Cornell MBA Experience a “Fork in the Road”
Now managing director and vice chairman at Lazard Freres & Co. LLC, Ridings serves on the Johnson Advisory Council, comes back to guest lecture annually, and, with his wife, Ann, recently endowed the Barry and Ann Ridings Faculty Fellowship. The gift is already helping the school to achieve a key strategic goal: to add strong new faculty. The first Ridings Fellow is Kenneth J. Merkley, who joined the accounting faculty this year.
While Ridings is by no means a stranger to charitable giving or service, Johnson is now the primary focus for his non-profit involvement. “There are a few turning points in your life that you look back on,” he says. “Cornell was one of those forks in the road for me. Since it made such an impact on my life, I felt I should give something back.”
Ridings arrived at Cornell straight from Colgate University where he had majored in religion. Without a single math course on his undergraduate transcript, he had to take calculus the summer before he enrolled. “Cornell was a pretty tough adjustment for me, given my background. But I loved the challenge, and I had some great professors – Jerry Hass, Hal Bierman, Tom Dyckman, Joe Thomas, and others. I also made some good friends that I'm still in touch with.” One of them, classmate Rich Marin, was instrumental in getting him more involved after Jerry Hass recruited him to speak in the investment banking immersion.
“My first job out of school was with Chase Manhattan,” says Ridings. “I wouldn't have been hired if I hadn't gone to Cornell, and Cornell gave me the building blocks to be successful there – especially the finance and accounting knowledge. Two years earlier, I didn't know a debit from a credit; when I joined Chase, I was on par with everyone from Wharton and all the other top MBA schools.”
From that first job, Ridings rose through prominent roles in the financial industry. He has spent the past 35-plus years involved with debt and equity offerings, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate restructurings. “Every step in your career has an impact on what you become,” he says. “Business is learning. I've always tried to learn from my mistakes and to hire people who are smarter than I am. Then I try to mentor them, but give them room to run.”
That philosophy of hiring smarter is a good fit with his decision to fund a faculty fellowship at Johnson. “I want the people coming out of Cornell to be a lot smarter than I was,” he says. With Ridings' financial support and personal involvement, he is helping to provide a “fork-in-the-road” education for present and future Johnson students, one that helps them to create extraordinary results.