ynthia Axelrod, Program Director of Fox’s Financial Planning major, and Don Kirkwood, Fox’s Assistant Dean of Development, celebrate the grant announcement with TD Ameritrade Institutional President Tom Nally (right) at the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange.
Cynthia Axelrod, Program Director of Fox’s Financial Planning major, and Don Kirkwood, Fox’s Assistant Dean of Development, celebrate the grant announcement with TD Ameritrade Institutional President Tom Nally (right) at the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange.

TD Ameritrade Institutional awarded a $25,000 grant to Temple University’s Fox School of Business to foster development of its new financial planning degree program, as part its third-annual Next Gen Financial Planning Grants.

Through its Next Gen Financial Planning Grants, TD Ameritrade Institutional hopes to help the registered investment advisor industry remain vibrant for years to come by encouraging more colleges and universities to expand and enhance their financial planning degree programs, increasing the number of graduates produced each year. According to U.S. Department of Education data, roughly 700 students completed bachelor’s degree programs in financial planning in 2013, while only 90 U.S. colleges and universities offered degrees dedicated to financial planning.

Temple University’s Fox School of Business launched its Financial Planning undergraduate program this fall. Grant funds will help fund scholarships to attract top-tier students, underwrite a weekly “seminar series” that brings the workplace to campus, engaging financial planning practitioners in the Philadelphia area to speak with students providing insights into the profession’s challenges, trends and potential opportunities.

“We are incredibly proud to have been selected by TD Ameritrade Institutional as the recipient of this grant,” said Cynthia Axelrod, Program Director of Fox’s Financial Planning major and Assistant Professor of Finance. “Professionals in this field are in high demand, and this grant will bolster Fox’s efforts to provide highly qualified students that will excel as Financial Planners.”

The Fox School of Business at Temple University introduced two new undergraduate majors for the 2015-16 academic year: Supply Chain Management and Financial Planning.

In all, the Fox School offers students a choice of 15 undergraduate majors.

The Supply Chain Management major prepares students to operate and lead major aspects of the supply system in both established and start-up firms. Fox’s Marketing and Supply Chain Management department oversees the program, which readies students for careers in the interconnected chain of suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses and distribution centers, transportation-providers, retailers.

“Businesses today operate on a global scale,” said Dr. Neha Mittal, Assistant Professor and Academic Director of the undergraduate Supply Chain Management program. “For example, it’s very common for a company to have its sourcing in South America, manufacturing in China, and sales of its products to markets in Europe or North America. We’re talking about huge, complex supply chains here, which have fueled the need for supply chain management professionals to manage the flows between the different parties.”

The Financial Planning major prepares students for careers in the growing field bearing the same name, which takes a holistic approach to working with clients in order to enable them to identify and attain lifestyle and retirement goals. Students who complete the Financial Planning curriculum are eligible to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) examination upon graduation – a unique feature of the program. Fox’s Finance department oversees the program, and draws upon the expertise of faculty in Fox’s Legal Studies and Risk, Insurance and Healthcare Management departments, as well, said Cynthia Axelrod, Assistant Professor and Financial Planning Program Director.

“Within the next 20 years, 10,000 baby boomers will retire every day. This will produce a tremendous intergenerational wealth transfer, for which there won’t be nearly enough advisors to take on the burgeoning growth of clients and client assets,” Axelrod said.

William A. “Bill” Graham IV
William A. “Bill” Graham IV
Temple University’s Fox School of Business awarded with the 2015 Musser Award for Excellence in Leadership – the school’s highest honor, for outstanding achievement, leadership, and commitment to the community by a distinguished member of industry.

Graham was honored at the 19th annual Musser Award reception and dinner Nov. 5, 2015, in Mitten Hall, on Temple University’s Main Campus.

Graham is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Graham Company, a privately held and leading U.S. insurance and surety brokerage and consulting firm considered one of the largest in the nation based on revenue size. The company provides property and casualty products, employee benefits, and surety bonds for an elite client base.

Graham has been a member of the Philadelphia business community for more than 50 years.

He joined his father’s insurance agency as a sales representative in 1962, eventually becoming the sole owner in 1972. He served as president from 1970 to 1999, and currently serves as chairman and chief executive officer. He has overseen the growth of The Graham Company, from six employees with revenues of $300,000 in 1972, to more than 160 employees and revenues exceeded $40 million.

