SAI Alumnus Spotlight: Greg Parsons

Greg Parsons (’90) entered Cornell as a history major but, after taking a sculpture class during a summer at Cornell, began to pursue a major in Fine Arts. His first exposure to Student Agencies came through friends already involved with the organization, who encouraged him to apply for a job at SAI. He took their advice, interviewed with SAI, and became the comptroller.

Greg found the whole experience fascinating and a great addition to his time at Cornell. He wasn’t just sitting and talking business nor was he just going to the art school and talking about expression. He was able to get a mix of both through his involvement in Student Agencies. Greg noted that Student Agencies was “willing to let [him] learn.”

While serving as the comptroller, Greg took accounting classes in the Hotel School to be better equipped for his tasks. The CFO at the time, David Lesser (‘87), also helped train Greg. Through his outside efforts and help from David, Greg truly mastered his role as comptroller. During his time at Student Agencies, Greg felt that he had support when he did stumble. He noted that, if you prove yourself, you are given more opportunities and can really grow.

Greg enjoyed his time as comptroller so much that he returned to SAI the following year as CFO. The construction of 409 College Ave began during his tenure, providing his first true project at the intersection of business and design. Greg believes that part of college involves deliberately pursuing your interests while another part involves discovering the unknown; this interplay between business and design was something that he had never encountered.

Greg found this combination of business and design fascinating, and it became the foundation of his career. Since graduating from Cornell, he has worked for several different companies in varying roles but has been able to weave together business and design at each. Greg helped reinvent Herman Miller to be a workplace company, not just a home and design company. While there, he also started Herman Miller Red during the dot com boom. It focused on small- and medium- sized companies and even had an online business aspect. He said that starting a new business within a larger corporation was a similar feeling to working at SAI; the spirit of entrepreneurship, autonomy, and accountability for your business were present, and he truly enjoyed that feeling.

Through Herman Miller, Greg solidified his understanding of design. To deepen his knowledge of business, he decided to return to school and earned a masters from the University of Chicago’s School of Business. He believes his break between undergraduate and graduate school was a good choice; he found great value in gaining real-world experience and gained a new perspective after realizing how much he did not know.

His advice to students would be to understand the value of holistic thinking and to explore the various aspects of your life and facets of your brain. People can get pigeonholed into one thing with a narrow mindset, but everyone is diverse with many things to offer. He also developed a five-year rule, which he has found keeps him attuned to what he should be doing; after five years somewhere, Greg asks himself if he should continue his current role or could be doing more elsewhere. He finds that it typically takes a year to get going and learn the necessary skills, and then you can make contributions and accomplish your goals. Greg has found that this helps him remain engaged and focused on his career.

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