Joined by such corporate luminaries as McDonald’s Andy McKenna and Exelon Corp.’s John Rowe, several hundred people gathered in Dominican University’s Parmer Hall atrium last Wednesday night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Edward A. and Lois L. Brennan School of Business.
It was an evening to look back at years of hard work and to look forward to the promise that groundwork holds for the future.
“Thirty years ago, it was very unusual for a small institution like Dominican to introduce a business program,” said university president Donna Carroll, who said she believed the event would be remembered as “a transforming moment.”
It was also an evening to celebrate the talent and effort of two women who have shaped the institution, Carroll and business school dean Molly Burke, and the two people who made the school’s mission their own, Ed and Lois Brennan. But the night was bittersweet, too. Ed Brennan died in December.
Rowe spoke privately and publicly of his admiration and fondness for the four.
“Jeanne and I are here tonight for the Brennans and Donna Carroll and Molly Burke,” he said before his speech. “Because they’re people we care a whole lot about, and people we think make a real difference to the community.”
He said that Dominican is an important resource, noting, “Dominican is the kind of place where a lot of our employees go when they’ve been working a few years and want to go back and get an MBA.”
Supporting the school was an act of friendship for Rowe.
“It’s one way to pay Lois back for all the good things Ed did for me,” he said.
Carroll told the crowd that this Brennan milestone marks “grown-up status as a business school.”
Burke compared the past three decades of the school’s existence to a maturing person attaining the age of 30. “We knew what we were doing. We had the skills to be successful, were beginning to forge connections in both our professional and personal lives that would define the rest of our lives,” she said. “We also were a little bit grown-up. You figured out it wasn’t all you.
“Now apply that to the Brennan School of Business,” Burke said. “We’ve learned a thing or two, we know how to build a first class curriculum, recruit and retain fabulous faculty. We have forged incredible partnerships, and we have friendships with the community and the global community.
“We’ve even developed some self-confidence. Thanks to the blessings of people like Jeanne and John Rowe, and Ed and Lois Brennan, who, from their very lofty perches, can look at us and say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ “
Rowe said that whatever help and guidance he’d provided had been returned many fold.
“I have a really great job tonight,” he told his audience. “I get to say nice things about four people I care about.”
“As I look at the number of graduates of the Brennan School who work for Exelon … I think Molly’s legacy through the school is right where she’d want it, and that’s in the graduates of the school.”
The late Ed Brennan was Rowe’s mentor, a man who readied him to take the reins of a major corporation.
“The Brennan commitment to this business school has even more to do with Lois than with Ed,” Rowe said, noting that Lois Brennan graduated from Trinity high school and Rosary College, Dominican’s predecessor. “She has worked with this school ever since.”
When Ed Brennan once asked Rowe to give a speech, he didn’t tell Rowe why it was important to him, but rather why it was important to Lois. Said Rowe, “Giving to Dominican, and giving the Brennan name to this business school was one of the deepest ways he knew to say thank you to someone who means and meant everything to him.”
Of Ed Brennan, Rowe said, “There is one simple thing I believe he would want said, which is what Dominican tries to teach. Ed was simply the most conscientious and conscience-ridden business executive I’ve ever known. Nobody tried harder to do the right thing.”
Carroll made it clear that the school intends to reflect those values, saying the Brennan School would have an “emphasis on business, ethics, a focus on entrepreneurship and a strong international business background.”
The attendance of so many of Chicago’s corporate elite at the event, she said, was “a strong statement regarding the identity of and the prospects for the college.”