The Fox School of Business at Temple University has been awarded reaccreditation by AACSB International, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Earning AACSB accreditation is considered the hallmark of excellence in business education, and has been earned by less than five percent of the world’s business schools. Today, there are 727 business schools in 48 countries and territories that maintain AACSB accreditation. Accredited institutions are subject to reaccreditation on five-year cycles.

The Fox School has been continuously accredited by AACSB International since 1934.

“Maintaining accreditation with AACSB is a difficult task, amid the desire for constant improvement and the challenge of separating yourself from the competition,” said Fox School Dean M. Moshe Porat. “The AACSB review team, at the conclusion of their visit, used the term ‘best in class’ to reference what we do at the Fox School. It was quite rewarding to hear those words, as they demonstrate our commitment to delivering globally recognized business education and premier management training.”

In its report, AACSB’s review team lauded many areas at the Fox School as “distinguishing characteristics.” The team pointed to Fox’s intellectual contributions and research-active faculty, as well as a highly professional and engaged staff as points of strength.

Specifically, the AACSB team highlighted the Center for Student Professional Development, calling it “a hallmark of the school” for “equipping its students with the tools and knowledge necessary to set themselves apart from the competition” in the job-placement sector. Fox’s online programs, including the No. 1-ranked Online MBA, “are growing into a scalable model that ensures quality,” the team wrote in its report. A school-wide entrepreneurial culture and the redesigned curriculum of the Global MBA program were other areas of strength praised by AACSB.

Entrepreneurial Freedom

November 3, 2015 //
Evens Charles
Evens Charles

Frontier Development and Hospitality Group’s Founder & Managing Principal, Evens Charles carved a name for himself in the hospitality-focused, real estate development business, and wants to provide Temple juniors and seniors similar opportunities through a scholarship

Evens Charles

BA ’94, M.Ed ’95 | Founder & Managing Principal, Frontier Development and Hospitality Group LLC

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Lasting Connections: “My key takeaway from Temple was the strong academic foundation I developed and the key relationships I made with students who eventually became prominent professionals and long lasting friends.”

Once an underprivileged student from humble beginnings, Evens Charles takes pride in supporting his community.

That is why the founder and managing principal of Frontier Development and Hospitality Group, LLC, has endowed a scholarship for students from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and School of Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM). Charles knows first-hand the financial obstacles motivated entrepreneurial students face. Maxed out from student loan providers, Charles finished school because of a football scholarship he received during his junior year, after he had earned a starting position.

“Without that funding, I don’t know if I could’ve continued my education,” Charles said.

Following graduate school, Charles became interested in real estate. He taught himself everything he could, entered the business, and amassed a good amount of residential real estate. He was inspired to enter the hotel business in 2008, after attending a conference in Washington D.C., hosted by the National Alliance of Black Hotel Owners Operators and Developers Association (NABHOOD). There, he heard a speech by the association’s chairman, developer R. Donahue Peebles. He initially partnered with another Temple alumnus, Paul Patel of Pennsville Hospitality Group, who had the experience of running and operating hotels.

“It was a very humbling experience because it meant partnering with folks who had industry knowledge that I did not possess,” Charles said.

By evolving his business into hotel acquisitions, Charles has achieved a great deal of creative freedom. He finds his work rewarding because it allows him to control his own destiny and influence economic development.

Charles gave $25,000, which was matched by the Dean’s Match program of the Fox School of Business. The $50,000 scholarship is awarded to underrepresented junior and senior students from the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. metro areas. The scholarship will alternate each year, between students from Fox and STHM.

“It’s a shame that many students with the desire and drive can’t always continue school because of finances,” Charles said. “If I can help to make a difference in the lives of even one or two students, it’s a start to giving back what I’ve been given.”

Robert Roach
Robert Roach

Robert Roach’s time at Temple laid the foundation on which he built his career in ethics and compliance

Robert Roach

BBA ’74 | Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer, New York University

Hometown: Philadelphia

Major Growth: “Temple was an incubator for my personal and professional growth. I met people of all walks of life, received a foundation for my career, and I left prepared me for the real world.”

