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A New Life, and a New Plan, at the Nest

Dean Thomas Kushner
It’s been a busy and rewarding first semester for Thomas Kushner, new Dean of the Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business. Here, he discusses his transition to dean and answers 20 questions about everything from music to overcoming adversity.
By: Sarah Sweeney

For Thomas Kushner, Beverly isn’t so unlike his native Brooklyn. 

“It’s kind of edgy,” said the Massachusetts newcomer, who spent 34 years on Wall Street before becoming the new Dean of the Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business in September. “I’ve taken my bike out and the city has its own little personality. An amazing stock of homes. It’s got a lot to offer, and it’s on the move.”

While Kushner gets a lay of the land on the North Shore, he’s also settling into life at the Nest. Prior to Endicott, Kushner served as Managing Director and Senior Relationship Manager for the Wells Fargo Securities Global Institutional Client Group, but said that joining a college was all part of the plan. 

“My wife [Stephanie] and I are planners,” he said. “She’s an independent college counselor, so her job is helping students think about the types of schools that they would thrive in. And maybe about eight years ago, before I turned 50—again, the whole thought of having a plan—I was thinking, ‘Well, what do I want to do? Help prepare myself for managing a larger business or do something a little bit different?’”

Kushner started assessing his skillsets, with the words of his friends echoing in his mind: You should be in the classroom. 

They meant that Kushner should teach—but he went for his doctorate instead. 

The teaching came soon after, but so did COVID. 

“My experience in the classroom really enriched what I was doing with clients,” he said. “I’d never worked from home before, I was normally on the road 40% of the time. Now I was at my dining room table.”

But the pandemic brought his three children home, for the first time in years, which meant sumptuous family meals (courtesy of eldest daughter Emilie, an accomplished home chef now living in London), more sleep, and even more time to think about life. 

Kushner’s original plan was to retire from Wall Street, find a city he and his wife could feel cozy in, “and teach until I was really, really old,” he said. But during the pandemic, Kushner connected with former Gerrish School Dean Michael Paige, who suggested that Kushner’s private sector experience would make him an intriguing candidate for a dean. 

Now, with his first semester at the Nest nearly complete, Kushner sees parallels between Endicott and Junior Achievement, an organization that also changed his life. 

“I was unfortunately orphaned at a really young age and struggling to find my way,” he said. “Through this organization, I found my passion for business and being with other like-minded young people who were really energetic, enthusiastic, smart. I was also exposed to all these mentors who really cared about setting me on the right course.”

Junior Achievement is all about learning by doing, noted Kushner, and so he was likewise impressed with Endicott’s devotion to experiential learning. 

“This is what I was exposed to at a very young age, and now I can do this on a college campus, working with faculty, working with staff, working with the internship faculty, generating really good outcomes for our students,” he said. “There’s a quote by Mark Twain: ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.’” 

Here, we get to know Kushner better through a round of 20 questions. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s something no one knows about you?   
My kids started a Tom Kushner Fan Club on Instagram some years ago to chronicle my most embarrassing moments. I’ve instructed them—no new members! 

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? 
Fostering relationships I've made with family, friends, and colleagues. I’ve learned from and leaned on so many people in my lifetime and it’s a true blessing.

Where is your next vacation? 
Over winter break I will be in Jamaica with family and friends, reading some good books, being chill, and sipping some good rum.

For what in your life are you most grateful?   
My family. I come from a big one and we all love to hang together; it’s great to see the youngest members really enjoying the oldest. I’m at my best and in my element with my family.

Who do you most admire?  
My sister Karen and brother-in-law Jack who raised my siblings and me. It wasn’t always easy and they never gave up and they held our family together. My parents would be so pleased.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness? 
Whoa ... that’s deep! I don’t know if there is such a thing but I like to recognize happiness in the small things people do and I try to reciprocate, it’s contagious. Small random acts of kindness —the student who waits a few seconds and holds the door open for me to the GSB atrium, the smile I get after saying thank you for the coffee at EAT or Einstein Bros., and the random 30-minute holds on my calendar that Kristen [Baldacci, Administrative Assistant] inserts to make sure I eat lunch.

What food do you crave the most?   
I grew up going to Coney Island for a Nathan’s footer. I love a really good hot dog—burnt (just like my mother made it), sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard on a soft bun. I’m not that New Yorker who likes the famous red onions.

What’s your favorite song? 
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Our eldest daughter Emilie and I both have brown eyes; we’re the only ones in a family of blue. You can probably find my really bad dance moves to this song on social media!

What movie haunts you? 
The Shining with Jack Nicholson. I’m not much of a Stephen King fan but this movie really draws you in and then it gets really dark.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who is it? 
I know very little about art and architecture and was transfixed by visiting the Duomo in Florence. I love to read and devoured Brunelleschi's Dome and would love to have dinner with Filippo Brunelleschi, the founding father of Renaissance architecture. This guy built the Florence Cathedral so big even before the technology existed to place the dome on it! What a big thinker! What a dreamer!

What are three adjectives you’d use to describe Endicott? 
Welcoming, transformative, committed.

Where is your favorite spot on campus? 
When I crave some alone time to meditate or for some downtime to just take in the water, I head up to the back patio at College Hall for some amazing views.

What’s your favorite city in the world?  
Living outside of Boston now, I feel a bit cheeky saying New York, but it truly is an amazing city with so much to offer: neighborhoods, art, architecture, sports, food, theater, history, people, energy. I love N.Y.!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I peeled off a boat in the Aegean for a few days in Istanbul with friends several years back and it captivated me. I look forward to going back and taking in this remarkable city, hiking in Ephesus, retracing the steps of St. Paul; visiting the Aegean wine region; and relaxing on the Antalya beaches.

Who are your biggest inspirations/influences?  
I have a couple who live in Charleston, S.C., who have been great mentors to me for 45 years, Steve and Julie Ziff. They give it to me straight—all the time, maybe too much, and it’s necessary. They are in their late 70s and early 80s and are among the most curious people I know and always up for new adventures. 

Favorite museum?
I’ve always been fascinated by cramped spaces and how people rise to the occasion. The Churchill War Rooms in London is such a museum. 

What’s a book everyone should read?  
The Gift of Adversity. Norman Rosenthal explores how life’s difficulties, setbacks, and imperfections can provide us with lessons to become better and more resilient which leads to unexpected benefits. 

What’s one thing that can instantly make your day better?  
Excitement. When students, faculty, or staff share with me something they are truly excited about—something they have done or has happened to them—I instantly get a rush.

What does the average day look like for you?  
Being new to campus, no two days have looked the same. I’ve been active getting around, walking the hallways, meeting people, listening. It’s been gratifying to hear people’s perspectives, dreams, wants. 

What are some words of advice you have for students for this academic year?  
Get out of your comfort zone, try something new, dream. Four years will go way too fast and there is so much to offer here and in our study abroad locations. The chancellor of my daughter’s college [Vanderbilt University], Nick Zeppos, told her while on campus to “sip from the stream of knowledge every day.”