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Life. Leadership. Legacy.


As Gaels, we know Iona College is a special place. We have seen and experienced all the ways in which an Iona education transforms lives, and we know this small but mighty campus is a place where the capacity for greatness knows no bounds. In this exclusive feature for Iona College Magazine, we are especially fortunate to hear directly from some of the world’s most respected leaders as they shine a light on their paths to the top of global business, starting right here at Iona. What are the habits, values and abilities that elevate leaders to such heights? How can we all work to cultivate these traits within our own lives and careers? With a view from the C-suite, it’s clear there are no limits to what can be achieved with an Iona education as the foundation.

Alfred F. Kelly Jr. ’80, ‘81MBA

Al Kelly
Photo: GUERIN BLASK/The New York Time​s/Redux

Most people would not even dare to traverse a path to the top of the global financial system, let alone have the skills to succeed. Yet for Iona College alumnus Alfred F. Kelly Jr. ’80, ’81MBA, chairman and chief executive officer of Visa, success has always been a very conscious decision.

“I would never suggest that my pathway is the ‘right’ pathway. I don’t think there is a ‘right’ pathway. For some, success might mean being an entrepreneur; for others, it might mean volunteering to help people around the world. There really are so many ways to be successful in life,” he said. “But I do think that it is extremely important for everybody to make a conscious decision about what their pathway is going to be.”

From studying computer science at Iona to setting up computer systems at the White House, Kelly said his path to Visa, where he has served as CEO since December 2016, has in many ways been grounded in lessons learned in New Rochelle.

And today, he is just as eager to pay those lessons forward.

During an exclusive interview with Iona College Magazine, Kelly expounded upon some of the key tenets that have contributed to his success, particularly illuminating the values of curiosity, courage and confidence. Grounded in faith, his message is one of empowerment.

“I could not imagine anyone starting a business or being successful in business without being curious,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, you have to decide – do you want to be curious? That’s what it’s about. It’s an individual commitment to keep wanting to dig just a little deeper and just a little deeper as opposed to just accepting things at face value.”

With that choice made, it is also in your power to shape your path.

“We are all the CEOs of our own lives,” Kelly said. “If you’re not being the CEO of your own life, and you’re letting life drive you as opposed to you driving life, then ultimately you could end up being very disappointed. You have to own your path.”

Admittedly, he said, that takes courage. And courage is difficult. It requires you to stretch yourself. To test your capacity. To try something new. To not be afraid to fail.

“If you’re living a life of trying to continually challenge yourself, then the reality is, there’s always going to be a step that you’ve never done before that is going to cause you some apprehension. But you have to have the courage to push through that apprehension,” he said. “It’s part of the journey of life. It requires the courage to try, fail, retry, be successful, build confidence and then try again so you can get to that next level.”

It also helps to have faith.

“I find that faith grounds me,” said Kelly. “Faith reminds me of the prioritization of life. As hard as I work, when I sit back and reflect, I think about family and friends and wellness as being the things that really are the most important.”

I also find faith to be extremely important in difficult times,” he added. “Just to say, ‘Please, God, give me the strength to work through these problems or find the right answers.’ For me, praying is talking to God without any filters.

So, what does success look like from this vantage point in his career?

“I think my job is that when I leave Visa, Visa will do much better after I’m gone because I will have taught a lot of people about business; I will have coached and put a strong team in place; we will have strategies in place that make sense for the future; and the company will continue to execute and just get better and bigger,” he said. “Nothing gives me more fulfillment and pride than seeing someone rise up. I think there’s a period in that second half of your career, no matter what your career path is, where you have to say, ‘Let’s try to make as many people as successful as they possibly can be.’”

Kelly currently resides in Rye, N.Y., with his wife, Peggy ’81, ’84MBA. Their children are Al III, Kaitlin (married to Sean Mara), Maggie (married to Jerry Cifarelli), Jack and Lizzie.

Margaret (Maggie) Timoney ’89, ’92MBA

You know that parrot on your shoulder who says you’re not good enough?