In discussing his professional journey, Robert Roach, BBA ’74, quoted the famous line from the Grateful Dead’s song “Truckin’.” He said, “Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Roach felt those lyrics described how serendipity gets in the way of major life planning, especially in relation to one’s career.

“You work hard and plan in advance, but something happens that puts you on a much different path,” Roach said. “I didn’t expect to be on the path I’m on, but I’ve been happy nonetheless.”

The Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer of New York University originally saw himself in business administration.

After four years of working 25 hours per week at a gas station in Northeast Philadelphia, balanced with a full course load and an active campus life – he was the president of the Fox School of Business’ student government – Roach started working at Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., in Quakertown, Pa. While working at Air Products & Chemicals, Roach realized he wanted to further his education. In doing research, he chose to pursue law school instead of a master’s in business administration. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University in 1978.

Roach worked briefly in corporate law in Philadelphia before moving south to work for the American Civil Liberties Union. He later worked within the New York Attorney General’s office and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, further building his career in compliance and ethics. His undergraduate coursework at the Fox School came in handy when, for example, he executed his own forensic accounting while prosecuting white-collar defendants.

“The biggest challenge in my career was finding one that suited my personality,” he said.

Roach joined NYU in 2006, after serving as chief of staff at the New York City Department of Investigation.

Roach recommends that recent and soon-to-be graduates embrace curveballs life throws their way.

“When you take advantage of serendipity and try something new, you may find it to be personally and professionally rewarding,” Roach said.

Justin Rosenberg
Justin Rosenberg

Justin Rosenberg’s business plan started at Fox, and recently earned $25 million in investment funding

Justin Rosenberg

MBA ‘09 | Founder and Partner, honeygrow

Hometown: Melville, N.Y.

Adopted home: “Philadelphia is often overlooked by other companies and concepts. I’m a Long Islander, but to me, I can’t imagine doing business anywhere other than Philly.”

When writing his business plan, Justin Rosenberg was meticulous, gathering more information than he’d ever use—or need.

The native New Yorker remembers spending hours at the Fox School of Business, curling up in Alter Hall’s lounge chairs while developing the business model for what would become honeygrow, the Philadelphia-based, fast-casual restaurant that offers fresh-to- order salads and stir-fries with seasonal, local ingredients.

In June, honeygrow received $25 million in investment funding from Miller Investment Management, which will support further expansion of honeygrow and updates to the company’s technology platform.

“It seems like I was just in Alter yesterday,” said Rosenberg, MBA ’09. “Building honeygrow was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but it was worth it.”

The Fox School alumnus worked as a financial analyst and asset manager while pursuing his Global MBA. Deep down, he said, he desired to build a company of his own. Rosenberg was a vegan at the time and sought more creative, locally grown meal options than most restaurants offered. So he crafted a restaurant concept to his liking.

He found information about touch-screen ordering systems by calling companies that utilized them. He even contacted restaurant owners from as far away as California, to inquire about the size of their bowls and to best determine price-per-ounce figures.

Then, he took to the streets. Rosenberg wasn’t above knocking on doors to find investors, or working the weekend. Following 40-or-more-hour workweeks, Rosenberg would ride a bus to Washington, D.C., where he’d work in the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant. He navigated Saturday night dinners and the Sunday brunch rush, before heading home to his wife, Halie, who at the time was pregnant with the first of their three children.

In June 2012, he opened honeygrow’s first location—at 16th and Sansom streets in Philadelphia. In three short years, Rosenberg and honeygrow continue to blossom and will have expanded to eight locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and 20 corporate employees by the end of 2015.

“It’s a sacrifice. Every step was a humbling experience, but it was how I learned that, for a company to be successful, you have to embrace it and make it your life, and obsess over the details,” Rosenberg said. “There’s this mirage that, if you’re your own boss, life is great. It can be, but only if you work hard and continue to remain focused.”

Johanna Walters
Johanna Walters

Johanna Walters’ networking skills landed her in wealth management, where she began as a Client Associate and worked her way to Senior Vice President – Wealth Management

Johanna L. Walters

BBA ’00 | Senior Vice President, Wealth Management and Wealth Management Advisor, Glassman Walters Associates, Merrill Lynch

Hometown: Muskegon, Mich.

