Old friends, outstanding success

March 2009

It’s 1975 and two freshmen meet for the first time in the brand new dorms on UB’s just-completed “Amherst” campus.

They become friends and stay so throughout their time at UB. One young man is pre-veterinary and one is a business student, though ultimately they both will graduate from the School of Management.

Fast-forward more than 30 years and meet the two friends who visited the School of Management in October 2008:

Rich Floersch, BS/MBA ’80, is executive vice president of Worldwide Human Resources for McDonald’s Corporation. He oversees the human resources function for 480,000 employees in 118 countries. Prior to joining McDonald’s, Floersch was senior vice president of human resources at Kraft Foods and vice president of corporate compensation at Philip Morris.

Richard Severa ’79 is president of Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, North America, a New York Stock Exchange listed company ranking 179 on the 2007 Fortune 500 list. His business groups represent HP, IBM, Sun Microsystems, EMC, Network Appliance, Hitachi Data Systems and other industry-leading hardware, storage and service suppliers in the enterprise computing market. Severa previously worked with Tandberg Data, Iomega Corp., Qume Corp., Data Access Systems and Texas Instruments.

Severa had been invited to visit UB by Jane Armbruster, assistant dean of development, to see the many changes on campus. “I told her that if she could get my old friend Rich Floersch to come too, I would make the trip,” Severa says. It took a few tries, but the visit finally happened, with Severa coming in from Los Angeles and Floersch from Chicago.

Buffalo Business caught up with them during their visit, and we talked about what they felt had contributed to their success over the years. Both men say they were influenced by strong fathers. And both agreed that their School of Management educations prepared them well for the paths they chose.

“When I started out, I saw that some of the people I worked with had what could be perceived as ‘better pedigrees,’ but there was no substitute for knowing how to pick up cues and interact with people,” Floersch says. “I realized that I was not going to be outworked by anyone, and that has served me well throughout my career.”

Severa had a similar epiphany early in his career. “It was a moment of validation when it occurred to me that the lights of others I worked with weren’t burning any brighter than mine,” he says. “There is no substitute for ambition, focus and drive.”

During their time back in Buffalo, Floersch and Severa connected not only with each other, but also with several of their former professors and current students. They toured the campus, including the Alfiero Center and the Center for the Arts, and saw many of the new amenities that UB now has to offer. They also generously shared their time and their expertise in a number of forums. Both met with several faculty members, including Jerry Newman, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, whose book, My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons From Behind the Counter Guaranteed to Supersize any Management Style, had prompted many conversations with Floersch over the past several years. They served on a panel (along with Rob Liddle, vice president of global labor relations for McDonald’s, who made the visit with Floersch) at a luncheon for area executives, and they were engaging guest lecturers at an MBA class in workforce management. On their last evening in town, Floersch and Severa gave a presentation to undergraduate and MBA students that was so well-received, the question-and-answer session went considerably beyond the scheduled ending time.

Although their itineraries were packed, Floersch and Severa enjoyed their visit and were pleased with the progress the School of Management and UB have made. The highlight of their trip? Both expressed being overcome when they visited the old dorms and remembered their time here more than 30 years ago.

Written by Jacqueline Ghosen