Features

Hawks at the Helm of Vanguard

by Dawn Thren

Summer 2021

illustration of barbelin hall with a hawk symbol shadow

Illustrations: Leticia R. Albano

When Jack Bogle founded Vanguard in 1975, he had a simple but revolutionary idea — create an investment management company owned by the mutual funds it offers, operated solely in the interests of its fund shareholders. He set the ethical compass high for Vanguard to always do what is right for the client, crew (employees) and community, and was known for hiring people with integrity, a growth mindset and a passion for giving clients the best chance for investment success. For decades, Saint Joseph’s University graduates who have gone on to become Vanguard “crew members” have relied on their Jesuit education and culture rooted in intellectual curiosity, adaptability and cura personalis — care for the whole person — to support, and often lead, Vanguard’s mission.

“One of the reasons why recruiters like our students is because they can adapt and learn new things. We teach them to read for lifelong learning, to write for articulation and to think critically for discernment because we are preparing students in today’s environment for jobs that don’t exist yet,” says Joseph A. DiAngelo, Ed.D. ’70, dean of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business. “The liberal arts background prepares students to constantly evolve.”

Managing more than $7.5 trillion in global assets and with 19 offices all over the world, Vanguard’s long-standing practice of rotating both leaders and crew offers the opportunity to improve upon and explore new skills and career paths, from information technology and risk management to investor services and human resources. Having the ability to pivot and ask questions is part of the fabric of a rigorous Saint Joseph’s liberal arts curriculum. Required courses like philosophy and theology add to a broader exposure to the humanities in a Hawk’s education and help students develop the intellectual and emotional depth that is essential for overall career success.

“Vanguard needs crew who can think beyond the challenges of today, who can recognize the opportunities that exist in that change and find creative ways to deliver stronger outcomes for clients,” says Lauren (Foley) Valente ’03, Vanguard managing director and chief human resources officer. “We also look for alignment with Vanguard’s values: engaged citizenship, [supporting an] inclusive and diverse community and ethical decision making. That really leads to many St. Joe’s graduates being a strong fit.”

The following alumni have been more than just a strong fit for Vanguard — they have helped shape the firm on its journey to becoming one of the largest asset management firms in the world.


Joe DavisJoseph Davis '94

Global Chief Economist and Global Head, Vanguard Investment Strategy Group

Advisory Board Member, Saint Joseph's College of Arts and Sciences

As global chief economist and global head of Vanguard Investment Strategy, whose investment research and client-facing team conducts research on portfolio construction, develops the firm’s economic and market outlook and helps oversee Vanguard’s asset allocation strategies for both institutional and individual investors, Joe Davis ’94 is a sought-after and widely published industry expert. Whether providing his outlook on markets and the economy or sharing informative blogs about asset bubbles, Davis relies heavily on his St. Joe’s cross-disciplinary education, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, mathematics and German.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn on history, math and international development — just in the past 10 years — to give context to the economic environment,” Davis says. “I think it’s that marrying of technical fields, such as mathematics and computer science, with social science fields, such as economics and history, that can be a very powerful combination. I believe, personally, that it is a bull market for liberal arts education in the future.”

Davis went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Duke University prior to joining Vanguard as an investment analyst. During his graduate studies, Davis wrote an award-winning dissertation, which included new data that changed the profession’s understanding of the frequency and severity of early U.S. business cycles and the volatility of the early American economy.

“My majors in both economics and math not only prepared me for the technical [aspects], but also for the last years of my dissertation, which involved writing a thesis. That’s where I saw my liberal arts education serve me very well,” says Davis, who is a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board.

Davis was planning to head to Wall Street for his first job 18 years ago, but his dad, Joseph Davis Jr. ’66, helped open the door for him at Vanguard by sharing his resume with a fellow alum with whom his dad regularly sat at Hawks basketball games. The alum was a senior executive in Vanguard’s human resources department.

“I had to earn the interview and the job, but I will always be grateful for my dad’s advice,” Davis says. “It’s also the power of the St. Joe’s network.”


Francis KolimagoFrancis Kolimago '87

Head, Vanguard Australia

First-generation college student Frank Kolimago ’87 followed the recommendation of his high school cross country coach and English teacher, Steve Probert ’71, who felt that Saint Joseph’s would be a great fit for the student-athlete. The strong academics, location, campus environment and the developmental nature of the track and field and cross country programs under legendary Head Coach Kevin Quinn ’62 appealed to Kolimago, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in financial management.

