was for him. He spent his sophomore year at the UConn campus in West Hartford while working full-time at an East Hartford pharmacy. He transferred to Storrs for his junior and senior years.

“At UConn I was an OK student, but I wasn’t an academic standout. I guess I was having too much fun,” he said.

“The lasting legacy of UConn, for me, is my friendship with Mike Ricci ’76 (accounting)–his pony-tailed roommate from Belden Hall, Sixth Floor–and with George Clarke ’75 (political science),” he said. Both helped him with his waterbed business. Ricci, who made handicapped accessible ramps for vans, built waterbed frames for Kaufman; Clarke worked in the waterbed stores.

Retailer Gets 150 Charitable Requests Per Week

Bob’s Discount Furniture donates millions to charity each year, culled from the 150 requests it receives each week. An annual golf outing and dinner, last summer, netted $454,000 for charity.

“The only downside is that you realize the tremendous need that’s out there,” Kaufman said. Two of the company’s top charities are Camp Rising Sun for kids with cancer, which sponsors a summer camp each summer and Family & Children’s Aid, which provides safe homes for abused and neglected children. That organization asked Kaufman to donate some bunk beds. Now he’s on the Board of Directors.

“This is the first time I’ve ever talked about charitable work,” he said during an interview when asked about the company’s policies. “I never wanted any good deeds to be considered actions for public relations value.”

Best Part of His Career? Sharing His Success

Despite his success, Kaufman maintains a low-key lifestyle, living with his “honey” of 35 years, Joann Chapel, a pediatric nurse whom he met at his factory job, and their three dogs.

He enjoys time with family (his three sisters and their children; Chapel’s three children and five grandchildren) and friends, maybe a little boating or some golf. But the Bob you see on TV, the one with the polo shirt and jeans, is the real Bob, he said. He lives in a modest home in Eastern Connecticut, furnished with Bob’s Discount furniture. Many members of his extended family, Kaufman said, are UConn alumni.

He claims to have no affiliation or loyalty to either a sport team or a political party. He has been asked often by politicians for endorsements, which he flatly refuses.

“I want to sell furniture to Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “I want to sell furniture to Red Sox fans, Yankees fans and Mets fans. I’m a lucky guy. I hit a home run.”

In March, Kaufman announced an expansion of the corporate headquarters in Manchester, Conn., and the addition of 125 jobs over the next five years.

“What’s the most rewarding part of my career?” he repeated. “I went into business because I wanted to stop working for somebody else. Now I’m providing a livelihood to more than 5,000 people.”

“My favorite story is about a guy named Kevin Parker, who came to apply with us 18 years ago. He filled out the application and said he’d be a warehouse guy. Then he crossed it out and wrote ‘sales,'” Kaufman said. “Now he’s the regional sales manager for New York state. That to me is what’s thrilling… finding that talent and giving them the opportunity.”

‘Treat People Right Throughout Your Life’

Bill Simon '81, '88 MBA, former Walmart CEO, at the UConn School of Business Stamford campus. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)
Bill Simon ’81, ’88 MBA, former Walmart CEO, at the UConn School of Business Stamford campus. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)

‘Treat People Right Throughout Your Life’ Says Former Walmart CEO Bill Simon ’81, ’88 MBA

A store manager had been abruptly fired in a small North Carolina town and Walmart president and CEO Bill Simon‘s phone was ringing off the hook.

Customers were irate, store associates were upset, and even the town’s mayor called to lodge a complaint.

“Our store manager had chased a shoplifter into the parking lot, tackled him and brought him back into the store,” recalled Simon, who earned both his bachelor’s degree and MBA from UConn. “Our policy was that we don’t chase shoplifters because of the risk of someone getting hurt, and he had clearly violated the policy.Continue Reading

Mo Hussein: The Story of a Beloved Professor

Mo Hussein (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)
Mo Hussein (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)

One of the first things people notice about Accounting Professor Mo Hussein is his warm personality. The second, is that he enjoys a little mischief.

“I once told students that my grandfather was a witch doctor,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “And some of them believed it!”

