By Gigi Marino
In his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence — Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, psychologist Daniel Goleman argues that well-developed social skills can serve the individual just as well or better than native intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is an idea that resonates with recently elected University trustee and long-term Bucknell volunteer Christopher O'Brien '80. "I run a financial business. You have to be smart to do this business," says O'Brien. "Unequivocally, having a high EQ, emotional quotient, is a better indicator of success in life than a high IQ. I look for intelligence when I hire, but I also look for people who have those other attributes — the ability to lead others and a comfort level to do that, being able to speak in a room, being a member of a team and doing that effectively, having a high level of integrity and ethics."
O'Brien himself is a successful businessman. He served as president and senior partner of Investcorp International's U.S. and European business, where he oversaw the firm's private equity, real estate, technology investment, hedge fund and Middle Eastern investment activities, in addition to traveling extensively throughout the world. Prior to joining Investcorp in 1993, O'Brien was managing director at Mancuso & Co., a private New York-based merchant bank; the director of numerous corporate boards, including TelePacific Corp., Simmons Holdings, Inc., CSK Auto Corp. and Star Markets; and a successful leveraged-buyout executive at Manufacturers Hanover. But O'Brien will be the first person to tell you that he did not have a high GPA in college.
"I came to Bucknell ill-prepared for the challenges. Academically, I was capable of doing the work, but there were many distractions that caused me to underperform in my early years. In fact, I was on probation for a time," says O'Brien, who was recruited by the University's track and cross country program.
Still, O'Brien discovered a sense of confidence and leadership within himself. He joined Phi Lambda Theta, became an officer and later chapter president. "I had skills that were potentially distinctive, but they didn't necessarily translate into a high grade-point average," he says.
O'Brien, along with his wife, Elizabeth, recently pledged $1 million to endow the Christopher and Elizabeth O'Brien Family Scholarship for management students with high potential. "My wife and I talked about it. To us, it's much more meaningful — in addition to educating our own two children — to help educate someone else's child. A college education is such a reach, and it made us feel more impactful from our perspective. Endowing a scholarship feels right," he says.
O'Brien feels gratitude to the alumni who came before him and donated money for buildings and programs. "I walked out with a great education. I knew I wanted to give back," he says.
The scholarship will support junior-year School of Management students identified by management faculty as possessing high emotional intelligence and competitive personalities and who demonstrate leadership potential through participation in athletic, Greek, club, religious or other organizations, on- or off-campus. While student grade point averages will serve to qualify students, the O'Briens did not want grades to be the only determining factor for awarding scholarships.
The first recipient of the O'Brien Family Scholarship is Charles Thompson '14, a running back from San Diego. In addition to being on the football team, he is an R.A. and a member of InterVarsity and the Gathering.
"I am honored to receive this scholarship," says Thompson. "I am very proud that the O'Briens have invested financially in me. This motivates me and pushes me to become more of a leader in the management field."
Michael Johnson-Cramer, director of the School of Management, says the O'Brien Scholarship is a testament to how creative donors can be when making gifts. "The scholarship has been good in pushing us to consider students in a different way," he says. "The result has been many discussions about how we can better mentor our students and help them grow. It's been a powerful experience."