“I’m not sure I completely understood the value of the broader liberal arts program as a complement to the technical business major when I came to St. Joe’s, but as I reflect back, I think it was one of the strongest and most valuable takeaways from my time at the University,” says Kolimago, head of Vanguard Australia, who also earned an MBA degree at Villanova University.

Since first joining the company as a relationship manager, Kolimago has witnessed a great deal of change in the services and products offered by the firm and has assumed various leadership roles during his 25 years with Vanguard. He moved to Japan and co-led the firm’s startup operations, which represented the first physical office presence established by Vanguard in the Asia region. He has served as a senior manager responsible for developing internet services directed to Vanguard’s U.S. institutional clients, and has also headed the combined Shared Services and Defined Benefit Services Group. Before relocating to head Vanguard’s Australian business, he oversaw Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

“During dramatic career changes, you’re faced with the challenge of having to navigate a very steep learning curve in a very short amount of time,” says Kolimago, who arrived in Australia in 2018, just as Vanguard became the leading exchange-traded fund (ETF) issuer in the country. Under his guidance, Vanguard has since grown and extended its market leadership position as more Australian advisors and retail investors have recognized the benefits of Vanguard’s low-cost, broadly diversified ETFs.

“I think the blend of experiences that I had at Saint Joseph’s — to be able to cover such a broad range of academic exposure and a real diverse range of subjects — is part of that academic development process that leads to being open-minded and adaptive. It was an experience that I think helped foundationally shape me.”

I think the blend of experiences that I had at Saint Joseph’s — to be able to cover such a broad range of academic exposure and a real diverse range of subjects — is part of that academic development process that leads to being open-minded and adaptive. It was an experience that I think helped foundationally shape me.”

Francis Kolimago '87

Head, Vanguard Australia


 

john marcante '93 (mba)John Marcante '93 (MBA)

Managing Director and Global Chief Information Officer

A desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives led John Marcante ’93 (MBA) to Saint Joseph’s and Vanguard nearly 30 years ago. Both the Jesuit university and unique asset management company shared his personal values of giving back to the community and putting others first. Combining his passions for technology and finance, Marcante’s skill set and career achievements have been integral in bringing low-cost investing opportunities to Main Street investors.

“St. Joe’s is a very mission-based university focused on putting the students first and giving them the best chance at success,” says Marcante, Vanguard’s global chief information officer. “At Vanguard, we put clients first. Our mission is to give them the best chance of investment success.”

Custom tailoring his Penn State undergraduate degree in finance with a heavy emphasis on engineering and computer science, Marcante believes that being skilled across multiple disciplines helps generate new ideas. His Saint Joseph’s graduate education provided him with a wide view of portfolio management, capital markets, mutual funds and investments, while also sharpening his understanding of various fields.

“St. Joe’s MBA teaches you how to go broad and then deep. We call that a T-shaped approach: How do you look across things at a strategic level and develop knowledge about the industry, but how do you also go deep within your domain and discipline,” says Marcante, who has held various leadership positions in Vanguard’s technology and business areas including the Advice Services Group, Six Sigma program, and the high-net worth business.

A technologist by trade who was heading Vanguard’s data center infrastructure, Marcante was surprised when he was given the opportunity to lead a business unit with which he had no prior experience. Being adaptable and understanding how to communicate and build strong peer relationships were vitally important to his success.

“What’s attractive to employers is individuals who will grow with the company and are able to adapt to new opportunities, because things change. I’m in the rapidly changing world of technology, and a growing portion of the jobs that exist today didn’t exist five years ago. Clearly, we want people to grow, change and upskill over time and move around to gather greater experiences,” Marcante says. “Vanguard hires people not for a job, but for a career. St. Joe’s creates mission-based individuals who are well-rounded and adaptable students. That’s all attractive to Vanguard.”


chris mcisaac

Christopher McIsaac '97

Managing Director, Vanguard International

Member, Saint Joseph's Athletics Advisory Council

Born in Canada, Chris McIsaac ’97 traveled with his high school lacrosse team in the spring of ’93 to compete in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. A fluke snowstorm moved an April Fool’s Day game against Penncrest High School in Media, Pennsylvania, to Saint Joseph’s because the University’s lacrosse field had artificial turf. During the game, McIsaac drew the attention of Hawks Head Lacrosse Coach Patrick Dennin, who recruited McIsaac to play for the University. McIsaac would go on to earn a spot in the men’s lacrosse record book for being the third all-time leader in goals and fourth in assists.

Inspired by the role that investing could play in helping families achieve financial security, McIsaac majored in finance. His time at Saint Joseph’s on and off the lacrosse field helped build confidence and further develop his values — assets that helped propel him through his undergraduate education and on to the MBA program at Harvard, as well as in various leadership roles during his career.

