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Jennings Highlights Importance of Liberal Arts Education in Pursuing a Career in Business

Tom Jennings, Boston College ’95, has an unusual story of success as a businessman. He attended the Carroll School of Management for just a year before deciding to switch to the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences to pursue a degree in the liberal arts. Jennings said that this switch has helped him become a managing director at a growth equity firm that manages nearly $20 billion.

Jennings spoke to students as a part of the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship’s “Lunch with an Entrepreneur” event series on Thursday afternoon. Jennings, a managing director at Summit Partners, switched into the CSOM after his freshman year, then switched out only one year later. He said that the CSOM curriculum was not teaching him to read and write, and he wanted to embrace the full Jesuit educational tradition through a liberal arts curriculum.

The best advice Jennings said he got at BC was that the best professors are Jesuits—many of whom teach theology. Thus, he became a double major in economics and theology. Economics gave him the math skills he needed for business, while theology made him an excellent critical reader and writer.
Jennings said that his graduating class had only eight theology majors, but 25 tenured theology professors. Because of the small ration, each class was practically one-on-one, giving him tremendous access to the University’s best teachers. That amount of attention, however, meant his teachers could spend more time grading his assignments. And they were not always so lenient.

“It looked like someone had vomited red ink,” he said. “There was nothing left. I thought right there that I was going to flunk out of BC.”

Jennings worked with that professor, Rev. Robert Daly, S.J., for two more years in the Scholar of the College program. He was unsure if Daly would pass or fail him until the end of the semester.

Ultimately, Jennings left with a good grade, and he said that the skills he gained in the strict environment helped him become a better critical reader and writer. His job at Summit Partners constantly utilizes these skills, and he feels that his liberal arts background gives him an advantage over many of his colleagues, including many from top business schools like Harvard University and Stanford University.

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

—Tom Jennings, BC ’95

Before working at Summit, Jennings worked as a consultant at Andersen Consulting, now known as Accenture. He loved the people he worked with and enjoyed his job, but the hectic lifestyle of a consultant eventually drove him to find a new position—Jennings said it seemed unhealthy to do long term. The pay was great, but he recognized a pattern among the older employees: they were out of shape, often divorced, and rarely saw their families. He also did not enjoy the temporary nature of consulting. He wanted a job where he could see the results of his work, rather than simply moving quickly from project to project without seeing his results.

Speaking with his friend Peter, a fellow Andersen employee and BC alumnus, Jennings decided that, rather than fixing companies, he wanted to use his experience with software and technology to invest in companies. The two thought that they had to go to Harvard or Stanford to get their master’s degrees before working in investments, but Peter heard of an opening at Summit Partners, one of the only venture capital firms that hired pre-MBA candidates.

Peter had already scheduled an interview, and Jennings spent weeks helping him prepare. In the pre-internet era, they spent hours at the public library, compiling a research binder on Summit Partners and the work of venture capital.

“Pete went into that interview and blew them away,” Jennings said.

Two months later, Summit’s best associate left, and Peter told Jennings to submit his résumé. He endured 30 hours of interviews—during the last one, he told them he would accept any offer on the spot. He did this without discussing salary, as Pete had told him that in venture capital, anything less direct wouldn’t work.

Jennings got the job—and a pay cut of 25 percent—from his position at Andersen. Six months into his job, however, he found a $40 million investment for Summit. It was the second largest in firm history.
In the 20 years he has spent at Summit since then, Jennings has risen from an associate, to vice president, and now to managing director.

When he joined, the firm employed approximately 30 people managing $1.8 billion. Today, it is approximately 180 people managing nearly $20 billion.

“My entrepreneurial story is Summit,” Jennings said. “We invest in entrepreneurs, we work with entrepreneurs, and I love entrepreneurs.”

Jennings ended the talk by advising students pursue their passions. His passion for technology led him on a path to success, so he encouraged students to find their paths to success through their interests.

“Do what you love, and the money will follow,” he said.

Featured Image by Clinton Keaveny / Heights Staff

February 19, 2017