Tony Riley, MBA ’96
The tools – and the confidence – to excel
“I found I was walking into land mines,” says Riley; “My team was not very motivated, I had high turnover, and we were on the front end of the implementation – so if we didn’t get our part of the project right, with a high-quality deliverable, the company was at risk.” To add to the pressure, the company president was in the habit of checking up on the project personally.
But, even with the ultra-high stakes and little experience in the technology, Riley entered the project with total confidence, handled his team with aplomb, and came through with flying colors. Why? Because of his Johnson training.
“From my first semester until I graduated, I was so impressed with the confidence and ability of the faculty to model almost anything, attack almost any problem, with sound critical thinking and deep knowledge of strategic approaches,” says Riley. “I came away not thinking of myself as a specialist, but being confident that, no matter what I faced, in my career and in life, if I have a clear mind and look at the situation as something I could model, I could get through anything in good shape.”
In addition to giving him confidence, Johnson also gave Riley an invaluable, early exposure to international business – something he now addresses daily in his leadership IT role with Dow Chemical Co., the world’s second-largest chemical company (Rohm & Haas was acquired by Dow Chemical after Riley had been there 14 years). “Between my first and second years at Johnson, I took a trip with students and faculty to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Japan, and we got together with executives from several different companies,” says Riley.
“I had never traveled outside the U.S. before, and the exposure to cultures that were vastly different from our U.S. culture was really an eye opener. That experience really affected how I would eventually make decisions in the future, in terms of understanding target markets,” Riley says. He adds that the Johnson network proved a great boon during his subsequent trips to Asia later in his career: Former classmates were happy to meet with him, provide business contacts, and facilitate his travels.
Riley can’t say enough about his Johnson and Cornell experience. “I’ve been to many different campuses throughout the U.S., and by far Cornell is the best place to learn in the world,” he says. Although he feels that Johnson and Cornell faculty were outstanding without exception, the two professors that most inspired him were Levent Orman and the late Alan McAdams. “Professor Orman did a tremendous job of connecting technology, business, and strategy,” says Riley.
“Professor McAdams was so inspirational in helping students analyze business challenges strategically and providing a global perspective. He was relentless in pressing students to really excel and think things through, and for that I will be forever grateful. I have almost every one of his lectures that I recorded back then. I’ve saved them for posterity.”
Since 2005, Riley has annually given back generously to the Ruth and Morris Abner Scholarship, which helped him as an MBA student. “I am so fortunate to have benefited from the philanthropy of the Abner family and that scholarship. I had a wonderful two years that have helped me in life, as well as professionally and financially,” he says. “So, anything I can do to give back in any way, you don’t have to ask me – I’ll raise my hand.”