A day of discussion that focused on nurturing acceptance and empowerment during the 2018 Diversity Symposium culminated with the recognition of two distinguished graduates of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at the annual Alumni Diversity Awards dinner on Oct. 27, held in Sage Hall’s Dyson Atrium.
In her welcoming remarks, Jamie Joshua, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), described the diversity awards dinner as “a night to celebrate the relationships we have built as a Johnson community along with the many alumni, current students, guests, and Johnson Means Business participants.”
Joshua spoke proudly of ODI’s mission, telling audience members, “Our work is really to help support your experience at Johnson.” As one measure of the growing diversity of the Johnson community, she noted that the first diversity awards dinners were held in Sage Hall’s Ramin Parlor, which holds only 40 to 50 people. This year’s dinner, held in the atrium, drew nearly 150 participants. “What has driven this growth?” she asked. “It is Johnson’s commitment to cultivate an inclusive environment not just for our students but for our community of alumni, faculty, and staff.”
Joshua then introduced L. Joseph Thomas, interim dean for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, who also welcomed students, faculty, staff, and prospective students to the event, noting that the dinner was an opportunity to celebrate a commitment to the cultivation of diversity and inclusion by the college community.
Marques Zak, MBA ’10, Wilbur Parker Distinguished Alumni Awardee
Thomas welcomed Marques Zak, MBA ’10, to the stage and presented him with the 2018 Wilbur Parker Distinguished Alumni Award, named for Wilbur Parker ’50, MBA ’50, Cornell’s first African-American MBA graduate.
Zak said he was deeply honored to accept this year’s award “named in honor of Johnson’s first black graduate and my fraternity brother, Mr. Wilbur Parker. It is even more exciting,” he added, “to accept this award after my dear friend and classmate, Tyeise Huntley Jones, accepted this very same award last year.” Noting how important Johnson is to him, Zak mentioned he had spent more than 36 hours traveling directly to Ithaca from Bangkok and Bhutan to participate in Johnson Means Business, the school’s diverse and LGBTQ student hosting event, and to attend the diversity awards dinner—events he has made it a point not to miss for 12 consecutive years.
Zak, finance director for PepsiCo, serves as board chair for Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC, is a member of the Young Patrons Circle steering committee of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and serves on the Johnson Young Alumni Board. He told the Sage Hall audience that his achievements are due, in large part, to learning from early failures, finding his niche in the corporate realm, and moving beyond his comfort zone.
“I bet you would never guess that two years into my undergraduate consulting career at Deloitte, I was placed on a performance improvement plan. It wasn’t because I wasn’t smart or didn’t work hard; it was because I didn’t know how to play the game,” he said. With help from a partner at the firm, Zak said, he was able to navigate the world of consulting before enrolling at Johnson.
After earning his Johnson MBA and landing a job at Frito-Lay, Zak drew on the lessons learned at Deloitte to find a sponsor at parent company PepsiCo—and that person encouraged him to pursue challenges rather than bottom-line results. Zak, a self-described “recovering over-achiever,” accepted the challenge of leading diversity recruiting at Pepsi. Over the course of five years, his team tripled the company’s diverse talent in the finance organization and doubled the diverse talent in its executive ranks.
“I firmly believe having a seat at the table is not enough,” Zak said. “Bringing more people to the table is the ultimate goal.”
William Restrepo ’80, MBA ’85, Carlos R. Quintanilla Distinguished Latino Alumni Awardee
Thomas then welcomed William Restrepo ’80, MBA ’85, to the stage and presented him with the 2018 accepting the Carlos R. Quintanilla Distinguished Latino Alumni Award, named in honor of Carlos R. Quintanilla, MBA ’80, a Johnson Advisory Council member and a champion of the school’s efforts in Latin America who received the Latino Distinguished Alumni Award himself in 2011.
“Receiving the Carlos Quintanilla award from an institution that’s so special to me is an incredible feeling,” said Restrepo, upon accepting the award, which recognizes alumni for exceptional achievements and significant contributions to their professions, community, and society as a whole, for their demonstrated commitment to Johnson, and for promoting the advancement of Latinos in the business world.
Restrepo is the chief financial officer of Nabors Industries, the world’s leading provider of onshore drilling services, and sits on the boards of Saudi Aramco Nabors Drilling Company (SANAD) and Reelwell AS. He previously served as CFO for Pacific Drilling, Smith International and Seitel, Inc., and held various senior operational and financial positions at Schlumberger Limited.
He told the gathering that his six years at Cornell was the experience “that has marked me the most in life. It had a large impact in shaping who I am today. Cornell also gave me confidence in my ability to take on tough challenges. I just knew I would find a way to get impossible things done.”
Restrepo, who arrived on campus in 1976 as a 17-year-old from Colombia, recalled it as a time when “the idea of diversity had not yet made its mark.” Nevertheless, and even though there were no other Hispanics and only one African American in his dorm corridor of about 30 freshmen, “at Cornell, I felt absolutely at home,” he said. “Today’s award, as well as the events being held this week, tell me that Cornell clearly values diversity and seeks to maintain an environment that better reflects what students will face during their future careers.”
At Johnson, Restrepo said, “I discovered that my professors were amazing. Just to name a few: Joe Thomas made statistics fun and relevant. Hal Bierman made finance intuitive. Robert Swieringa made accounting so common sense, so obvious. Richard Thaler shook up a lot of what I knew about economics. And Robert Jarrow made options theory seem ridiculously easy. My professors were not only leaders in their fields and great teachers. They were incredibly approachable and caring. That’s what I remember the most.”
He acknowledged facing discrimination during his career, noting that he was able to move past such disappointments and to focus instead on his professional goals. “You have multiple chances to achieve your dreams and you get better at competing over time,” Restrepo said. “Good things will happen when you keep fighting for your dreams.”
“I was privileged to have attended Cornell and Johnson and I am exceedingly grateful for my time here,” added Restrepo. He closed by offering some advice to current and prospective students: “I hope that all of you realize how phenomenal this opportunity is and that you take full advantage of everything you will experience here.”
Lindsay Barnes, MBA ’20, receives the John R. Clark Sr., MBA ’72, Professional Scholarship
To top off the evening, ODI director Joshua invited Kevin Clark and John Clark Jr., sons of the 2004 Wilbur Parker Distinguished Alumni Award honoree, John Clark Sr., MBA ’72, to come to the stage. Kevin had announced his family’s decision to establish the John R. Clark Sr., MBA ’72 Professional Scholarship to honor his father’s leadership and impact on decades of Johnson students at the 2017 Diversity Awards dinner. And on this occasion, Diane Clark, wife to John Clark Sr., came back to Ithaca with both of her sons, who announced the first recipient of the John R. Clark Sr. scholarship: Lindsay Barnes, MBA ’20.
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Johnson’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI)
Johnson is proud to be the first top business school to establish, in 1999, an office focused on supporting woman, underrepresented minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is dedicated to creating forums for positive conversations and collaboration among all members of Johnson’s student body, and to fostering a culture that not only values differences, but leverages them as a source of strength and innovation on campus and throughout the professional world.