Guiding with math: “My work is like a complicated math word problem. I gather all of the puzzle pieces of clients’ lives and provide the answers and guidance to help them achieve their goals and dreams.”

Her love of horseback riding put Johanna Walters, BBA ’00, on track to become a Senior Vice President – Wealth Management and Wealth Management Advisor within one of Merrill Lynch’s largest wealth management practices, Glassman Walters Associates.

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the then-18-year-old student calculated the costs and benefits of pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.

“After mapping it out, I realized I would never be able to own my horse, which was something I really wanted,” Walters recalled.

She transferred to the Fox School of Business to study finance and business law, and reconnected with her former employer — and future business partner — Saly Glassman. As a teen, Walters worked in Glassman’s stables and watched her daughter in exchange for horseback riding lessons.

Glassman offered Walters a 20-hour-per-week job at her Merrill Lynch office. This job, along with her Fox School classes, influenced Walters’s interest in wealth management. Walters graduated and joined the firm as a Client Associate. She worked her way up to her current role as Senior Vice President – Wealth Management of Glassman Walters Associates at Merrill Lynch.

“It’s amazing to work on one of the largest wealth management teams in the firm. We are fortunate to have a lot of autonomy to continue to create unique solutions for our clients.” Walters said. “Although with that work comes great responsibility.”

Walters never let hurdles get in her way. Although gender bias is still an issue in the industry, Walters does see improvement as more women continue to enter the field. Early in her career, Walters’ age presented challenges, at times, since some had difficulty taking a young person seriously. Being a successful wealth management advisor helped her exceed expectations.

Walters said her ongoing professional and personal successes proves you can excel when you believe in yourself and have a vision.

“Be honest and come from a place of integrity,” Walters adds. “If you can do that, you will be successful.”

Yasmine Mustafa
Yasmine Mustafa

Yasmine Mustafa aims to change the world with her company, which manufactures wearable self-defense technology jewelry designed for women

Yasmine Mustafa
BBA ’06 | CEO and co-founder, ROAR for Good

Hometown: Royersford, Pa.

MotivaTED: In May, Mustafa was one of 14 speakers at TEDx Philadelphia, an independent and not-for-profit one-day conference that builds dialogue on topics of scientific, social awareness, and cultural significance. Mustafa’s talk covered the birth lottery, the concept of being born into a set of traits and circumstances that shape life’s opportunities and challenges.

A formative moment in Yasmine Mustafa’s professional life occurred by happenstance. A fellow Fox School of Business student couldn’t finish his internship and Mustafa, who already had an internship, decided to tackle another simultaneously. In this new opportunity, she worked closely with early-stage entrepreneurs, helping to craft their business plans, marketing strategies, and funding pitches.

Mustafa knew she’d wanted to become an entrepreneur, but it was then that her interest in the technology sector had been sparked.

“I remember being in awe of these makers, I’d call them, and I’d think, ‘Man, I want to be one of these one day,’” she said.

Mustafa, BBA ’06, is the CEO and co-founder of ROAR for Good, LLC, a developer of wearable self defense technology jewelry designed for women that acts as a fashionable high-tech alarm which also messages loved ones and calls the authorities. Manufacturing of the flagship device began in September, and Mustafa expects it to be available to consumers in February.

She’s raised more than $200,000 in funding from Philadelphia-based investors for the product, called “Athena,” after the Greek goddess of power and freedom. Athena, which Mustafa designed to replicate fashionable jewelry, will sync with the user’s smartphone to alert a designated emergency contact, as well as the appropriate authorities, to criminal activity with one-touch technology. It also emits an alarm and a flashing light when activated.

“I see a long-term vision of changing the world, and ROAR having a profound impact,” said Mustafa, 33. “A key component is that we’ll be investing part of our proceeds into nonprofits that teach children about empathy and healthy relationships. … I get excited by the potential. In reality, our goal is to have a world where technology like ROAR’s doesn’t need to exist.”

The Kuwaiti-born Mustafa worked under-the-table jobs to support her education, which includes her Bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship from the Fox School. The two-time winner of the Be Your Own Boss Bowl®, a Temple University-wide business plan competition, is a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” with numerous smaller ventures prior to her work with ROAR.

