Johnson honors distinguished alumni at the Big Red Bash

By: Janice Endresen
graphic treatment of text: Big Red Bash

The Big Red Bash, Johnson’s annual gala celebration of its distinguished alumni awards recipients, held in New York City in past years but canceled last year due to the pandemic, was held virtually this year over two evenings, April 11 and 12.

While awards honorees traditionally deliver brief remarks at this event, this year the event also featured panel discussions with honorees. Andrew Karolyi, dean of the SC Johnson College of Business, moderated Sunday evening’s discussion and Laura Georgianna, MBA ’04, MILR ’04, executive director of leadership programs at Johnson, moderated on Monday evening. On both evenings, Mark Nelson, Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean, hosted the event, which attracted alumni, faculty, students, prospective students, friends, and staff from locations across the country and around the world.

Alumni responded eloquently to questions about their careers and leadership during the panel discussions, including: What are the most important qualities of a leader? How has the pandemic challenged you as a leader, and what new ways of doing business will you keep, going forward? How did Johnson prepare you to become a leader in your chosen industry? What thoughts would you like to share with Johnson students who will graduate this year?

You can view full recordings of both nights of Big Red Bash 2021 here. Read about the evenings’ highlights and view brief video clips of each honoree, below.

Henry P. Renard ’54, MBA ’55 Regional Club of the Year Award: Johnson Club of NYC Morgan Jones, MBA ’15

headshot of Morgan Jones
Morgan Jones, MBA ’15

Morgan Jones, MBA ’15, president of the Johnson Club of NYC, was honored with the Henry P. Renard ’54, MBA ’55 Regional Club of the Year Award, which recognizes regional club leaders and members for the innovation, creativity, and diversity of their programs, the total number of events hosted, and the percent of local alumni who attend.

“Morgan, you’ve strengthened the New York regional student and alumni network and you’ve undertaken strategic partnerships, working with the SC Johnson College of Business, with the broader Cornell community, with the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program, and more,” said Nelson in congratulating Jones on the award. “That has been a really meaningful enhancement of the reach and the impact of this club. It strengthens the network and provides more opportunities for students and alumni to engage.”

Nelson added that he was excited to see the club’s events focused on med tech (How Tech and Medicine Create Collaborative Patient Care Experiences) and on the Business of Food. “These are things that resonate with our school as well as our college,” Nelson said. He also called the club’s board structure, succession process, and ambassadors program “state of the art.”

Jones thanked Nelson on behalf of the club’s board and called out many club members as well as Alumni Affairs and Development staff by name. “Thank you so much for this award. Thank you, Johnson. Thank you, Cornell. And thank you, NYC.”

Jones, who is also co-president of the NYC Cornellians regional club, has 16 years of experience in community engagement and inclusion working for nonprofits, for the government, and in education. Professionally, he is now the director of community engagement and partnerships at Avenues: The World School. Jones is fluent in Mandarin, having lived and worked in China for six years.

Jones spoke of the club’s effort to create “some semblance to a New York event,” albeit virtually, when the Johnson Club of NYC collaborated with NYC Cornellians on a virtual event held last month: Lights. Camera. Cornell! Cornellians in the Independent Film Industry.

“One of positive aspect of these virtual experiences is that you’re not just limited to one region,” said Jones. “Anyone can log in from anywhere and participate whenever. So that makes it really interesting. Our board is still meeting quarterly, we have great attendance, and we always discuss new ideas and topics.” Jones also shared a message for Johnson’s graduating students in this video clip.

Morgan Jones, MBA ’15: “You get what you give.”

Robert J. Swieringa Recent Alumni Service Award: Linda Giuliano, MBA ’02, and Geoffrey Lim, MBA ’00

headshot of Linda Giuliano
Linda Giuliano, MBA ’02

Linda Giuliano, MBA ’02 (Executive MBA Metro NY), was honored with the Robert J. Swieringa Recent Alumni Service Award, which recognizes alumni for their exemplary commitment to Johnson and its alumni and continued engagement with Johnson as a volunteer leader in many engagement activities.

“Linda has been and continues to be involved with the Johnson community in many ways,” said Nelson. “She served as a longtime member of the Dean’s Leadership Committee, and I’m very happy that she currently serves as a member of the Johnson Advisory Council.”

