School Honors Three Top Business Leaders Who Also Make Time to Give Back
The UConn School of Business honored three of its top alumni on May 6, inducting them into the School’s Hall of Fame during an elaborate and festive ceremony at the Hartford Marriott Downtown.
Those honored included: Robert C. Hughes, a 1992 graduate who helped build a proud family business into a software powerhouse and is now a generous supporter of the University’s veteran entrepreneurship program; Corliss Montesi, a 1986 accounting graduate, who is a top executive at Stanley Black & Decker and a champion for women in the workplace; and Drew Figdor, a 1983 graduate with a degree in finance who not only employs his expertise on Wall Street, but also guides the UConn Foundation with its investments.
Here are their stories:
Living with Purpose
Brother’s Accident Taught Robert Hughes ’92 about Family, Compassion, Giving Back
A horrible family tragedy that occurred when Robert C. Hughes was just 12-years old gave him a maturity, a new appreciation for family, and the determination to live life with a purpose.
Hughes’ brother, Greg ’88, just four years older, was involved in a horrible car accident that left him a quadriplegic.
“We already had close family bonds,” said Hughes. “But that incident brought us much closer together. We all rallied around my brother.”
Hughes, a serial entrepreneur, was inducted into the School of Business Hall of Fame on May 6. He graduated from UConn with a degree in communication and media studies in 1992.
With some persuasion from his brother Jack, he joined sisters Maryand Laurie ’82 in the family-owned software business, originally named Business Data Services and later renamed Tallan, and was a significant contributor to the company’s growth from under $1 million to over $100 million in annual sales.
He and his brother Jack then created the popular crowdsourcing platform, Topcoder. This online community hosts contests for more than one million technologists to write software and solve complex business data problems.
Since 2014, Hughes and his brother have co-owned Republic Systems with colleagues from NASA, Harvard and MIT. The company, based in East Hartford, engages in crowdsourcing technology for state and federal government agencies.
At UConn, Hughes has been a partner with the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program, an intensive learning and support program for military veterans who wish to own their own businesses. He has supported the program both financially and with his business insight.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be associated with the program. The least we can do is support our veterans,” he said. “They’ve given so much for us. After they’ve risked their lives in military service, we owe it to them to help them pursue their business-ownership dreams.
“The thing that ‘sold me,’ is the chance to put a dent in the suicide issue for our vets,” he said. “I want to give hope to them, and they get that by building a business, a new career, something they can be proud of.”
In addition to their support of EBV, the Hughes family also supports the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation, the YMCA and Cherish the Children Foundation.
While still a UConn student, Hughes worked multiple jobs as a personal care attendant for disabled students and as a media planner and buyer. His father would “front him” the tuition money, and he was expected to pay it back the next semester. Hughes said his UConn coursework both challenged him and broadened his horizons.
He turned down a job offer at graduation to work in the family business. To this day, he said, he relies on the support, guidance and advice of his family, including his wife Barb. A large contingent of his family cheered him on as he was inducted.
“As an entrepreneur, I find the hardest thing in business is sales. The longer you do it, the more times you’ll fail. It’s a numbers game, pure and simple,” he said. “I would tell students and recent graduates not to be afraid of rejection and don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll always get another crack at it.”
Risks, Perseverance, Tough Assignments
Stanley Black & Decker Executive Corliss Montesi ’86 Advocates for Women in the Workplace
As a top executive in Connecticut, a first-generation college graduate, and the mother of two young-adult daughters, Corliss J. Montesi ’86 has a unique perspective on the business world.
“I think the key to a successful career is perseverance, being willing to take the tough assignments and taking risks early and often,” she said in an interview prior to her induction into the UConn School of Business Hall of Fame on May 6.
“When I’m hiring people, I look for passion and drive and a team spirit,” she said. “It isn’t hard to find that, but certainly not everybody has it.”
During her 30-year career, Montesi has worked for some of Connecticut’s business giants. From 1997 to 2014, she worked for United Technologies, holding roles including vice president, controller for Pratt & Whitney and vice president, CFO of Sikorsky Aerospace Services. For the last year and a half, she has been vice president and corporate controller for Stanley Black & Decker.
Not only has her career been remarkable, but Montesi has started two programs designed to hire, retain and promote women in the companies where she worked. Successful work-life integration can be accomplished in a workplace that offers flexibility, she said.
“Women need mentors and sponsors to help them, take chances on them and bring them along,” she said. “I’m very optimistic about the future. The number of women in the top ranks is increasing. It’s still not where it needs to be, but we’re making strides.”
Montesi earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, magna cum laude, from UConn. Among her favorite professors were accounting professors Dick Kochanek, who was also her adviser; Larry Gramling, now associate dean, and Mo Hussein, long-time head of the accounting program. She said the trio provided tremendous support and career guidance. Montesi, also a CPA in Connecticut, went on to earn an MBA in finance from the University of Bridgeport.
“My advice for students is to take advantage of every opportunity that you can,” she said in her acceptance speech. “Communicate well, spend more time with people than on your phone or your laptop, take advantage of this incredible alumni network, and vow to become a lifelong learner.”
Montesi’s personal life also has Husky ties. Her husband, Mark ’84, is also a UConn accounting graduate, although they met after college.
In addition to her work with many professional, civic and charitable organizations, Montesi is a founding member of the new Dean’s Advisory Cabinet for the School of Business and a member of the Advisory Council for the Accounting Department.
“I’m excited to assist in any way I can to continue to advance the School of Business,” she said. “As alumni and business people, we need to help the School of Business thrive in whatever way we can.”
A Great Education
UConn Education is Second to None, Drew Figdor ’83 Tells Hall of Fame Audience
Drew Figdor ’83 said he was a mediocre student in high school, but when he got to the University of Connecticut that all changed.
“I found my passion at UConn. I really loved learning. One of the things about my job is that it requires a great deal of diverse knowledge. I’m always learning something new,” said Figdor, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance and graduated magna cum laude. He went on to get his master’s degree in finance from New York University.
Now a general partner at Tiedemann Investment Group in New York City, Figdor is also an active alumnus who chairs the Investment Committee for the University of Connecticut Foundation. He was inducted into the School of Business Hall of Fame on May 6.
“A University of Connecticut education is second to none,” Figdor said. “UConn prepared me well in skill set and diversity of knowledge which are the hallmark of a great education. At UConn there was something to learn every day and I’ve taken that mindset into my job.”
Drew’s father, Dr. Sandy Figdor, was the son of a silk finisher and a seamstress, yet went on to get his Ph.D. and set the tone about the importance of education. His father was able to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony. His mother, he said, helped him get through college and even attended UConn herself later in her life.
In addition to his involvement on the Foundation Investment Committee, Figdor has supported the UConn School of Business, the Fund for UConn and the Alumni Association.
Figdor said his proudest achievement is the family of three boys—ages 9 to 17—that he and his wife are raising. He is also an accomplished athlete who enjoys skiing, cycling and playing tennis.
What advice does he give his own boys?
“Find your passion, because if you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll be successful,” he said. “I tell them to work hard to succeed. Perseverance is key.”
After receiving the award, Figdor held the glass sculpture up high and yelled, “Woo-hoo!” to the delight of the audience.