You have the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to fail, the opportunity to be influenced by people you might not have come into contact with, if you’d stayed in your safe environment.
After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Temple University, Dennis Alter began his working career teaching English in the Philadelphia public schools. However, he always knew he’d one day join the business his father had founded, TSO Financial, which specialized in providing loans to Philadelphia school teachers. What he couldn’t have predicted was that in the early 1980s, long after his father had retired, rising interest rates would put the business in grave risk of survival.
“We had to find a new business model,” he recalls. So, “really out of necessity,” his company bought a small Delaware bank at auction. They began issuing credit cards nationwide, along the way pioneering some of the now most widely used marketing ideas such as balance transfer, no fee gold cards and 0% into rates. The little bank evolved rapidly into Advanta, one of the nation’s largest issuers of credit cards in the country. “At the time, it feels like you’re just struggling for your life,” Mr. Alter says of this transition period. “When you look back, you can say, ‘Gee, that was a brilliant move.’”
The generosity of Dennis and Gisela Alter enabled the construction of Alter Hall, the home of the Fox School of Business since 2009. Alter Hall is a landmark on the university’s Main Campus, and a center for global business education for the 21st century. Their gift of $15 million, the largest in the Fox School’s history, reflects their deep commitment to the university and its students. The opening of the modern, state-of-the-art facility launched the Fox School into the future. More than just a shell containing classrooms and offices, Alter Hall is a building that matches the Fox School’s growing national and international reputation and is a place where students, faculty, and alumni come together to innovate, collaborate, and learn.
Mr. Alter has also made substantial contributions toward the creation of the Advanta Center for Financial Studies and the Alter Research Scholars Program in the Fox School. An avid art enthusiast, Mr. Alter personally oversaw the selection, purchase, and placement of all 115 works of art adorning the walls of Alter Hall (and he’s performed the same service for the Howard Gittes Student Center).
Mr. Alter offers this advice about advice: “Take it with a grain of salt.” Others may mean well, he says, but no one knows what’s right for you. And never forget the inherent benefits of taking risks and facing adversity. “You have the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to fail, the opportunity to be influenced by people you might not have come into contact with, if you’d stayed in your safe environment.”