“It is easy for me to see the common element across St. Joe’s and Vanguard: an orientation toward others. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about we, and what good we can do for society,” says McIsaac, who was appointed head of Vanguard International when Jim Norris ’85 retired in December 2020. “Vanguard’s culture is first and foremost about doing the right thing by our clients.”

Had McIsaac been allowed to choose all of his own classes at Saint Joseph’s, he admits that he would have selected more practical courses in business, finance and technology. But over time, he realized that an education rooted in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities deepened his written and verbal communication skills and enhanced his critical thinking ability.

“I think the competitive difference for Saint Joseph’s University is that it focuses on the liberal arts education to really give students a platform that will serve them incredibly well in a world that continues to change,” says McIsaac, who serves on the University’s Athletics Advisory Council. “You need capabilities, mindsets and approaches that can stand the test of time and that will serve students in multiple environments.”

Since joining Vanguard in 1997 as a business analyst, McIsaac has helped to advance strategy and improve investor services. Regarding his new role, he says that he has inherited a strong international business division from his predecessor.

“For me, it’s really all about just trying to build on that momentum that Jim Norris created for us,” McIsaac says.

It is easy for me to see the common element across St. Joe’s and Vanguard: orientation toward others. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about we, and what good we can do for society.”

Christopher McIsaac '97

Managing Director, Vanguard International and Member, Saint Joseph’s Athletics Advisory Council


jim norris

James Norris '85

Retired Managing Director, Vanguard International

Chair, Saint Joseph's Board of Trustees

Jim Norris ’85 was noticed by leadership early on in his 33-year career at Vanguard because of his adept writing skills, which were deeply ingrained in him while earning a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting at Saint Joseph’s. After a year of serving as an entry-level fund accountant, Norris was asked to be the assistant to Vanguard founder and CEO Jack Bogle, who had plans to elevate the publication of industry innovations, as well as the services and investment opportunities that the company offered.

“I really see a difference with people who went to schools where they had to write,” says Norris, who led the increase of Vanguard’s international asset growth by more than $400 billion within 12 years as managing director of Vanguard International before retiring in December. “In almost all of the liberal arts courses at St. Joe’s, the main part of your grade came from your papers. The ability to write is such an advantage in the workforce today.”

What brought Norris to the University was track and field and cross country, where his record of the 1,500-meter indoor time of 3.44.6 still stands as the fastest in school history. Coach Kevin Quinn mentored Norris beyond the cleats and instilled in him discipline, forward thinking, work ethic and sacrificing for others — innate characteristics that he turned to while navigating different responsibilities at Vanguard and earning his MBA degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“If you’ve got the right competency and capabilities, you can really step into pretty much any role in an organization instead of only relying on technical expertise,” says Norris, who authored “The Vanguard Retirement Investing Guide.” One of the accomplishments that Norris is most gratified with during his tenure at Vanguard is the quality of professionals he has helped introduce to the company.

“The people legacy is what I’m thinking I am most proud of versus any of the individual accomplishments,” says the chair of Saint Joseph’s Board of Trustees, who hired many Saint Joseph’s graduates while at Vanguard. “[Vanguard is] recruiting people out of St. Joe’s because we have that level of confidence in the education that they’re getting, and what they’re going to bring to the table.”

“Jim has made a pretty incredible contribution with his ability to identify talent, recognize their potential and help to get those individuals into assignments where their talents and skills could flourish,” says Kolimago, who was on the track and field and cross country team with Norris. “He leaves a really great legacy, both on the people side and also in terms of business development and expansion outside of the borders of the U.S.”


Lauren Valente

Lauren (Foley) Valente '03

Managing Director and Chief Human Resources Officer

Lauren (Foley) Valente ’03 chose Saint Joseph’s because the Jesuit Catholic curriculum emphasizes the core values she grew up with: ethics and integrity. An integral aspect of her development as an undergraduate was being taught how to apply these values in a professional setting. She also benefited from the many examples of sound principles and strong careers of the successful Saint Joseph’s graduates in her own family, whom she greatly admires.

Pursuing her passion for applying technology to the business world, Valente earned a Bachelor of Science degree in decision and system sciences at Saint Joseph’s. She was also recognized for her athleticism, earning the Raymond Vasquez Award for her skill and agility on the women’s lacrosse team. The award is given to student-athletes who best exemplify the Jesuit values of “being a person for others.”

