If you were charting Bob Tarola’s career path, every landmark would be marked in a cherry and white “T.” From college football player, to successful professional, to business leader, to board member and philanthropist, Tarola used an extensive network of Temple alumni to move forward. In his words, “all that networking leads back to Temple.”
As a high school football player, Tarola was recruited by Clemson University, the Naval Academy, Penn State and Lehigh. In 1968, he chose Temple because of the school’s academic reputation and a team in the process of rebuilding. A four-year, full scholarship helped his decision as well.
Though he started as a marketing major, late in his junior year, Tarola added extra accounting courses and graduated in 1973 with a dual major.
“Professor [James] Solano had an ability to talk about accounting theory and converting it into practical knowledge,” Tarola said. “He was extremely energetic and very funny, very engaging. I thought accounting was dry and he made it interesting.”
Tarola was a first-generation college student, and his parents weren’t able to offer much input into what he should be studying or what careers he should pursue. Solano was a practicing accountant teaching at the business school and that practical knowledge and application drew Tarola to the accounting profession. Solano had “been there and done that,” Tarola said. He had the Philadelphia Eagles as clients and taught his students about the complexity of business-related issues through accounting. So Tarola soaked up Solano’s lectures and personal advice and graduated with an accounting degree.
After graduating in 1973, Tarola took a position as a financial analyst with a division of Chrysler Motors that managed dealerships. Interestingly, Tarola later helped arrange the sale of a Chrysler to Solano.
However, when the oil crisis began in 1974, Tarola knew cutbacks were coming. He decided to change directions. His former Peabody Hall dorm roommate and a fellow Beta Alpha Psi member, Dan Gallagher, was working at Price Waterhouse in Philadelphia and Tarola joined him there. Tarola stayed with Price Waterhouse for 22 years. Within a remarkable 10 years, he progressed from junior accountant to partner.
When Tarola talks about that time period as a partner at Price Waterhouse, it is clear that he found the work fulfilling, interesting and challenging. He was able to move through various partnership roles and work with a myriad of different industries while at a firm that was positioning itself to be the best in the world. He traveled and spent time in New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. His portfolio included Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, MCI Communications and international firms.
It was in the mid-1990s that Tarola started to yearn for something new. He turned to another friend and Temple alum, Douglas Maine of Brown Brothers Harriman who was CFO of MCI when Tarola was its audit partner. “My connections, 20 years after Temple, made me think there was more to life and more to my career,” Tarola said. “I wanted to emulate a lot of what [Maine] was doing.”
Maine was involved in financial management and Tarola found himself drawn to a new way of looking at business. In subsequent years, he made the transition to CFO of MedStar Health in Maryland, a $1 billion health system in the Baltimore-Washington area that included eight hospitals. That was followed by nine years at W.R. Grace & Co. a $3 billion NYSE multi-national chemical company operating in 40 countries and 20 currencies.
Since 2008, Tarola and his business partner Bridget Sarikas have been the leaders of Right Advisory LLC, a financial consulting firm that focuses on turnaround of troubled businesses. Tarola and Sarikas often fill temporary leadership positions while they implement a long-term strategy for business improvement.
It was after his move to financial management that Tarola had an opportunity to enrich Maine’s life. While leading W.R. Grace in Maryland, Tarola, whose network was already Temple heavy, reconnected with the Fox School community on campus. Initially, he joined the accounting advisory board and helped fund an endowed scholarship. Soon he was asked to serve on the President’s Advisory Board. Tarola recruited Maine and Gallagher to join him on that board.
Tarola then joined the former Fox Dean’s Council. Now he and Maine are both on the Board of Visitors, which replaced the Dean’s Council in 2019. As a member of the Board of Visitors, Tarola serves as an advisor to the school, working closely with the school’s leadership team to implement the strategic plan and develop ideas and programs that help grow the school, the alumni population and accelerate commerce regionally and throughout the world. He is a winner of the school’s prestigious Musser Award and was honored as one of the school’s most influential people at its Centennial. Most recently, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fox Department of Accounting Awards Dinner.
In 2021, Tarola’s addition to the rolls of Temple University’s Chairman’s Circle is just another example of his commitment to Temple and the role it has played throughout his life. The Circle is a select group of philanthropists who support and strengthen the university at the highest level. Tarola’s generous contributions have included two scholarships and have been focused at the Fox School’s Honors Program, the Department of Accounting and the Athletic Department.
*Tarola said that his journey has given him the perspective to see how important Temple is in the lives of students. As each step in his journey is colored in Cherry and White, he has vested himself—as a donor, as an advisor and as a great believer in the Temple mission—to ensure many more Owls can find success.