Mr. James J. Maguire, Honorary Degree Recipient – Doctor of Humane Letters Sunday, May 19, 2013
Madame President, trustees, faculty, and parents, good morning. Members of the Class of 2013, good morning and congratulations: great achievement!
You’ll discover that your Cabrini degree will prove to be the cornerstone of your life.
I’m honored to address you today and share with you some of my own business experiences, personal experiences, and some Cabrini history.
Like many of you, I too am a first-generation college graduate, and there’s no doubt in my mind that my college experience transformed my early life.
I have a special bond with Cabrini College and today is like a homecoming for me, which I’ll share with you in a few minutes, but first let me go back and tell you about my early years when I was a young person like you.
I was 20 years old and I had just flunked out of Niagara University where I was on a four-year basketball scholarship. Basketball was really the only reason I was in college, which I’ll explain in a minute.
I was trying to decide where I was going with my life, when the mailman greeted me one morning and handed me a draft notice for the Korean War. This was a traumatic experience that actually turned out to be a great experience. Why? Because the military taught me the value of discipline and also gave me a sense of ownership and pride in America.
After serving two years in the military, I returned home and instinctively, I knew I should go back to college. I enrolled at Saint Joseph’s University, this time on the G.I. Bill, a tuition program provided by the government for veterans. My father had died when I was in my teens, so the G.I. Bill was really my only ticket to college.
In my senior year at Saint Joseph’s University, I got lucky; I met and married my wife Frannie. We have nine wonderful children, 21 grandchildren (all living here in the Philadelphia area), and we’ve been married for 55 years.
Coming out of Saint Joseph’s, I had a strong sense of myself. I had learned the value of discipline from my military experience and my marriage gave me unconditional love, support, and confidence.
At St. Joe’s, not only did I get a BS in Business, I came to understand and believe that “we are men and women for others,” as taught by St. Ignatius Loyola.
Plus, I learned the value of perseverance. You see, I am dyslexic, which was not widely understood back in the ’40s and ’50s.
Because of my dyslexia, I failed multiple times in grade school, high school and I flunked out of college because of this learning disability, so graduation for me was a victory over dyslexia and a classic example of perseverance.
Upon graduating, I went to work for an insurance company for a couple of years before starting my own insurance business as a specialty underwriter. Frannie was my secretary and only employee. Our first baby spent days in the office in a playpen.
In the early ’70s, I was “making headlines” in the insurance industry as a successful insurance specialist, when Sr. Mary Louise Sullivan, then President of Cabrini College, contacted me about coming on their Board of Trustees. Cabrini at that time was a women’s college with 254 female students.
Shortly thereafter, I joined the Board, which consisted of one Jesuit priest and eight nuns, including Mother Ursula—the founder of Cabrini College—and Sister Mary Louise Sullivan. I remember the first time I looked at the financial statements I quickly realized that Cabrini was financially on the bubble.
Mother Ursula told me, “Mr. Maguire, you shouldn’t worry. God will provide!” I responded, “I certainly agree with you Mother Ursula, but I also know God would not mind if we brought some lay talent to the Board, to help us put some financial meat on the bones of Cabrini College.”
Several years later, after working to build a lay board, I was asked to serve as Cabrini’s first Lay Chairman, an honor I enthusiastically accepted. Right around that same time, Cabrini had opened its doors to admit men, a transformational decision that created a whole new sub-set of logistical challenges.
But through it all, the steady, calm hand of Sister Mary Louise Sullivan got the job done, sometimes with charm and sometimes like a drill sargent. Nevertheless, she made the transition work and she positioned Cabrini for the 21st century as a co-educational institution.
Today, Cabrini has 1,298 undergraduates, 1,395 graduate students, 32 academic majors, 16 varsity sports, and dormitory living for over 1,000 students including the Maguire House built while I was Chairman.
I served on the Cabrini Board for 13 great years before leaving in 1987, to focus on my company, which was rapidly expanding across the United States.
In 1993, I went to Wall Street to do an I.P.O., an Initial Public Offering, to raise new capital for the continued growth of Philadelphia Insurance Companies. I returned to Wall Street two more times after the I.P.O. and raised an additional $350 million of capital to continue our march across the United States.
But let me fast forward to the year 2008, which was a dramatic year for my company. Here are some statistics: 1600 employees, 49 offices nationwide, $2.5 billion in revenue, $9 billion in assets, marketing over 100 specialty products, no debt.
Our stock on the NASDAQ grew from $1.58 split adjusted to $38.00 per share—a 2,500% gain—and Forbes Magazine ranked our company as one of the top 400 companies in America: quite an honor.
In December 2008, I received an offer to merge our company with an international conglomerate. After some serious consideration, I accepted their proposal and received a cash settlement of $5 billion.
After completing the merger and agreeing to remain as Chairman of the company, Frannie and I decided to deposit a substantial portion of the settlement proceeds to our Foundation, with the mission of supporting scholarship education for students of “financial need” in grade schools, high schools, and colleges. I believe, like you, “that education unlocks the door to opportunity.”
So, that’s some of my personal history and my connection to Cabrini College.
It is a history that I memorialized recently by publishing a book entitled Just Show Up Every Day, which I wrote to record the remarkable history and unique culture of our company. In some small way, Philadelphia Insurance Companies is an American success story.
The question I always get is, “How did you do it?” Well, I believe the keys to our success are embedded in the specific principles that we practiced every day. In my book, I call these principles “The Six Steps to Success.”
No. 1. You have to show up every day and you have to have dreams and set specific goals. Success is a marathon, and I believe “the will to win is attainable if you have the will to prepare.”
No. 2. Be passionate and positive. If you don’t believe and love what you’re doing, you’ll never be successful.
No. 3. Strive to be a high achiever. In business that means being a consummate professional.
No. 4. To be successful you have to stay fit, physically and mentally. Mental fitness in business means becoming a student of our business.
No. 5. And probably most important: the choices you make. You have to surround yourself with winners in your personal life, business life, and your extra-curricular life.
You’ve got to hang out with winners because if you hang out with losers or dogs, as I like to say, you’ll wake up with fleas. My success at Philadelphia Insurance Companies is directly correlated to the winners I’ve surrounded myself with over the past 50 years.
No. 6. Success comes from a balanced life. You have to give an equal measure of time and attention to family, business, exercise and fitness (physical and mental), spiritual life.
So that’s the principles that have been the keys to the Philadelphia Insurance Companies success story for 50 years.
In closing, I know if you believe what you are, you can become what you believe. It’s all chronicled in my book, Just Show Up Every Day, a complimentary copy of which is available to each of you today.
Thank you again for recognizing me today with an honorary degree, but more importantly thank you for allowing me this incredible opportunity to share with you the blessings and challenges I’ve had in my life.
Remember, “The race in life is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.”
Good luck and God bless each of you!