“I see a much bigger reach with ROAR,” she said. “I’m a person who thrives on making a difference, so I’m excited about what the future holds.”

Modest Beginnings

November 3, 2015 //
Rahul Merchant
Rahul Merchant

Rahul Merchant built his career from the ground up, beginning the moment his flight to the United States landed

Rahul Merchant
MBA ’89 | Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President, TIAA-CREF

Hometown: Mumbai, India

Divided allegiance: Having earned his Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Memphis University, and his MBA from Temple, Merchant is torn when the two schools meet on the basketball court as members of the American Athletic Conference. “John Chaney was a legend, and I’m a fan of Fran Dunphy,” Merchant said of the Owls’ coaches, past and present, “but they’re both great schools and great teams.”

Rahul Merchant moved to the United States in 1979. His flight from India had landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and, not long after, he managed to lose one of his two suitcases. Merchant sat curbside in a blue wool suit with the late-August sun bearing down. A taxi driver picked up Merchant, and took him to his destination without asking for a fare.

“The driver said to me, ‘When you make money, you can pay somebody else,’” Merchant said. “That was the fundamental principle I learned in this country, and I’ve been touched by that moment ever since. That was a great experience for me, and I feel that in the corridors of TIAA-CREF.”

Merchant, MBA ’89, applies the same principles to his position with TIAA-CREF. As Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President, Merchant oversees the existing information technology and implementing new IT initiatives for the nearly 100-year-old financial services firm.

“Today, 90 percent of business is closed over the wires and without even hitting the trading tickets,” he said. “It’s all electronic. What does that mean? The systems are more technologically driven and efficient, but the other side of the IT coin is that business is done openly and transparently.”

Merchant’s career began in the technology field, before earning his MBA in Finance from Fox. Ever since, he’s worked in the financial markets arena, with Exigen Capital, Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch, and as New York City’s first Chief Information and Innovation Officer.

In September, Merchant was recognized as Fox’s 2015 honoree in the Gallery of Success, which showcases exceptional alumni from each of Temple’s 17 schools and colleges.

“I’m incredibly proud of my Temple education and all that the university has afforded me,” Merchant said.

Research Innovation

November 3, 2015 //
Ram Mudambi
Ram Mudambi

Through his research, Ram Mudambi has identified signs of innovation in the places you would least suspect

Ram Mudambi
Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management

Hometown: Blue Bell, Pa.

Renaissance man: Outside of academia, Mudambi is an avid runner and cyclist who’s been known to pedal to Temple University from his home in Blue Bell, when the weather cooperates. He’s also the author of “The Empire of the Zon,” a futuristic novel he wrote under the pen name R.M. Burgess.

A popular impulse is to label Detroit as a downtrodden American city. Not so, says Dr. Ram Mudambi.

In recently published work, Mudambi and a team of researchers have found that Detroit’s patent output since 1975 has grown at a rate of almost twice the American average. Detroit’s innovative resilience, Mudambi said, is due to its continuing centrality in global innovation networks in the automotive industry. It has maintained this centrality through connectedness to other worldwide centers of excellence in this industry, such as Germany and Japan. Its innovative links to Germany have been rising steadily over the last three decades, while its association with Japan began more recently, but also shows a steep upward trajectory.

“The beauty of innovation is that it never stops,” said Mudambi, the Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management at the Fox School of Business. “In 1960, the U.S. was the richest country in the world, and Detroit was its richest city. And while the city has been in a continuous state of decline, we found that Detroit’s innovation numbers are very healthy.”

Mudambi’s findings fall under his umbrella research project dubbed iBEGIN, or International Business, Economic Geography and Innovation. The ongoing iBEGIN initiative is a collaborative effort, with professionals in centers around the world, including: Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and University of Venice Ca Foscari, the Indian School of Business, Henley Business School at the University of Reading (UK), and many others.

A segment of the iBEGIN project explores innovation hubs within the United States, undertaking detailed analyses of more than 900 metropolitan areas. In one published outcomes of this research effort, Mudambi and his team examined the evolution of Akron, headquarters of Goodyear, a mainstay of the global tire industry for over a century. In common with much of the Rust Belt, Akron continues to experience manufacturing decline. However, it is doing well as an innovation center, he said. Moreover, it appears to be transitioning from traditional science-based innovation to a softer, design-driven model.

