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Robert A. Coli ‘05CPS

After Achieving Success, Financial Executive Returned to Earn Degree at SJU

While many older and second-career students go back to college to enhance their professional opportunities, Robert A. Coli ‘05CPS had achieved considerable business success when he made the decision to complete his undergraduate degree at St. John’s. In fact, he was already retired.

“I had always planned to do this,” Coli recently recalled. “I would have been unfulfilled had I not finished my undergraduate degree.” He earned his communication arts degree in the College of Professional Studies (CPS).

“Though Robert was incredibly successful in the corporate world, there was a void in his life,” said Andrew Bhola, associate dean of CPS.  “His determination to get his B.S. degree was inspirational to the students in his classes.” 

Coli first entered St. John’s in 1975. “I was “basically unmotivated,” he said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally, and didn’t feel engaged.” He dropped out in the middle of his senior year to take a fulltime position at Abraham & Straus, a department store where he had been working part-time as a student.

A few years later, at his mother’s suggestion, Coli answered an ad for a position as a marketing representative at OppenheimerFunds. This time, he found his professional niche. “I loved it from the minute I started,” he said. He was so well-suited to the investment management industry, he added, that in just one year, he became the first employee to go directly from the sales desk to a vice presidency.

It was, he said, an exciting time to be in the financial services sector. The 1982 bull market started on August 12, and Coli came on board in November, just as the market began to gain traction. Charged with  speaking to regional financial advisors to tell them about the company’s products, Coli made a discovery about himself: “I actually had a talent for public speaking.”   

After working for 22 years at OppenheimerFunds, where he ultimately served as Vice President of the North Atlantic Region, Coli retired and , decided to return to St. John’s to study  communication. His choice of major, he said, was based on a fortuitous meeting. “I was speaking at an industry conference,” he said, “and I ran into a gentleman named Dan MacDonald, who had worked for Oppenheimer at one time.” MacDonald was with his wife, Kathleen Vouté MacDonald, Ed.D., who was dean of CPS. It was she who suggested the communication arts program.

Since earning his degree, Coli has distinguished himself as a strong supporter of CPS and the University itself. In addition to guest teaching management and communication classes, Coli has mentored students. He also is a member of The Loughlin Society, which contributes money for student scholarships and endowments. 

 “I am very proud of my St. John’s degree,” said Coli. “I am also grateful to be connected to a community of people who are loyal and committed to treating everyone equally.”