Nicholas A. Rago wasn’t just the first college graduate in his blue-collar family, he was the first to make it past ninth grade. He grew up in South Philadelphia, working from the day he entered junior high. But there was work and there was a career, and he was determined not to settle for the former. Through 12 years of night classes, Mr. Rago earned an associate’s degree and then a certificate in marketing and, finally, a bachelor’s degree from the Fox School of Business. Each one of these provided him with a bit more leverage as his jobs steadily evolved into a career.
The associate’s degree landed him an interview across the river with the Campbell’s Soup Company. About a dozen interviews later, the position, product promotion manager, was offered to someone else. But he was hired—after another series of interviews—for a different position with Campbell’s, supervisor of promotion purchasing. And a year-and-a-half later, he was promoted to the position for which he originally interviewed. Mr. Rago worked a nine-hour day in Camden, then drove across the Ben Franklin to North Philadelphia and attended classes at night. Family—he was a devoted husband and father of two young sons at that point—fit in somewhere among it all. During much of this time—six-and-a-half years in all—Mr. Rago also served in the United States Army Reserve, a role, he says, that helped define him as a leader as much as his education at the Fox School, and of which he’s just as proud. Still, he admits he struggled at times with time management, the coursework and the tuition payments, but he always persevered. “The Fox School helped a lot with that,” Mr. Rago says. “Most people want to be successful, but they’re not always supported the way they need to be. Temple worked with me.” Today, in addition to consulting and sitting on several boards, Mr. Rago leads the Emerging Leaders Initiative for the Small Business Administration in Arizona and he teaches at Maricopa Community Colleges. He preaches not just commitment to his students but focus, too. It’s not enough to stay with it. They need to be able to live it, as he did. “You have to take advantage of your time in school because there’s no hiding in the professional world,” Mr. Rago says. Campbell’s became his gateway to a 40-plus-year career in consumer products and services, during which Mr. Rago held senior management positions with Armour, Dial, Conagra Brands, Greyhound, Premier Cruise Line (The Official Cruise Line of Walt Disney World), and Viad Corp. He launched major lines at each stop and hired hundreds of people along the way. “Coming out of school, it’s not enough to just know the words; you need to be able to immediately apply the lessons,” he says. Chief among them: communicate. Mr. Rago made a habit of talking to his employees at the ground level. Their feedback told him as much—if not more—about the health of his companies as the board meetings. “Understanding what they were going through, at work and at home, helped me to see that a business is a living thing with a heart and soul,” Mr. Rago says. “Know where you earn your profit and focus on your people; with that harmony, comes results!”
Temple University Degree
Associate of Science ’67, College of Liberal Arts | Certificate in Marketing ’70, Fox School of Business | Bachelor of Science ’74, Fox School of Business
Title & Company
President and CEO, Consultants to Management
Temple University Awards & Affiliatons
- Recipient, Fox School of Business Musser Award for Excellence in Alumni Leadership, 2003
- Former President’s Advisory Board
- Dean’s Advisory Board, School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management
- Conwell Society Award, 2002
- Dean’s Council, Fox School of Business
- Chairman, Arizona Chapter, Temple University Alumni Association
What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
Understand, at that point, I was working my way through Temple as an office boy. I was promoted to accounting and knew quickly that it wasn’t my bag. Then the sales manager told me about an opening for a merchandiser. I was interested in the higher salary, of course, but it was the company car that hooked me.
Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
Back in the early days, when I was in sales, my supervisor said, ‘Always do it right. If you do it right, everybody who works with you won’t have to do rework.’ Later on, I realized the correlation between rework and cost.