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Banker’s Hours
Former CEO of PNC still works tirelessly for University

For most people, the word “retirement” brings to mind a relaxing image: reclining on a chaise lounge, daiquiri in hand, or else decked out in a Hawaiian-print shirt, playing endless rounds of golf. But for Thomas O’Brien, being retired means staying busy. He says his schedule is even more hectic now than when he was working as the CEO of PNC Financial Services Group.

He retired from that demanding position in May 2000 and stayed on as chair until the following year. Upon his retirement, the PNC Foundation announced it would make a $1.5 million gift to Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. The gift was made to honor O’Brien’s exemplary service to both PNC and the University. Since the announcement, the funds have been used to establish the Thomas H. O’Brien Chair in Strategy.

The chair has been filled by John Prescott, professor of business administration. Prescott’s research focuses on competitor analysis, networks, and international business. O’Brien is proud of the selection, saying that Prescott “is an extremely talented and worthy recipient.”

Although O’Brien is not a Pitt alumnus, he explained that PNC’s choice to make a major gift to the University of Pittsburgh was a natural one. The first reason is logical—O’Brien held the position of chairman of the Board of Visitors of Katz for a decade and is still an active member of that board. When the PNC Foundation decided to give O’Brien the honor of establishing and funding a chair in his name, the Katz school was an obvious choice.

PNC and Katz are connected in a practical sense as well, because PNC hires graduates from Katz every year. Currently, PNC employs about 200 Katz alumni. O’Brien thinks the reciprocal relationship of the company and the school works so well because the Katz graduates are “well-educated, solid people, with good values.”

One of these values might include an unwavering work ethic, which O’Brien certainly demonstrates, even after retirement. He worked his way through the PNC ranks, beginning in 1962 in its commercial loan department. Ascending to the company’s highest position in 1988, he was appointed as PNC chair, president, and CEO. Under O’Brien’s leadership, PNC grew tremendously, changing from a regional bank into a national financial services firm.

As if these job responsibilities weren’t enough to keep him busy, O’Brien fostered an active relationship with Pitt. He has been a member of the University’s Board of Trustees for two decades, continues to work on the board’s executive committee, and chairs the trustees’ investment committee, in addition to working on Katz’s Board of Visitors. He also works for several corporate boards and with two nonprofit groups, the Extra Mile Education Foundation and the Strategic Investment Fund.

Yet O’Brien seems energized by all of the time and effort he contributes to the University. This is partly because of his respect for Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. O’Brien was on the board that hired Nordenberg, a decision O’Brien wholeheartedly supported. In fact, O’Brien cites Nordenberg’s accomplishments as something that makes him very proud.

“The University continues to progress and achieve outstanding results under Mark’s leadership—in research, in faculty, and in the student body,” O’Brien says. “It’s a truly wonderful thing to see. I admire what he has been able to do, to keep moving the University forward.”

Nordenberg’s and O’Brien’s respect and admiration for one another are clear. So are their leadership abilities and their mutual interest in advancing the University.

“As Pitt continues to grow and prosper, I want to support that any way I can. I’m delighted with my chair in strategic planning, because it’s one of the things I spent a lot of time doing at PNC,” O’Brien says. “It’s a perfect match.”

PNC decided to donate to Pitt in O’Brien’s honor, in part, because of the firm’s longtime professional relationship with the University during O’Brien’s tenure. But there were more personal and sentimental reasons, as well. The former CEO’s father spent time at the University so, says O’Brien, “I always had a warm spot in my heart for Pitt.” He has lived his whole life in the Pittsburgh area, and the University has meaning to him as a Western Pennsylvania mainstay, a symbol of home and the city he loves.

An ardent Pitt sports fan, O’Brien is surprisingly unruffled when Pitt plays his own alma mater, Notre Dame. So, what team does he root for? “Let’s just say it’s a no-lose situation,” he says with a laugh.
—Sarah Wexler

Al Novak

Notes from Novak

Greetings from the University of Pittsburgh! Even in the summer, the campus is alive with students and faculty engaged in their scholarly work. I often think about the Cathedral’s visionary, Chancellor John Bowman, and his dream for the University during the planning of the spectacular building that has become a symbol of greatness for the University. In June, we celebrated the generosity of the University’s leadership donors during the Cathedral of Learning Society Dinner.

The society recognizes donors who have given $1 million or more to the University throughout their lifetimes—recognizing people who have a vision for the University of Pittsburgh, just like Chancellor Bowman. This year, inductees included: William R. Baierl; George Means Bevier* and Eva M. Bevier*; The Blaisdell Family; Herb and Grace Boyer; John A. and Ruth R. Jurenko; Ronald Gene Linaburg, DMD, MS, and Judith K. Linaburg; Norman G. Mathieson, MD*; Mark E. Pasquerilla; Lester Rice; David Scaife; Jennie Scaife; Christopher C. Walthour Jr.*; The Wheeler Family; and Kenneth Robert Woodcock.

It was a delight to celebrate the contributions and foresight of the Cathedral of Learning Society’s members during that special event. But it’s also important to recognize all of the members of the Pitt community who, by virtue of working together, are making a difference in the lives of students and faculty for years to come. Just like Chancellor Bowman, our donors are leaving a legacy. Their vision helps Pitt to be a great place for people to learn and grow. On behalf of the University, thank you for making Pitt what it is today and will be in the future. For more information about the Discover a World of Possibilities campaign, go online:
—Al Novak
* posthumously honored

Campaign Watch

Institutional Advancement is working hard to reach the goal of $1 billion, and Pitt’s alumni and friends are responding. We are now more than three-fourths of the way there: $808 million!

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