Valente learned about Vanguard through Saint Joseph’s career resources and began her career with the firm as a business continuity analyst. True to the company’s history of encouraging crew members to rotate into different roles, she excelled in positions in information technology, client services, project management, operations and risk management. In July 2020, she became Vanguard’s chief human resources officer.

“A liberal arts education actually forces you out of that [core curriculum] space, so to speak, and you explore other areas that are new or unchartered,” Valente says. “That experience at St. Joe’s of switching to completely different fields or subjects prepared me for my role at Vanguard.”

Responsible for talent, leadership and culture at the company, Valente often relies on what she learned through her undergraduate experiences outside of the classroom to ensure that crew members are reaching their full potential.

From a St. Joe’s perspective, the University highlights an inclusive and diverse community. That is very aligned with Vanguard’s culture.”

Lauren (Foley) Valente '03

Managing Director and Chief Human Resources Officer

“Arriving at St. Joe’s, being exposed to a more diverse student body and meeting people, whether they were from different backgrounds or different ethnicities, was part of my development as well. That has continued since joining Vanguard,” says Valente, who also earned an MBA from Villanova University. “From a St. Joe’s perspective, the University highlights an inclusive and diverse community. That is very aligned with Vanguard’s culture. Every crew member has a role in creating an environment where we all feel connected, appreciated and heard.”

Valente has spoken with Saint Joseph’s students about the ways in which her education made her a well-rounded person and better prepared her for a working career. The tips that she shares with them to succeed at Vanguard are to be curious, be a constant learner, have a growth mindset and be adaptable — all characteristics Valente nurtured during her time at Saint Joseph’s.


 

The Hawk Network

Hundreds of Saint Joseph’s alumni are leading lives of consequence in gratifying careers at Vanguard across the globe. Their growth mindset and commitment to service and community — characteristics nurtured while at Saint Joseph’s — are advancing Vanguard’s vision to give investors the best chance for success.

Michael Gunn

Michael Gunn '98

Global IT Audit Department Head | 8 years at Vanguard

Education: B.S., decision and system sciences, Saint Joseph’s University; M.S., management, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; E.M. (executive master), technology management, University of Pennsylvania

Saint Joseph’s Impact: Delivered meals to West Philadelphia residents battling HIV/AIDS as a volunteer for MANNA, a nonprofit organization that uses nutrition to improve health for people with serious illnesses.

Hawk Hill Lessons: “My education at Saint Joseph’s taught me how to think through issues and opportunities through a number of dimensions. I also learned the value of staying grounded and anchored to a clear set of values, whether they are personal values, team norms or an organizational mission.”

Vanguard Spotlights:

  • Assisted in developing a technology platform to help launch and grow direct-to-consumer business in Europe
  • Developed processes in the Security Operations Center to protect Vanguard’s systems and client information
  • Held leadership roles in the Enterprise Risk Management, Enterprise Security and Fraud, and Information Technology organizations
Carmen rive

Carmen (Gonzalez) Rive '91

Principal, Institutional Investor Group | 25 years at Vanguard

Education: B.S., accounting, Saint Joseph’s University

Saint Joseph’s Impact: First female in the tennis program’s history to earn Atlantic 10 Academic All-Conference honors. Member of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business Board of Visitors.

Hawk Hill Lessons: As an athlete, I learned about commitment, how to lose (fail) and stay positive … [as well as skills in] time management, teamwork and how to have fun and not take life so seriously. Life has enough challenges. Learning how to make what may feel like challenging work enjoyable was, and still is, key.”

Vanguard Spotlights:

  • Founded the Hispanic/Latinx Organization for Leadership and Advancement employee resource group
  • Mentor for female and Hispanic/Latinx professional growth
  • Led client services groups in Vanguard’s Institutional, Financial Advisor Services and Retail divisions
Elaine Vanbluck

Elaine (McGillian) Van Blunk '86 '94 (MBA)

Senior Accounting Manager, Institutional Investor Group | 30 years at Vanguard

Education: B.S., accounting, MBA, Saint Joseph’s University

Saint Joseph’s Impact: First female All American in women’s track and field and cross country; set eight school records, five of which still stand.

Hawk Hill Lessons: “You need to be ready to react when a situation changes. You need to learn from prior experiences and then try to apply what you learned going forward. Also, you need to stay focused on your goals, even when obstacles get in the way.”

Vanguard Spotlights:

  • Leader in Vanguard’s annual company food drive, “All Cans on Deck”
  • Integral in migration of Vanguard’s accounting system to the Cloud, including testing and crew training
  • Involved in the implementation of risk and controls programs for Vanguard’s international expansion efforts

 

Dawn Thren is a freelance writer and communications professional.