Maggie Timoney ’89, ’92MBA wants to knock it off and tell you, “You are good enough! Just believe in yourself!”

A trailblazer, a pioneer, an inspiration. Yes, Timoney has broken many barriers in an industry traditionally dominated by men. Yet, as CEO of HEINEKEN USA, the only label she cares about is the one on your beer.

So, how did this Ireland native whose first job was helping to auction cattle and sheep after high school become the first woman to lead a major American beer company?

In a word, results.

“No matter how big or small the role, the key to success is delivering results,” she said.

During her 24 years with HEINEKEN, Timoney continually delivered results as she tackled new challenges across the United States, the Netherlands, Canada and Ireland. She said working across diverse cultures in many different roles and functions gave her the skills – and frankly, the confidence – that ultimately contributed to her success. Although it felt like a risk at times to take the leap, upon reflection, she would not change a thing.

She also often credits her time at Iona as helping to shape the leader she is today.

“Iona College is one of those pivotal moments that made me who I am,” she said.

Recruited to play basketball at Iona from County Mayo, Ireland, Timoney earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies in 1989 and an MBA in organizational behavior in 1992. In 2001, she was inducted into Iona’s Goal Club Hall of Fame as one of the greatest women’s basketball players in the College’s history. At the time, she held the title for all time leading scorer with 1,894 career points; she is currently third in the ranks.

Reflecting on advice for fellow alumni and readers of Iona College Magazine, Timoney brought it back to a basic principle: “My advice to people is always first and foremost to try to be yourself. It takes a lot of energy trying to be someone you’re not.”

Admittedly, she added, that may be easier said than done. Yet she urges everyone to take the time to reflect, dig deep and embrace the journey of self discovery.

“We all have our beauty spots and our warts,” she said. “Understanding what these are and embracing them helps us understand who we really are and the unique powers we bring to the table – or the bar!”

Just always remember “we before me” – a lesson learned on the court and essential in business.

“I don’t have all the answers, and that’s absolutely OK,” said Timoney, who also serves on the Iona College Board of Trustees. “It’s not about me; it’s about the team. We win together as a team.”

So, what are your strengths and weaknesses?

What are your beauty spots and warts?

Let the discovery guide your path.

Then, knock that parrot off your shoulder and believe.

“Identify your own unique powers,” she said, “and rock on!”

Timoney currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and two children.

Gregory C. Cairo ’88, ‘90MBA

Early on in his career, Gregory C. Cairo ’88, ’90MBA was challenged by a boss and mentor. “He said, ‘Are you sure you have passion?’”

Thirty years later, now as CEO of Le Creuset of America, leading luxury cookware brand, Cairo said it’s a question he asks every new team member.

“I always ask now, ‘Have you been mentored? Do you have passion?’ Because if you don’t love what you do and you don’t have passion for it, then don’t do it. It’s too much of your time and too much of your life not to have passion.”

During an exclusive interview for Iona College Magazine, Cairo fondly looked back at his time at Iona, sharing some of the foundational experiences that helped to shape his success in both business and life – including the discovery of his passions, the development of his work ethic and the bonds of faith and friendship.

“Every time there was an opportunity to push myself a little bit further, I took advantage of it – and I try to do the same today,” said Cairo, who studied marketing as an undergraduate before earning his MBA with a concentration in finance.

As a student, that meant doing everything from pledging a fraternity (TKE) and playing club lacrosse to serving as a resident assistant, pursuing internships and working as a graduate assistant. It also meant surrounding himself with the right people, who would become lifelong friends.

“I looked at Iona as having an opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond, and meeting the right people was certainly key,” he said. “I absolutely still use that in my career today because, without the right team, you’re only as good as the weakest link.”

Another key attribute of his success has been the desire to earn people’s respect through hard work and determination. “If I’m holding myself accountable and people respect me, then I can always ask for a little bit more or push just a little bit harder – because I’m asking the same of myself,” he said. “Drive is a big part of who I’ve always been and who I always will be. I think the other part is my faith. Those are the two pillars of my life.”

