Thomas F. Judson Jr., MBA '70, Chairman and CEO, The Pike Co., Inc.
Doing good, and putting his own spin on a family legacy
His MBA was delayed a year because of military service, and he had to spend many hours commuting to Ithaca, but Thomas Judson Jr. was determined to complete his Cornell MBA.
Judson began his studies at Cornell business school in 1967, directly after finishing his bachelor’s degree in Administrative Sciences at Yale. Under normal circumstances, he would have completed his MBA in 1969. But the Vietnam War was on, and graduate deferments cancelled; so he returned to Rochester —his family’s home base — to fulfill his obligations in the U.S. Army National Guard while working for the family business, John B. Pike & Son.
After finishing basic training, Judson moved to Canandaigua so his wife could commute to her teaching job in Rochester, and he could commute to Ithaca. “I resumed my MBA studies, commuting an hour and a half every day except Wednesday, when I would crash with my friend and classmate, Jack Ferraro [MBA ’70] on his couch and spend my time in the library.”
Delay and commute notwithstanding, Judson took an intensive course load, maintained the highest GPA of his life, and completed his MBA in 1970. He enjoyed the experience immensely. “I learned all about markets with a wonderful professor named Dick West, and of course there were Harold Bierman, Tom Dyckman, Joe Thomas, Jerry Hass, and all the other great teachers.” To give back to the school he loved, Judson this year made a gift of $50,000 to the Johnson Annual Fund.
“I feel Cornell did a great job for me, and I wanted to be helpful, especially in helping provide access to education to the people who need it, from a scholarship point of view,” Judson says. He’s also proud to support a New York state educational institution. “I think Cornell’s a huge driver in terms of the technical things that happen here that don’t really happen in a lot of other places,” he says. “I’ve lived here all my life. I’m excited to see economic development here, and the people who come here to be educated at our great institutions and who hopefully will stay.”
Judson came to Cornell knowing that his career would be with the construction company established in Rochester in 1873 by his great grandfather, John B. Pike. Judson, who had spent his summers working for the company since 1963, went back full time as soon as he earned his MBA. He would be the fourth generation to head up the firm, becoming president in 1975. Although John B. Pike & Son failed in the mid-1980s due to job losses, Judson rebuilt the company as the Pike Company in 1985. Judson’s son, Rufus, is now president and COO; his son-in-law, Mauricio Riveros, is a vice president.
Judson always had — and still has — a soft spot for New York State, which is part of the reason why he chose Cornell for his MBA. “When I played football and lacrosse for Yale, I always loved Cornell and Ithaca,” says Judson. “So I was happy to be accepted at Cornell.”
He and his firm remain staunchly committed to doing business in New York State — not an easy task in these economic times. “In the 1960s and 1970s, we had more than a dozen publicly traded New York Stock Exchange companies headquartered in Rochester; that’s clearly not the case anymore,” he points out. In the increasingly challenging business environment of upstate New York, the Pike Co. has prospered, growing to 450-500 employees and about $400-500 million in annual sales.
“In business, change is inevitable: You can decide to say that it’s not fair, or you can see it as an opportunity,” says Judson. “I’ve tried to do the latter, because I’d rather be in a positive mode than a negative mode.”
Judson’s contributions to Ithaca include his company’s construction work, such as Cornell’s Mann Library and Ithaca College’s field house. At present, the Pike Co. is renovating and building an addition to Stocking Hall, Cornell’s new food science facility. Judson served on the Cornell University Council for four years, and now serves on the council’s Committee on Sustainability: Energy, Environment, and Economic Development. “I’m still very active, and enjoy working with Johnson,” he says.