Giuliano is founder of BrightWorld ESG, a consultancy focused on partnering with asset managers, investors, and other stakeholders to integrate principles of environmental and social stewardship and corporate governance (ESG) into strategy, processes, and policies. Giuliano was formerly head of responsible investment at AllianceBernstein, a global asset manager, where she established and led the firm’s responsible investing efforts focusing on integrating ESG into the investment process, policy, stewardship, product development, and marketing.

Speaking of the impact that Johnson has had on her life and career, both as a student as an alumna, Giuliano said: “Fellow students took time out of their busy days to form study groups, professors were willing to hold extra sessions both in-person and remotely, and administrators really made us feel like valued members of the Johnson community.”

Giuliano called this “the essence of Johnson: a community coming together to help everyone succeed.”Giuliano recounted another story to illustrate what she sees as Johnson’s essence—a story about her participation in Johnson’s 2015 Nepal Leadership Trek, “a physical and mental challenge that … helped me rethink what executive leadership really means,” she said.  “Early on in the trek, it wasn’t clear that everyone was going to be able to finish. So we all came together and developed a plan so that everyone succeeded.” That experience, said Giuliano “reminded me about group dynamics and personal courage. And after being a voice on Wall Street for sustainability and ESG investing, I used that courage to start my own consultancy last year.”

Linda Giuliano, MBA ’02: “Johnson, a community coming together to help everyone succeed.”

headshot of Geoffrey Lim
Geoffrey Lim, MBA ’00

This year, Geoffrey Lim, MBA ’00, was also honored with the Robert J. Swieringa Recent Alumni Service Award. Lim is a partner and founding member of BroadPeak Global, an independent private equity firm focused on the global industrials sector based in Hong Kong. Prior to joining BroadPeak, Lim held various leadership roles at Invesco Private Capital, the private equity arm of Invesco.

“Geoffrey has remained incredibly involved in Cornell alumni initiatives in Asia for the last 15 years,” said Nelson in congratulating Lim with this award. “He found the Johnson Club of China in 2008 and served as its president for 10 years; I was happy to get to celebrate that decade of accomplishment in China with him. Geoffrey currently serves as a Cornell University Council member and as vice chair of the China board for the SC Johnson College of Business as well as on the Johnson Advisory Council. Congratulations, Geoffrey!”

Lim, in his turn, thanked the Johnson Club of China’s leaders, past and present. “Given that China and Asia are not exactly the easiest places to work because of the scale and the cultural landscape, it’s all about team effort,” he said. In addition, he recalled Johnson’s marketing slogan from his student days: Fast Forward. “Last year was just a horrendous year for the world, for humanity, for the impact on education and on a lot of people’s lives and careers. So my wish is that this year, as we see the vaccine light at the end of tunnel, we can do a bit of fast forward so we can all move onward and upward.”

Geoffrey Lim, MBA ’00: “Cornell … is like family. I go back to campus, it feels like home.”

Samuel C. Johnson Distinguished Service Award: Jack Neafsey ’61, MEng ’62, MBA ’63

headshot of Jack Neafsey
Jack Neafsey ’61, MEng ’62, MBA ’63

Jack Neafsey ’61, MEng ’62, MBA ’63, was honored on the second night of the Big Red Bash with the Samuel C. Johnson Distinguished Service Award, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes extraordinary alumni for their sustained and exemplary commitment to Johnson and its alumni.

Neafsey is president of JN Associates, an investment consulting firm. In his professional career, Neafsey has served as chair of Alliance Resources, president and CEO of Greenwich Capital Markets, and executive vice president, CFO, and director of Sun Co. (Sunoco), as well as on the boards of numerous Sun subsidiaries. He was named outstanding oil industry CFO by Institutional Investor magazine on two occasions.

“The recipient of this award has demonstrated continued engagement with Johnson through long-term volunteer activities within the broad spectrum of Johnson and Cornell’s alumni engagement opportunities,” said Nelson in congratulating Neafsey with this award. “His volunteer service has had a significant impact on both Johnson and Cornell.”

In fact, Neafsey chaired Johnson’s $46.6 million capital campaign in the 1980s, playing a key role in transforming the school and renaming it by recruiting Samuel C. Johnson ’50 as a key donor—a role Neafsey told an anecdote about when he accepted this award at the Big Red Bash. Nelson thanked Neafsey for sharing his memories, adding, “It’s so perfect that you’re winning the Samuel C. Johnson Distinguished Service Award. The structure that you helped create has indeed stood the test of time and has benefited the school ever since.”