This calendar year has been a productive one for Mudambi, who has been a Fox School faculty member for 15 years.

Twice in 2015, Mudambi’s work was published within Harvard Business Review.

In June, he served as Program Chair of the 2015 Academy of International Business annual meeting, developing the program and arranging a prominent lineup of scholars and global business leaders. The yearly conference is considered the largest gathering of academics in the international business community.

A month later, Mudambi and his team received a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation to support their inaugural iBEGIN Research Conference, which was held Nov. 13-14 in Philadelphia.

The next research project on the horizon for Mudambi and his globally dispersed research team involves battery power, a progression of yet another long-running iBEGIN segment on renewable energy and sustainability. The team has documented the important role that emerging economies like China and India are playing in the innovative landscape of the wind turbine industry, but batteries are the key to unlocking the potential of these new technologies.

“Batteries are the steam engine of our age,” Mudambi said. “We have ways to produce energy, but we have no way to harness it and store it. If we had to run our planet on stored power, we could run 1 percent. Imagine if you could run the whole planet on batteries. It’s a problem that, once solved, will revolutionize society.”

Ryan Renaldi
Ryan Renaldi

Commitment to his fellow students led Fox School senior Ryan Rinaldi to the top job within Temple Student Government

Ryan K. Rinaldi

Age: 22

Hometown: Moscow, Pa.

Fun Fact: Holding public office at a university in Philadelphia, Rinaldi said, would have its challenges. His prescience had plenty to do with his rooting interest. Rinaldi, a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, worried whether his favorite football team would directly influence the result Temple Student Government’s general election. After the results came in, “I was the most proud Cowboy fan to be elected to any type of position in the city of Philadelphia,” Rinaldi said.

Ryan Rinaldi believes the business of politics is business as usual.

The senior finance major proved it during a successful run for Temple Student Government president this past spring, leaning on the tried and true principles he has learned at the Fox School of Business.

“I think a business background really applies to just about anything you do, in a professional sense,” he said. “There are a lot of takeaways that business students receive, just in a professional development way, but also in how to operate. I think that business students operate in a different way, and I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from that.”

He selected his running mates, Binh Nguyen and Brittany Boston (vice presidents for external affairs and internal services, respectively), based not on previous friendship but merit. He then ran on a platform that emphasized service to the student body, unity in the campus community, and future growth, a message he circulated via social media and by meeting with various student groups. As a result, Rinaldi and Co. earned 3,042 of the 4,582 votes cast (66.3 percent).

“When most people think of the public sector, they think of it being a bureaucracy and not very efficient,” he said. “In business school, and Fox gets the credit for this, I’ve learned to communicate efficiently and operate efficiently. … We communicated and operated efficiently, and that was the reason for our success in the campaign.”

In his current role he will oversee a $150,000 allocation budget for 300 organizations, and a $40,000 budget for government costs and programs.

“I think as a kid growing up, in high school too, my dream became to go into the public sector and try to do good for people,” he said. “That’s really the underlying cause of me wanting to run for student government for Temple, because I came to love Temple. … I want to make sure that Temple is doing well, and that it’s in good hands.”

Nic Novicki, BBA ‘05

November 3, 2015 //
Nic Novicki is flanked by writer/director Kevin Jordan (left) and writer/ producer Steven Martini (right), in Novicki’s office at Cross Roads of the World. The trio is collaborating on the development of a movie.
Nic Novicki is flanked by writer/director Kevin Jordan (left) and writer/ producer Steven Martini (right), in Novicki’s office at Cross Roads of the World. The trio is collaborating on the development of a movie.

Actor, Producer, Comedian

Nic Novicki took a circuitous path to Hollywood.

The New Haven, Conn., native was booking standup comedy shows within a week of his 2001 arrival to Temple University. While pursuing degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship at the Fox School of Business, Novicki also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Eventually, his interests in consulting and viral marketing steered him toward a career in entertainment. Within two weeks of earning his Fox undergraduate degrees, he had appeared on HBO’s hit drama, The Sopranos. He’s also appeared in Boardwalk Empire and Private Practice.

