Alum George Bilicic Addresses Students at Executive Forum

By Hutton Jackson
A&E and Online Editor

This article was originally published in Issue 10, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (March 3, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue. 

On Feb. 24, DeSales hosted an executive forum lead by Dr. Jeffrey Focht and featured George Bilicic, the vice chairman of investment banking for Lazard, one of the leading financial advisory and asset management firms in the world. Bilicic graduated from DeSales in 1985 when the university was known as Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Bilicic grew up in the Lehigh Valley and his father was dean of Allentown College when Bilicic was looking at possible institutions. Bilicic says he specifically recalls an event that ultimately led him to attend Allentown College.

DeSales alum, George Bilic (right), delievers an executuive forum with Dr. Jeffery Focht (left). Photo by Tim Cox.
DeSales alum, George Bilic (right), delievers an executuive forum with Dr. Jeffery Focht (left). Photo by Tim Cox.

“I remember attending mass at Wills Hall with my family when I was a junior in high school,” Bilicic said. “Father Bernie Donahue gave a sermon relating the film Apocolyspe Now, and I was fascinated on how he was able to relate the Gospel and demands of society to the demands of immediate action stressed in Apocolypse Now. That sermon stuck with me and was one of the reasons I chose to attend [Allentown College].”

Bilicic said Donahue’s presence and strong track record with producing students that went on to study law was a significant reason he chose to study politics. However, he could never anticipate the friendship he would develop with Donahue as a student. He specifically mentioned how Donahue would send him newspaper clippings while at Allentown College and continued to send him articles throughout Bilicic’s career.

After graduating, Bilicic attended and graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, but Donahue remained a constant mentor and friend.

“I’ll never forget the time when I just took a position at KKR and Bernie Donahue sent me an article that was actually about me taking the position along with a note that said ‘Go get ’em Tiger!’” Bilicic said. “I won’t forget it because two days later, he passed away.”

This story is one of many fond memories Bilicic remembers of Donahue, who Bilicic says was a constant supporter even up until his death in 2008.

Bilicic also touched on how his time at Allentown College prepared him for his career, and how his experience as the editor-in-chief of The Minstrel and co-captain of the basketball team prepared him for future leadership roles in the corporate world.

“[Allentown College] helped develop my analytical and organizational skills and I was fortunate enough to gain valuable leadership experience while attending,” Bilicic said.

Bilicic believes that the business world needs more “DeSales-type” students, particularly those with strong analytical and writing skills.

“We need talented, smart and creative people. The ability to think critically and write effectively is greatly under-appreciated,” he stressed.

Bilicic continued to talk in depth on the importance of ethical behavior in business and the need for a “moral compass.” He discussed how the idea of Christian humanism that DeSales fosters is important to remember when entering the workforce and encouraged students to always be “honest and authentic.”

“Develop an ethical direction and plan how you want to lead your life,” Bilicic said.

Ultimately, Bilicic was thankful for having received the opportunity to address a crowd he believed included so many future leaders.

“I enjoy speaking to young people because I tell people that I am successful thanks to the many people that I’ve known and I believe I stand on the shoulders of the people who have helped me.”

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