Neafsey has served Cornell University in many other ways, including as a trustee emeritus and presidential councillor and as an overseer at Weill-Cornell Medical College. He continues to serve on the advisory councils of Johnson and the College of Engineering, and on the Weill-Cornell budget and finance committee. He is president and a director of the Cornell Club of New York. In addition, he and his wife, Rilla, endowed the top academic leadership position at Cornell Tech, now held by Greg Morissett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech.

When Georgianna led a discussion about leadership with awards recipients on the second night of the Big Red Bash, she asked Neafsey a question about leadership. He described several qualities (see the video clip, below) before summing up: “Being a good leader is about figuring out a vision—where do we want to go and why do we want to go there?—and listening to the people around you.”

Jack Neafsey ’61, MEng ’62, MBA ’63: “A leader has to have a vision; he has to bring clarity to a situation.”

L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award: Mark Bissell, MBA ’82

headshot of Mark Bissell
Mark Bissell, MBA ’82

Mark Bissell, MBA ’82, received Johnson’s highest honor, the L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award, which recognizes alumni for their exceptional demonstration of vision and leadership, sound business sense, and commitment to community. Nelson congratulated Bissell on the award, saying he was so honored to present it.

Bissell is chairman and CEO, of Bissell Inc., a privately-owned company in its fourth generation of family leadership. Bissell was founded in 1876 and is the seventh-oldest privately held manufacturing company in the United States, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company designs and markets a full line of home cleaning products worldwide and has the number one market share position in the U.S. floor-care industry with a growing position in international markets.

In his remarks upon accepting the award, Bissell spoke about what leadership means to him, noting that “being silent and just sort of staying in the background isn’t really what is expected” of leaders today. (Learn more from the video clip, below.)  He said social responsibility is a core value at Bissell and has been since the company’s founding. “It’s really a genuine part of who we are,” he said. Bissell also referred to his father, John Bissell ’52, MBA ’54, and his son-in-law, Matt Kruer, MBA ’14, vice president of finance and strategy at Bissell, noting that “Cornell is in our blood.

“I think of the role that I’ve had as CEO for the past 20 years and how Cornell helped prepare me for that,” said Bissell. “I think fondly on some of the classes I took from Professor [Joe] Thomas in operations management, statistics, and supply chain. … Cornell helped me on creative thinking and which questions to ask and how to connect the dots.” Bissell attributes getting his first job post-graduation, in banking in New York City—“a very important experience for me”—to his experience at Johnson.

“Today, being a leader is about having influence,” said Bissell, “and making sure that you’re using that influence appropriately, whether it’s in the boardroom, with your employees, with your customers, with your associates, and with all stakeholders. How can we as CEOs make a true difference today? The need to do that has never been greater. So I’m very honored to be the 2021 recipient of the L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award. And I think it’s an important reminder of the responsibility and opportunity we have as leaders to make a difference.”

Mark Bissell. MBA ’82: “Leadership is an incredible responsibility and an awesome opportunity to effect change.”

Dean Nelson announces the Drive for 75

headshot of Mark Nelson
Dean Mark Nelson

At Nelson’s invitation, four recent Johnson graduates and one current student, all recipients of scholarships that enabled them to attend Johnson, also spoke on the second night of the Big Red Bash. Each one described the learning and leadership experiences they gained at Johnson and the tremendous, positive impact those have had on their lives and careers. Scholarship recipients who spoke included Stephanie Jordan, MBA ’20, an investment director and private investment specialist at Cambridge associates in Boston; Peter Akinleye, MBA ’19, a consultant at Bain and Company; military veterans and spouses Austin Boyle, MBA ’18, a lead analyst in corporate real estate at United Airlines, and Shannon Boyle, MBA ’19, a senior strategy consultant at Accenture; and Amanda Ward, MPA ’15, MBA ’21, who recently accepted a job at Amazon.

Following their remarks, Nelson announced the launch of a new campaign in support of scholarships for Johnson students. “Johnson is going to be celebrating its 75th anniversary,” said Nelson. “And to mark the occasion, I’m very excited to be able to announce a program called the Drive for 75 campaign. We have some extraordinarily generous alumni providing matching money that makes this effort particularly impactful.” He explained exactly how the matching-funds donations will work and thanked the initial donors who created the matching pool: Nels Shaenen ’50, MBA ’51, Dave Breazzano, MBA ’80, and Phil Garton, MBA ’05.

“I hope everyone sees this is an exciting program and a wonderful way to celebrate Johnson’s 75th anniversary,” said Nelson. “I promise you will hear more about this program.”