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Distinguished Speaker Feature: Peter Nolan (BS '80, MBA '82)

Earlier this month, former SAI President Peter Nolan stopped by the Student Agencies office at 409 College to share his career advice and reflect on his time spent at Student Agencies. Peter grew up in Cazenovia, a village in upstate New York, and transferred to Cornell his sophomore year. In need of a job to help fund his education, Peter sought out Mike Bachich who served as CFO of SAI at the time. Mike found a place for Peter in their fridge rental business, and immediately, Peter was put to work.

Peter’s first job at SAI was anything but glamorous. With a smile, Peter recounted his first two weeks on the job. For hours every day, Peter cleaned out moldy mini-fridges that he then rented out to students during orientation week. From there, Peter moved onto bigger and better things: Pronto Pizza. In the old SAI building, the agency offices were located directly above an Italian restaurant. To take advantage of this, the student managers launched a pizza delivery service in partnership with their downstairs neighbors. In just 60 days, due to delays in delivery of the pizzas, the business flopped.

To Peter, that’s what made Student Agencies great. The Student Agencies Peter knew was the “Wild West” where people constantly threw ideas around and new unproven business models were pursued: “We were very entrepreneurial, so if someone had an idea we thought might turn a profit, we did it. We created a service where parents could pay for us to deliver cakes to students on their birthdays. A member of our team managed to get the home address and birthday of every Cornell student and we sent a note to every household offering the service. It was such a simple idea, but a huge number of parents were interested in it.” While the university eventually banned the cake service, Peter learned a tremendous amount from starting and running a wide variety of agencies.

During his time spent at Student Agencies, Peter learned powerful lessons that few undergraduates are exposed to. Most importantly, he gained an appreciation for understanding how to manage other people—a lesson that has only become more important as he has progressed in his career. Student Agencies provided Peter with his first real-world exposure: “the headaches, the unanticipated issues…until you go through them firsthand, your view of business will be totally unrealistic.”

Since graduating from Cornell, Peter has had an impressive career in finance. Beginning in investment banking fresh out of college, Peter remembered being clueless when he first stepped onto the Street. Still, with great flexibility that he largely attributed to his experience at SAI, Peter hiked his way up the learning curve. Peter enjoyed his time spent in investment banking—he made some of his best friends, was able to sit in on meetings with impressive C-suite individuals, and loved the fast-paced nature of the work. Seeking a better work-life balance, Peter eventually exited for Private Equity. Since then, Peter has had a phenomenal career, currently serving as Senior Advisor at Leonard Green & Partners and as Chairman of Nolan Capital, Inc.

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