An actor, producer, comedian, and filmmaker, Novicki, a little person who’s worked on more than 100 TV and film projects, launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2014. He markets it as “a 48-hour film race,” with all entries featuring at least one disabled actor, director, writer, or producer. Submissions tripled in the competition’s second year, with entrants vying for mentorships with famous filmmakers and production equipment.

“When you have a disability and you’re trying to be a filmmaker or an actor, it’s not so much about getting the job. It’s about getting an opportunity,” said Novicki. “One in four Americans has a form of disability, but less than 1 percent of TV and film characters are portrayed by disabled people, which means few even get auditions. The Challenge allows people with a disability to hold the fate of their careers in their own hands.”

Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Nic Novicki:

Nic Novicki is flanked by writer/director Kevin Jordan (left) and writer/ producer Steven Martini (right), in Novicki’s office at Cross Roads of the World. The trio is collaborating on the development of a movie.

Thursday, Aug. 13

8:30 a.m. Head to my office at Crossroads of the World, in Hollywood.

9 a.m. Conduct a developmental meeting with my writing and producing partners Kevin Jordan, a veteran film director who worked with legendary producer Martin Scorsese on 2005’s Brooklyn Lobster, and Steven Martini, a TV and film writer whose work has made it to the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. The three of us are developing a movie that we hope will shoot in Sri Lanka in 2016.

11 a.m. Apply our edits to the story, with Kevin and Steven, before presenting the finished product to our financier. We also present our business and marketing plans, and some of the visuals behind our project.

12 p.m. Made a call to my lawyer to go over an agreement to shop a television show that had only recently been presented to me. Together, we address a handful of points we’d want to make before my partners on the deal were ready to sign off.

1 p.m. Quick lunch.

Nic Novicki meets with comedians Brian Swinehart (left) and Terence Leclere (right) before Novicki’s comedy set at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles.
Nic Novicki meets with comedians Brian Swinehart (left) and Terence Leclere (right) before Novicki’s comedy set at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles.

1:30 p.m. Begin coordinating with sign-language interpreters that I’d need to have in place for the opening night of the HollyShorts Film Festival, to take place later that night at the famous TCL Chinese Theater. Dickie Hearts, the winner of the “Best Filmmaker” award in my Disability Film Challenge, is hearing impaired. The winners of the “Best Film” and “Best Actor” awards in the Disability Challenge were also shown.

2:30 p.m. Head to the offices of the Producers Guild of America, for my final mentoring session with the Producers Guild Diversity Workshop. I served among many program mentors.

4 p.m. Return to the HollyShorts Film Festival for opening night.

8 p.m. Attend a HollyShorts opening-night after party at Hollywood’s Ohm Nightclub.

10 p.m. Make my way to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, which routinely hosts the industry’s best comedic acts, for a special occasion. On this night, the UCB Theater put on a show to celebrate its 10-year anniversary in Los Angeles. While there, I hung out with comedians Brian Swinehart and Terence Leclere before going on stage for my set.

Brittni Devereaux
Brittni Devereaux

Her view of the world shaped by her late mother, Brittni Devereaux, MBA ’10, is a leader who marches to the beat of her own drum

The tattoo on Brittni Devereaux’s right biceps muscle is big and loud and splashy, roses ringing a heart with a banner overlapping both.

“Mom,” it says on the banner, “XOXO.”

It is testimony both to her enduring love for her late mother, Lori Troy, who died in 2011 from breast cancer, and that when Devereaux does something, she jumps in with both feet.

“A lot of people see it, and they say, ‘It’s kind of a big tattoo for your first tattoo,’” she said. “I always say, ‘But if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go all the way.’”

That was never more evident than when she decided to enter Temple University’s Fox School of Business, from which she earned her Global MBA in 2010. As an undergraduate at the University  of Michigan she was on track to earn degrees in horn performance and music education, but her career aims were unclear. Maybe, she thought, she could teach. Maybe she could become a band director or join an orchestra.

Then she thought about it some more.

“I knew, one day, I wanted to lead an organization, and I think that’s what drew me toward looking at business school as a next step,” Devereaux said. “I’d need a business education if I was to gain a new set of skills in order to be a leader. It became apparent that my aspirations in life would take me beyond the track that music school could prepare me for.”

