Alumni share lessons they've learned along the way. Twitter
Meet Matt Fahey ’85. He earned an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1990 then went on to work in finance at companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse, and Citi, where he served in top management roles. He is now owner of of Brine Healy, Inc. in Westchester, N.Y., where he lives with his wife and three children.
What did you get out of Lafayette?
I studied mechanical engineering for two years before changing my major to an AB Engineering degree. I wanted to read some books not saturated with equations and formulas and discuss challenging and abstract ideas, rather than simply solving for x. Thanks to the AB Engineering program, I developed skills needed to explain complex concepts clearly to people lacking technical expertise.
Engineering also taught me to solve problems by clearly defining the problem, generating as many possible ideas for solutions, thoroughly evaluating the options, and finally, selecting and implementing the best option. Too many people skip the first three steps and promote solutions without fully understanding the nature or magnitude of the problem. I constantly hear solutions are difficult and really, really complex to implement, but once the problem has been clearly defined, the answer is often quite simple.
What surprises you about your life?
My children. Becoming a parent is one of the most exciting-and sobering-experiences that life has to offer. My wife and I have been blessed with three sons, and it’s a joy to see them grow and develop. No matter how much I think I know them, they constantly surprise us by their actions.
What you wished everyone knew?
Specific advice for soon-to-be college graduates. Don’t plan your life too hard. Our 1985 commencement speaker was Meryl Streep. Everyone was waiting for great pearls of wisdom from her, and she opened her talk by singing “Que Sera, Sera” – then proceeded to tell us not to bother trying to map out our lives, as they would naturally unfold, and our lives would play out in due time.
When I heard this, I thought it a very defeatist attitude to tell young and eager college graduates ready to attack the world to simply “don’t worry, be happy”. Looking back on the other side of time, however, I now realize that she’s correct. The world changes you more that you change it. You need to seize opportunities from life when they present themselves. Don’t map out your entire life when you’re 22 – as John Lennon once said, Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Name a defining moment that changed you
My grandparent’s generation would say Pearl Harbor, and my parent’s generation would cite the JFK assassination. For my generation, it was most definitely 9/11 (duh!). I was on Wall Street that day, and the sights, sounds, smells, and sorrows I experienced won’t ever go away. Following the attacks, I became more involved in my community, became a news junkie, studied history a lot more, and over time have become paradoxically less tolerant of intolerance, thanks to the writings of Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper.
Best advice you ever received.
Two pieces of great advice that struck a chord when I first read them decades ago, and still reverberate today: 1) “Never take counsel of your fears” and 2) “Be kind, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” The first is often attributed to Stonewall Jackson (sometimes to Andrew Jackson), and the second likely came from Scottish writer and theologian John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren). But the source isn’t as important as the message. Facing your fears forces you to assess the risks, which often eliminate a common basis of fear – the unknown. Being kind to others costs us almost nothing, but can provide great comfort to others, or inspire them to treat others gently in turn. A series of small ripples can grow into a great wave, given time.
What are you reading?
The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Stasse, and The Vanquished, by Robert Gerwarth. Stasse reflects on how our generation has abandoned the sober and necessary responsibility of being adults, and what it means for our children and the future. Gerwarth writes about the cataclysmic impact World War I had on Europe and the world, and how we’re still reaping the bitter harvest of that global slaughter today. I just finished Peter Nichol’s A Voyage for Madmen, about nine men who, in 1968, set out in small boats to race solo around the world non-stop.
On the fiction side, I’m reading Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin, who’s an exquisite writer. My go-to books for cotton candy reading on long flights is John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series – the series was started more than 50 years ago, but his insights into human greed, societal ills, are still as true today as they were in the 60’s and 70’s.
What scares you?
In a word, tribalism. Way back in the fall of 1981, some 500 recent high school graduates came together in the Marquis dining room to begin our college experience. Within a few months, many had joined fraternities, and fledgling friendships were often still-borne as pledges retreated into bar-rooms and behind Greek letters. While I would not trade my experience as a Delt for anything, I do think my college experience would have been richer had greater efforts been made to encourage more intra-fraternity relations.
In a larger sense, this tribalism is making it easier for charlatans to do serious damage to our country. I recently stumbled across The Significance of Political Parties, written by Scottish American Andrew McLaughlin (what is it about those Scottish writers, anyway?). He does a masterful job of explaining how a political party is initially formed to address a great injustice or imbalance (think slavery and the GOP), but over decades, the mission of the party devolves into one of self-preservation. Listening to the leaders of both political parties today, you’d think we’re in another civil war – “we’re right, and they’re wrong” … “when they go low, we go high” are not exactly words aimed at building consensus across party lines. They constantly put party interests ahead of the country’s interests.
The scariest thing of tribalism is the cessation of the individual to re-assess the purpose of their commitment to the group. Regardless of how they originally decided to register, once they’ve picked their party, they will choose loyalty over logic. It is painful to recall the miserable choice we faced in 2016, and I do hope that voters in America will start to realize that tribalism can lead to some ugly results. One should always question leaders – blind trust in another human is the start of many a catastrophe, and absolute unquestioning fealty to a party is nothing more than contributing to a mob mentality writ large.