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We pay it forward

We pay it forward

Tori Miller '23 November 30, 2022

James Kavanaugh ’88 is a big believer in cultivating young talent. As the chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and operations for IBM, Kavanaugh knows that encouraging students from a young age is crucial to their success.

“If I can have an impact on one person today, that I’ve touched them in some form, that is the most important part,” Kavanaugh said.

James Kavanugh holds a microphone while talking to students.
James Kavanaugh '88 speaks to students.


Kavanaugh returned to UD’s campus in November to meet with students in the School of Business Administration for a talk called Business as a Calling, a special seminar for first-year business students. The seminar features a prominent business leader — usually a UD alumnus — describing their views of the role of business and business people in society.

He was enthusiastic about returning to Miriam Hall to meet with young professionals. His UD experience started unlike many other alumni. Kavanaugh transferred to Dayton for the last two years of his undergraduate degree in finance, seeking a more Catholic faith-based education.

He said coming back to his alma mater was not only a tremendous honor and privilege, but it was a way to say thank you and reflect on his previous experiences on campus. 

“Dayton was foundational in developing who I am as an individual today, both as a professional executive, but also as a husband and a father,” Kavanaugh said. “To this day I’ve always respected the values of what UD stands for, and that goes back to the merit of Catholic, Marianist history.”

“To this day I’ve always respected the values of what UD stands for ...”

What he remembers most about being a Flyer is the camaraderie between people and how that differentiates UD from other colleges. Kavanaugh’s fondest memories on campus were in Miriam Hall for his business classes, grabbing subs from Milano’s with his buddies or being in Timothy’s enjoying a big college sports win. 

During his talk to a room full of mostly first-year business students, he said success is something personal. 

“From my perspective, success starts with pursuing a passion — doing what you love, honoring your values and working hard,” he said. “Success doesn’t come easy, and to me, happiness is the highest form of success.”

He also encouraged students to pursue their passions, whatever they may be, and to be “all in” on their commitment, honor their values and to, most importantly, have fun while doing it all. 

Sharing his steps to business success with UD students not only empowers them to discover their own passions within business, Kavanaugh said, but reaffirms that encouraging young professionals at early stages in their career is crucial for their development. 

Coming back as a guest speaker and helping future generations of business professionals is just one way that Kavanaugh pays his faith-based education forward. 

“We don’t get enough time to say thank you to reflect on experience and people that have had an impact on someone’s career,” Kavanaugh said. “It goes back to faith-based education overall. And to me, I think it’s important that we pay it forward.”

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