Michelle and Tom Cullen can sum up the key to their combined personal and professional success in one word: Bonaventure.
Both graduated in 2000 from St. Bonaventure’s School of Business (Michelle with a BBA in accounting and an MBA; Tom with a BBA in Finance) and each holds an executive spot in a successful startup company in Chicago. Michelle serves as CFO of tastytrade, Inc., a financial network that offers live daily programming about finance and investing. Tom is co-founder of LaunchPad Lab, a web development studio devoted to helping businesses grow through technology.
“We’re where we are because of Bonaventure,” said Tom. “We honestly believe that if we went to a different school, we wouldn’t have the same abilities, the same network, or the same potential that we have coming from Bonaventure.”
They point to Bona’s professors, who offer inspiration as well as instruction, and to the Franciscan tradition, which serves as a strong foundation in their lives, as critical to their accomplishments.
“St. Bonaventure helped shape my career by introducing me to a great opportunity right from the start,” said Michelle, whose maiden name is Hoffstatetter. “I got my first job at KPMG, one of the most competitive professional service companies in the world, after attending an on-campus event. Public accounting was demanding work but the business school had prepared me for it.”
After a year at KPMG’s Syracuse office, Michelle accepted a transfer to Chicago where she earned her CPA and connected with fellow St. Bonaventure alumni, many of whom worked for thinkorswim, an online options-brokerage bought by TD Ameritrade in 2009.
She will tell you that Tom likes to say she followed him to Chicago, where he was working as a trader in the Dow Jones pit of the Chicago Board Options Exchange — which isn’t the case, but Michelle lets him think that, she shares with a smile.
While at Bonaventure, Tom joined the Finance Club and toured the exchanges in New York and Chicago, and knew immediately he would eventually move to Chicago (his brothers, Joe, ’97, and Tim, ’04, ’05, work in Chicago’s finance district). He found a mentor and a good friend in Dr. Jeffery Peterson.
“Jeff was a big inspiration for me and for my brothers as well. We started trading on the floor because of Jeff. He had a passion for options trading. I got into it because of his passion. That was so exciting. We would talk to him every couple of weeks and whenever we needed to hire someone.”
Dr. Peterson, who passed away in February, served as a professor of finance for 29 years and as chair of the Department of Finance for 16 years.
“The real value of Bonaventure comes after Bonaventure,” said Tom. “In our businesses, we’re always trying to find people who have passion and Bonaventure people certainly are passionate. But there’s something better than passion and that’s compassion — and that’s what Bonaventure people bring.”
Tom and Michelle hail from a long line of Bonnies, one that began with Tom’s grandfather, Dr. Kenneth Anderson, a professor and administrator at Bona’s from 1946 to 1985. At last count, nearly 30 members of the Anderson/Cullen legacy family hold St. Bonaventure degrees.
Though they are busy building their careers and raising their nine-month-old daughter, Lauren, the Cullens still find time to give back to Bona’s. Tom is a member of the National Alumni Association Board and most recently returned to campus as a guest speaker for the Third Annual SIMM Boot Camp.
They are also the University’s youngest Seraphim Legacy Society members and have included St. Bonaventure in their estate plans.
“We feel we need to give back to the University as a thank-you for preparing us with the skills and knowledge we need to excel in the business world. It introduced us to key people who led us to our career paths,” said Michelle. “Thanks to St. Bonaventure professors and alumni, we now have challenging jobs that we really like. Most importantly, though, St. Bonaventure enforces good ethics, which is the most important part of business.”
by Susan Anderson