Despite being innately driven, Cairo is quick to add that balance is essential. “I try not to take everything so seriously,” he said.

Right now, that balance means starting his day while most are still asleep, rising in the five o’clock hour and enjoying the peace that the early morning brings to his outlook.

“I love the quiet time of the morning. It’s when I’m probably the most productive, strategically, because it is so quiet. The meetings haven’t started yet, and I can think about the key drivers before we get into all the tactical things that take place during the day – the meetings, the emails, the follow-ups,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I leave with a clean slate. When I leave, whatever time it may be, it’s my family’s time.”

When asked what advice he would offer to alumni along their career paths, Cairo brings it back to where he began. “It’s that passion – love what you do. It doesn’t matter if it’s five, 10, 20 years out. You have to have that passion.”

“And take chances,” he added. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. That’s why pencils have erasers. Try something. Start small with it. You don’t have to take the biggest risk, but take a risk. And then once you see it’s really working, push it all the way out. Go for it all.”

Cairo currently resides in Charleston, S.C., with his wife, Christine. His daughter, Lizzy, 24, is a teacher in Boston, and his son, Danny, 21, is a senior at the University of Maryland.

Simon Viltz ’88

Simon Viltz ’88 wants you to dream bigger.

“5, 10, 20 years into your career, you should think about where you want to be, and then you should expect to exceed your wildest expectations,” said Viltz, chief information officer for The Hershey Company.

Be deliberate about your goals.

Be deliberate about your thoughts.

Be deliberate about your actions.

And live life to its fullest.

“Live your life with passion. Live it every day as a gift,” Viltz said during an exclusive interview for Iona College Magazine. “And remember, life’s not a race – it’s a journey.”

Reflecting on his journey from Iona College to the C-Suite of one of the world’s sweetest brands, Viltz espouses a leadership style that is just as compassionate as it is confident.

Goal-oriented, proactive and strategic, Viltz had already worked for about a decade before completing his bachelor’s degree in computer science at Iona. Married with a young child and traveling internationally for work at the time, he said it was a tough balance.

But Viltz is a big believer in the power of education.

“You have to have that hunger and that quest to learn,” said Viltz. “And in my view, if you’re doing it right, you’ll keep learning and growing for the rest of your life.”

So, what does a typical day look like now?

To start, Viltz clears his head with a morning workout – typically Peloton.

Then, he dives straight into creative work.

“I always do all of my creative work in the mornings because that’s when my energy levels are at
their highest,” he said.

When it comes to tackling the nuts and bolts of a day, Viltz also takes an inventive approach.
Breaking his week into segments, he focuses on specific objectives in blocks of time. The idea is
to remain highly focused without the distraction of shifting gears. He also keeps meetings to a
minimum, scheduling only those that are absolutely imperative.

At the end of the day, he said, it comes back to balance.

“I think you have to have a really good balance, and that will change throughout your life and
your career,” said Viltz. “But it’s really important to rest, refuel and rejuvenate.”

Turning to two of his biggest influences, Viltz quotes freely from both the former United States
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Franklin Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

His key takeaways?

First and foremost, check your ego at the door. Focus on the things that matter. Have an end goal
in mind. Establish trust. Be vigilant in the details. Pick the right people. Strive for balance. And
then, dream bigger.

“I can do the straight math that 1 + 1 = 2. But in my mind, I always question, how do we make 1
+ 1 = 3? How can we wield results beyond our expectations and aspirations?” said Viltz. “It
takes courage, but if you’ve done all the right things, made all the right decisions, had an open
mind and were transparent along the way, you’ll end up in the right place.”

Viltz currently resides in Hawthorne Woods, Ill., with his wife, Kristin, who works as vice
president of the supply chain. His daughter, Nikole, 32, is married and works as a regional vice
president in commercial sales.

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