She emphasized that she would not trade her undergraduate training at Michigan; indeed it was the school the Brighton, Mich., native  always had wanted to attend. At the same time, she said, “Music school prepared me to be the person I am today, but it was time to seek a new set of skills to become the leader I aspired to be in the future.”

She decided on Temple in 2008, in part because her then-fiancé (and soon-to-be husband), Scott, was bound for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. It is a decision the 29-year-old Devereaux, who in April will enter her fifth year at the global consulting firm Mercer, has never regretted.

“I feel, in a lot of ways, Temple chose me,” she said.

There, she was able to meld her creative and analytical sides, something that proved invaluable when she interviewed for a position at Mercer.

“I didn’t have to defend myself in the interview,” she

said “I’d get asked, ‘Why were you doing music? How does this make sense with what you’re doing now? I don’t get it.’ I was being challenged about me, the choices I had made, and the path I was on. But finally in my interview with Mercer, they told me, ‘You’re a real person. We have a lot of analytical people here. It would be great to have a balance on the other side.’ It just felt right.”

Photo of Brittni Devereaux TattooJacques Goulet, Mercer’s president of Global Retirement, Health, and Benefits, employed Devereaux as his chief of staff from November 2013 to May 2015, and called her “a real  asset to us.”

“She brought a ton of energy, and also enthusiasm and passion
to what she does,” Goulet said. “She was very eager to go beyond that box that she was in.”

Whitney Connaughton, the firm’s Global Human Resources Leader for Global Retirement, Health, and Benefits, said Devereaux is “never hindered by the way we do it. She’s always thinking about the next way to do our work.”

While working for Goulet, Devereaux created the Collective Impact Challenge, an initiative through which colleagues were invited to submit ideas of ways that they might leverage their skills to improve their communities. Currently she is a member of the firm’s Innovation Hub, designing  a  talent-acquisition  app  that uses neuroscience games to match candidates to open jobs, while also serving as co-chair of Mercer Cares, the business resource   group responsible for fostering volunteer initiatives among employees worldwide.

“She’s the type of person who is able to take risks, put things out there and deliver on them,” said Jayme Ierna, Devereaux’s co-chair. “It’s been a real pleasure working with her. Just trying to keep up with her is a whole other thing.”

None of this comes as a surprise to Scott. He also hails from Michigan — his hometown of Washington is an hour away from  his wife’s — and is likewise musically inclined; he played the tuba growing up and is now part of The U.S. Army Field Band, traveling the country as musical ambassadors to the Army performing 100 shows a year.

The couple met while on a band trip to Europe between their sophomore and junior years of high school, dated long-distance then, and attended Michigan together. They were engaged in December of their senior year, and married the following October, after they had moved to Philadelphia. They lived in town for seven years before moving again in early 2015 to Baltimore, so Scott could be closer to Fort Meade, where the Field Band is based.

“Brittni,” he said, “is pretty much relentless in her drive to perform at her highest capacity.

Brittni Devereaux… She’s always looking to be productive, in everything she does. She’s also very sharp.”

Asked why she is wired the way she is, Brittni  needed to look no further than her tattoo. Her parents were divorced when she was young, and  Lori  raised  Brittni  and her younger sister Bethany as a single parent.

“I always saw my mom being a very strong person,” Brittni said. “I definitely think I get a lot of my characteristics, either biologically or environmentally, from her. My mom was someone that never quit.”

She also fueled Brittni’s creative side. When Brittni argued that she should take more advanced-placement courses in high school, the better to prepare herself for college, her mom would instead direct her toward drawing or painting.

“It was always funny,” Brittni recalled. “I think everybody else would come to school and say, ‘Oh, my mom is making me take  AP English.’ And I would say, ‘Oh, I’m going to drawing class now, because my mom is making me take drawing.’ ”

Lori died at age 48, but her daughter is still following her example. “The truth is, I can’t handle people telling me what to do,” Brittni said. “That’s not how I operate best, and that’s not how I’ve ever operated. For better or worse, I’ve always viewed my world as being on my own to get stuff done, and if I don’t make it happen, then it’s not going to happen. I have to figure out the way, and I have to be the one to ensure it happens the way I want it to.”

It has, and still is. And the Fox School of Business gets part of the credit for that.