Double Alumnus is a Man of Letters
Santo Costa ’68P, ’71L is a man who has discovered the transformative power of the written word. For more than 40 years, he held various senior executive positions in the pharmaceutical industry, and during that time he would pen six to eight letters to his employees each year.
“While most of them ostensibly had a business theme, they were really about how to get through the day,” he recently said.
Currently, Mr. Costa is Of Counsel for the Smith Anderson law firm in Raleigh, NC. Prior to that, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Quintiles Transnational Corporation (now known as IQVIA), with responsibility for all operating divisions, as well as worldwide business development. Before joining Quintiles, he spent 23 years in the pharmaceutical industry, most notably as Senior Vice President, Administration, and General Counsel, of Glaxo, Inc.(now known as GlaxoSmithKline).
When Mr. Costa stepped down from Quintiles, he was encouraged to keep writing letters and currently has a mailing list that includes several hundred former employees, friends, as well as people he has never met. He has been overwhelmed by the responses he has received from people all around the world who relate to these slices of life, and the lessons he has learned. “People just relate to them,” he observed.
A native of Brooklyn and East Meadow, NY, Mr. Costa chose St. John’s for its unparalleled Pharmacy program but was also inspired by his cousin Michael Ricigliano, Esq. ’57C, ’60L, who is a member of St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame. “He was like my big brother, and I really revered him.”
Mr. Costa worked his way through St. John’s in local pharmacies. “Most of us who went to St. John’s when I was there came from working-class families, and the University emphasized hard work and preparation. Nothing is given to you, and you have to work for it.”
He was part of the first generation of his family to attend college. “It was never discussed, but it was just expected. Two generations of the family had worked to that point to make it happen. We knew it would take a lot of hard work and sacrifice. That is what prepared me to move forward.”
“People were very close when I was at St. John’s,” Mr. Costa recalled. “It was very much a community, especially in the College of Pharmacy. Our students understood they were given a real opportunity to be successful, and they were not going to pass it up. You wanted to succeed for yourself and for your family.”
St. John’s students were provided with a well-rounded education, Mr. Costa said, one that included an emphasis on faith. “It was an education steeped in Christian values. They wanted to help you understand your faith, whatever that faith may be. That underpinning helped me a lot.” In 1998, he was the recipient of the St. John’s University Alumni Outstanding Achievement Medal, and his wife, Jean Anne Costa ’66C, is also an alumna of St. John’s.
Jean, who has a master’s degree in social work, has penned two books, Creating Positive Affirmations-Living an Intentional Life, and Choosing Your Words Crafting Your Life. Mr. Costa’s identical twin brother William Costa ’68CBA, also attended St. John’s, and had an outstanding career as a naval aviator, a carrier pilot, and chief pilot at two of the nation’s largest corporations.
Upon graduation, Mr. Costa worked as a pharmacist for six months and continued to do so on weekends when he attended St. John’s School of Law. He began his career practicing corporate law with several pharmaceutical companies, which led to positions of increasing responsibility and leadership. His letters demonstrated to his employees he not only supported them but valued the contributions of each and every person in the company.
“We all have life experiences that may not be exactly the same, but when you share those experiences, it resonates with people.”
Mr. Costa loved being part of the pharmaceutical industry, noting that especially in the midst of a global pandemic, it is one with the capacity to do the most good. “The industry has always been on the cutting edge of bringing forth technologies faster than any industry. It takes a long time to bring a drug to the market, but we are better at it than any other country.”
He has sat on the boards of more than twenty corporations and has been chairman of six companies in four countries. He also gives time to the boards of several not-for-profits.
The author of the book Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement & Truth to Flourish in the Workplace, Mr. Costa has enjoyed a second career as a speaker on legal and policy issues affecting the pharmaceutical industry. He has traveled the world, sharing the lessons he has learned in both his professional and personal life.
Communicating with people from all walks of life through his public speaking, but perhaps more importantly, his letters, has brought him great satisfaction. “People will come up to me in tears, because I hit on something that made them think of their own lives,” he said.
“I believe we all have important life experiences,” Mr. Costa stressed. “No one should die with those experiences bottled up inside. There is wisdom in there, and we really need to share it.”