John R. Bender
Founder & Member, Board of Directors, St Baldrick’s Foundation
John Bender a 1987 graduate of The Tobin College of Business has used many of the values and lessons he learned at St. John’s in both his business career and in his commitment to give back to the community. John is currently the COO of Allied World Reinsurance Company and Co-Founder of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. While attending St. John’s he worked at Waldbaums to help fund his education. After graduation, Bender met with friend, former Waldbaum’s co-worker and fellow St. John’s grad George Mitchell, who informed him about the reinsurance industry and a potential position within his firm, St. Paul Re. “I kind of fell into the industry because I was looking for something to do when I grew up”, says Bender. And grew up he did. Bender started out working in the claims department as a claims assistant and was eventually recruited into underwriting, where he spent the next 12 years learning everything he could. While opportunities to move on for a bit more money were always plentiful, staying put and truly learning the business from great professionals and mentors at St. Paul Re really paid off in the long run. When St. Paul Companies spun off their reinsurance Company into Platinum Underwriters, Bender was named Senior Vice President, Commercial Underwriting and ultimately Chief Underwriting Officer.
After almost twenty years at the combined entity, Bender used an important tool taught to him at St. John’s, this was the power of networking. It has always been extremely important to meet new professionals and keep in touch with former colleagues. “You never know when someone from your past will have a major influence in your future”, Bender says. In his case it was former Chairman & CEO of St. Paul Re and mentor, Jim Duffy. Now retired for several years and serving on the Board of Allied World Assurance Company, Jim mentioned at dinner one night that Allied World might be starting up a reinsurance operation in the United States and that John would be a good fit to lead this operation. Having reinsured Allied World for several years, and knowing Scott Carmilani, CEO of Allied World made this a very good fit for Bender. Bender says “having your mentor on the Board and having great respect for Scott, it was an easy decision for me”. Bender accepted the job. Now eighteen months into his new position, Bender is enjoying building a very successful and professional reinsurance company, which includes adding several other St. John’s Alumni.
But all of this was not enough for a tenacious and driven Bender. While at a friend’s BBQ on July 3, 1999, after a day of golf, Bender and his two friends Tim Kenny and Enda McDonnell discovered a new and unique way to raise money for a good cause.
“We were having a great time, and it got into the wee hours of the morning. We were still enjoying a few “lemonades”, when our host turned the conversation a bit serious. Tim said that he thought it was great our careers were going so well. We all drank to that, but then Tim asked us; “what are you giving back?” “The sad truth was we were not, and had not even thought much about giving back”, says Bender.
So we started to think how we could give back. It turns out during the conversation, that we all knew someone growing up in school that died of cancer. So we thought we would do something for kids with cancer. But what could we do to raise money for childhood cancer research? Bender explains that kids with cancer often get treated with Chemo and lose their hair. “I looked at Enda, and his Flock of Seagulls haircut – big & long- and said in solidarity with these kids who lose their hair in treatment, we can raise a lot of money shaving your head. Not one to run from a challenge, Enda said I will if you will, We decided that night to turn our industry St. Patrick’s drink fest into a fund raiser for childhood cancer. Then we called it a night.
With a goal of raising $17,000 on March 17, 2000 for the National childhood Cancer Foundation, Bender and his cohorts asked fifteen friends to join McDonnell & Bender in shaving their heads in an effort to conquer kid’s cancer. We asked each guy to raise $1,000 that day. Hoping to raise $17,000, seventeen guys shaved their heads on March 17th. By the time the day was over we had raised $104,000 and knew we were on to something. As the years went by we had more events and raised more funds. At that point, we were talking about a lot of money being raised and the only thing we could do was start our own Foundation. And The St. Baldrick’s Foundation was born to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. Since 2000, they have raised more then $64 million by shaving over 100,000 people’s heads (both male and female) in every state in the U.S. and in 20 other countries around the globe.
The Foundation also offers fellowships for pediatricians who want to specialize in childhood oncology, whereby fellows conduct very specific research under the mentorship & supervision of an expert. “We noted early on from our involvement in childhood cancer that the doc’s treating our kids are in their fifties and sixties. Who is going to treat our kids in the future with so few young doctors entering this area of medicine? By offering fellowships, we are ensuring that what research uncovers today helps the treatment and cure of cancer for more children tomorrow”, says Bender. So far thirty fellows are either in or have completed their St Baldrick’s Fellowships around the country.
“We can’t cut chemo or radiate our kids anymore, the cure is often worse then the disease with far ranging side effects later in these children’s lives. The science is there to find new and better ways to treat our kids, while at the same time protecting their dignity and future health. Ten years ago, Tim gave us a reminder it was time to give back, a lesson learned many years before at St John’s, but some how forgotten. The St Baldrick’s Foundation hopefully provides an option for everyone to get that same friendly reminder Tim gave us all those years ago. I hope this in an opportunity for people to have some fun while addressing a deadly serious disease”
St Baldrick’s has also received the Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity Seal. For More information about St. Baldrick’s, log onto www.stbaldricks.org.