Hussein has spent his 38-year career at UConn, where he has taught thousands of students and helped to build the accounting department’s reputation as among the best in the nation. He also served as accounting department head from 1989-90 and from 2003-15, and as interim dean of the School of Business from 2006-07.Continue Reading

The Gift of Persuasion

UConn Professor and President Emeritus Philip Austin Says Uniting People Is Vital Skill for Young Business Leaders

UConn Professor and President Emeritus Philip E. Austin was reluctant to ask the governor and the state legislature for additional money after the state had generously given UConn some $1 billion for improvements.

But six years after the highly successful passage of UConn 2000—in which the state invested in the University’s facilities, faculty and growth—it became clear to Austin that another, large capital investment would take the school across the finish line.Continue Reading

‘Unplanned, Unexpected, Full of Surprise’

Business Law Professor Carrafiello’s 51-Year Career

Teaching business law at the UConn School of Business for 51 years, turned out to be a delightful surprise for beloved Professor Vincent Carrafiello.

“I passed my state bar exam in August 1965, and started teaching at UConn in September,” he said. “If you told me then that I’d be spending the rest of my professional life at the University of Connecticut, I would have told you that you were crazy, and certifiably so!Continue Reading

‘Where You Go In Life Is Up To You’

During his extensive career with GE, Denis Nayden '76, '77 MBA (second from right) frequently came to speak on campus, often flying in on the company's helicopter. With Denis are the School's former director of MBA career services, Pat Mochel (far left) and Dick Kochanek, former associate dean and accounting professor (far right). (UConn School of Business)
During his extensive career with GE, Denis Nayden ’76, ’77 MBA (second from right) frequently came to speak on campus, often flying in on the company’s helicopter. With Denis are the School’s former director of MBA career services, Pat Mochel (far left) and Dick Kochanek, former associate dean and accounting professor (far right). (UConn School of Business)

Finance Chief, Philanthropist, Innovator Denis J. Nayden is a Husky Through-and-Through

A year after Denis J. Nayden ’76, ’77 MBA, graduated from UConn, he was visiting his parents in the Annapolis, Md.,-area, and attended a function at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“My father introduced me to the commandant and said, ‘This is my son, Denis, and he just graduated from UConn,'” Nayden recalled. Apparently, the commandant was only familiar with the other Yukon.

“Congratulations, son!,” the commadant replied. “I didn’t know Alaska had a university.”Continue Reading

‘We Can Do That!’

Ronald Patten, Robert Steele, and Wallace Barnes 1977 (UConn School of Business)
From L to R: Former School of Business Dean Ronald Patten, Robert H. Steele, United States Representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Connecticut 1970-1975, and Wallace Barnes, retired Chairman and CEO of The Barnes Group, at the Beta Gamma Sigma – Alpha of Connecticut Chapter induction on May 1, 1977. (UConn School of Business)

School of Business Dean Ronald Patten Used Faculty’s Competitive Spirit to Advance Research, Ph.D. Program

Ronald Patten, the third dean of the UConn School of Business, was a bright, fair, likeable and hard-working leader, whose knowledge of business was surpassed only by his charm, and an enviable talent for coaxing the best out of people.

Meanwhile, the faculty who served during his tenure, from 1974 to 1988, were also exceptionally intelligent and enthusiastic. But the trait that most defined the professors and department heads was an unyielding competitive streak.Continue Reading

Award-winning Professor Dick Kochanek’s Accounting Class Came with a Bonus: Great Advice for Living Life

“If the person next to you in class leans over and whispers, ‘I love you,’ you have to say: ‘Not until after class. I have to focus on Kochanek’s lecture now!'”

That’s one of the many witty remarks that Professor Richard “Dick” Kochanek has used to engage the 250 underclassmen in his “Principles of Financial Accounting” class.

Kochanek, who retired at the end of fall semester, is one of the most beloved and highly regarded professors at UConn. He has extremely high ratings from his students and is widely credited with turning their curiosity about accounting into a life-long career.Continue Reading

Dan Toscano ’87

School of Business Alumnus Chairs UConn Foundation Board; ‘Let’s Be the Best… That’s What it Means to Come to UConn’

When alumnus Dan Toscano ’87 talks about the need for more scholarships to help UConn students, he speaks from the heart.

“I had some very discouraging moments when I was a student here and the tuition was due and I didn’t quite have it pulled together yet,” he recalled during a recent interview. “My wife, Tresa, and I had to fight to get through college financially. I remember those days vividly. I don’t want to see anyone else go through that.”Continue Reading