In October, John Malfettone ’77 (BUS) became chair of the Board of the UConn Foundation, the fundraising entity for the University of Connecticut. Malfettone, who graduated from UConn in 1977 with a B.Sc. in accounting magna cum laude, has had a highly successful career in accounting and was inducted into the School of Business Hall of Fame in 2017. He is currently a senior managing director at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice of New York City, one of the world’s Top 10 leveraged buyout private equity firms, from which he plans to retire at the end of the year.
In a recent interview, he shared his goals for the Foundation; the reasons why he is so committed to his alma mater; and some vivid memories of his time as a student.
Q: Since you graduated from UConn in 1977 and began your career, you’ve maintained close ties to the University, including serving on the Foundation board for eight years. What’s fostered your loyalty to UConn?
People who have done well in life should give a helping hand to others. Part of that is supporting the college or university that gave you your start. — John Malfettone
A: I wouldn’t be where I am today without the education, the network, and the friendships I’ve made here, and, of course, meeting my wife Rina as well. UConn gave all of that to me. It all started here.
What I remember most are the amazing professors I had as an accounting major. Dick Kochanek, was inspiring; Corine Norgaard, was tough, but fair, and taught us so much; Edwin Tucker wrote the textbook on business law; Vincent Carrafiello stood on top of the lectern to give instructions … they were fantastic educators who turned accounting from a career my mother wanted me to pursue into something that I became passionate about.
Of course not all my memories are of academics. One of my favorite recreational activities to reduce stress during the cold winters in Storrs was to sled on cafeteria trays down the hill by McMahon during an ice storm.
Q: Each leader brings a unique approach to the job. What will the Foundation leadership be like under your direction?
A: I believe UConn could be the economic engine to cure the state’s woes and get it back to the thriving place it used to be in the 1970s, when we had a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies.
One of the key things I would like to focus on is the Foundation’s relationship with Fairfield County. The University graduates many students whose talents would benefit Fairfield County-based companies, particularly in the financial sector. I believe there are many opportunities there that have been untapped. We have the ability to help Fairfield County businesses to grow and remain strong, and, in turn, they may be able to help our students who cannot afford a university education, or help fund programs and research that can benefit the Connecticut economy.
The University is striving to provide the education, research, and products that the ‘new economy’ needs. We have programs in digital marketing and cyber risk, and we have undergraduate and graduate students with tremendous talents. We also have so many distinguished alumni. I feel the Foundation is about sharing UConn’s collective resources, including – but not limited to – finances.
Q: What is the biggest challenge?
A: We are searching for a new Foundation leader with the departure of Foundation President Josh Newton. Under Josh’s leadership, we took a huge leap forward. He reorganized the Foundation, and restructured and advanced our use of data so that we can easily access information about a prospective donor. We have good people in place. Now we need a top leader who will take us to the next level. We have raised $80 million in a year, and hope to create a fundraising business that can generate $100 million annually.
The economic climate in the state does have an impact on us. We feel tremendous pressure. The state wants to be funding less of UConn, and thinks we, the Foundation, should be filling the gap. Our donors are seeking to make the University even better, stronger. We don’t want it to be a zero-sum game.
We want to educate our students and keep them in state. We hope that what [donor and entrepreneur] Peter Werth has done – with his generous gift that led to the creation of the Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation – is just the start of things. Let’s see the places we can go with this.
Q: Do you think the legislature and the people of Connecticut recognize the value of UConn?
A: I think we could do a better job of making our legislators and state residents aware of the advantages that UConn offers the state. Some 78 percent of our in-state students stay in Connecticut after graduation to begin their careers – that’s a staggering number. A strong UConn is an investment in the success of the state. We have a mutual goal – a strong state with good jobs, and a booming economy that benefits our students and our state.
Q: As a father of five and grandfather of two, what advice did you give your children that you would also share with UConn students?
A: I told my kids, and I would tell our students, that you have to be passionate about something. You can’t succeed without it. You have to work hard and put effort into it. I’m a firm believer that hard work can trump IQ.
Q: When you were inducted into the School of Business Hall of Fame in 2017, you spoke passionately about the importance of giving back to your alma mater. Why?
A: I believe I told the audience that none of them would have enjoyed the career success they have today without higher education. A lack of education creates an impassable bridge for the poor to move into the middle class, and creates a despair that contributes to crime, drug use, and even terrorism. I feel that people who have done well in life should give a helping hand to others. Part of that is supporting the college or university that gave you your start. Giving back should begin at graduation, even if it’s a small amount.
Q: What is one of your funniest memories from when you were at UConn?
A: When I was a student, I was on the [Student Union] Board of Governors, and we were responsible for bringing entertainment to the Storrs campus. One semester we brought National Lampoon to campus. Admittedly, I might not have done due diligence, because the show might not have met the standard you’d expect at the Jorgensen.
The star of the show was a guy named Michael Lee Aday, who went on to a very successful musical career as the singer Meat Loaf, but this is how he got his start. After the show, we took him to the Rathskeller [campus beer hall] and I recall he had some beer, perhaps too much. He started picking up pitchers of beer and throwing them at students. We had to get him out of there fast. The last time I saw him that night, he was rolling down a hill not far from Buckley Hall.
Q: What would you say if Meat Loaf wanted to make a donation to the UConn Foundation?
A: I’d say, ‘Come on in and let’s talk about your passions.’ We’d welcome a contribution to the music program or any other appropriate gift he’d want to make. No hard feelings, my friend, for rolling you down that hill!