Larry Zicklin (BBA, ’57) makes ethics, and the spirit of giving, his business
Opportunity is a word that crops up a lot when you speak with Larry Zicklin (BBA ’57), who in 1997 (and many times since) made an investment in Baruch’s School of Business, which now bears his name. That investment gave the school unprecedented opportunity of its own.
“Opportunity is what I love about Baruch,” Zicklin says. “People can come here and be well trained to compete anywhere in the world.” Zicklin speaks from experience. The kid from the Madison High School neighborhood of Brooklyn, whose dad emigrated from Poland in the 1920s, and whose family worked day and night to keep their luncheonette business going, was accepted into Baruch’s then-tuition-free business school to study accounting.
Zicklin went on to get his MBA from the Wharton School, which, he says, “opened my eyes to the possibilities in business.” He followed Wharton with success after success, from early days at Merrill Lynch to joining investment firm Neuberger Berman and rising to chair and chief executive.
He never forgot the initial chance Baruch gave him, however. “For me, nothing would have happened without this. It began here, free of charge,” Zicklin says. So he decided to give back, concluding that a major gift given to other schools might be significant but for Baruch could be, he says, “transformative.”
In the 1980s, Wall Street scandals presented another opportunity. Zicklin introduced the idea of classes on ethics for business students. Initially the response was tepid, but he gave a lecture here, a course there—and now, after 30 years, after he started teaching at the Stern School at NYU, not only is the Business Ethics class he created a required course at Zicklin, Stern, and Wharton, but with a generous gift from Zicklin and his wife, Carol, the Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity was launched at Baruch in 2002. Named after Larry’s cousin and “best friend for life,” the late Robert Zicklin, an attorney of great integrity at the Justice Department and later in his own firm, the Center conducts research, lively debate, and seminars on ever-evolving ethics issues.
“In the abstract, it’s easy to be virtuous,” says Zicklin, who for several years has taught ethics to Zicklin MBA and Undergraduate Honors students, presenting real-world cases for intense examination and discussion. “But when you have to make a decision in business, it can be difficult. I want students to understand what’s going to happen in this life—it doesn’t operate in a straightforward fashion.”
His students have listened well. On Zicklin’s eightieth birthday, his students presented him with a signed and framed Code of Ethics they’d created for him, consisting of quotes from his classes. “If that’s not a highlight of a teaching career, I don’t know what is,” he says.
Zicklin has confidence that Baruch’s students are up to the challenges ahead. “These students are far better educated, more sophisticated, and they know multiples of what we knew,” he says. “They’re coming into a more competitive world where they need to be up with the technology to compete.” Toward that end, he believes investing in great teachers and in technology is the path forward; he recently endowed a faculty chair (the Neuberger Berman / Zicklin Family Chair in Data Analytics in Accounting), and encourages others to do so as well.
Although the face of Baruch and the demands of the business world have changed greatly since he was a student here, says Zicklin, there’s one thing that remains the same: the nature of students at the School of Business, and throughout the CUNY system. “I tell my colleagues at Neuberger, ‘If you hire Zicklin School of Business grads and treat them fairly, they’ll stay in the community and make the firm a better place. They’ll never forget you took them right out of school. They’re gritty; they’re scrappy; they’ll work hard. They’re perfect.’”