Jim Hennessy '71

Professional Position:  Retired CEO of ING Funds

I graduated from St. Lawrence in 1971 long before the modern SLU campus was developed. The buildings are familiar but I think the culture and political and social environment are different. My freshman year, I attended Saturday morning classes. Students were split into all male or female dorms. Visiting hours were limited and strictly enforced. Life and values were closer to those of the 1950s. Spring semester brought tremendous change. Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots broke out in dozens of cities, Vietnam War protests escalated, women asserted their rights, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago seemed to presage civil collapse. I and many of my peers were forced to rethink everything from race and gender relations to the role of government, war and peace and the full range of personal values. This process turned many against the “establishment.” Anti-authoritarianism became the common ethic.

I share this in part to explain why I was attracted to history as a major. I wanted to understand why the world was turning upside down and to discern how things might end up.

I continued studying American history after SLU at the University of Wisconsin. I received an MA and completed all but a dissertation for a PhD. I then changed my career path and went to New York University Law School. For several years I practiced corporate law in New York City. I switched to investment banking and later I became CEO of two different companies. My last job was CEO of ING Funds (mutual funds). I retired in 2007.

My career path might seem chaotic but the common thread for me has always been the curiosity that led me to history. I wanted to know why things were happening and think about how they might develop in the future. In both my legal and business careers I was continuously focused on strategy—how should we manage corporate transactions, what companies should we acquire or discard, which industries were up and which were declining.

Although I am retired, I am as curious as ever. I am on a couple of boards at Arizona State University as well as corporate boards. My most interesting position is as an advisor to the Law, Science and Innovation Center at the ASU Law School. I also am chairman of a Toronto based private equity fund which invests in North American mining properties. Curiosity and strategic thinking have allowed me to participate meaningfully in this fascinating and ancient industry which is new to me. 

One of my assignments at ASU Law School is managing Future Tense, a documentary on rapid changes occurring in our daily lives and in our social and political organizations caused by emerging technologies. Think about genetic manipulation and the potential to create super-enhanced individuals. This project has had spin off benefits for me. I have had the opportunity to coauthor a peer reviewed article on technological unemployment which was published in the Journal of Evolution and Emerging Technology, and I am writing the history chapter of a book on emerging technologies. Historical perspective and strategic thinking are key.

I have served on the St Lawrence Alumni Executive Council the last six years. It has been a joy to be able to return to the campus for several meetings annually. Inevitably during my visits my mind wanders back to my college days as a history major. I never have been an historian, but the training that I received from Professors Robert Carlisle, Robert Schwartz, Jonathan Rossi, and Jack Culpepper at SLU has allowed me to think strategically and participate productively across a variety of careers.