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Featured Alumni: Jon Salony ’64 & Alex Ball ’10

Featured Alumni: Jon Salony ’64 & Alex Ball ’10

Coincidence? 

What is the probability that two Avonians, generations apart, living in a city of 8,500,000 would somehow cross paths? Despite extremely low odds, it turns out that such a meeting is very possible, especially when you work in the same field! However, the road to getting there wasn’t very straight.

Jon Salony ’64

Jon Salony ’64, a four-year boy from Greenwich, Conn., says each of his years at Avon was different. The 1960s were a time of turbulence, and just as the culture changed, so too did his shy and quiet manners of his freshman year shift to a more comfortable and outgoing sophomore who would one day become the president judge of the student court system. 

Post-Avon, Jon studied economics at Franklin and Marshall College before beginning his career at Heritage Chemical Bank in 1968, where he enrolled in a credit training program. He went on to earn his MBA from Fordham University and had a successful career in real estate banking at JPMorgan and Bayberry Advisors until his retirement. His career commenced in general corporate credit and advanced to specialize in real estate including construction lending, syndication, corporate finance, real estate sales of foreclosed properties, and strategic restructures of complex real estate loans.

Jon rose to high heights in real estate banking, discovering early on he had a passion and talent for helping others find their own way. A few years into his career he was asked to do some interviewing for prospective hires and began making presentations to small clusters of groups on campus. His aspirations to help people find their way in life was realized in helping clients sort through risks. 

“I guess it can all trace back to a case study I wrote nearly 30 years ago,” he says. “It was only a five-page document, but I spent months writing it...It was very much like a novel in the way you have to contemplate which pieces to put in or take out, and what might lead where without having a predetermined end point. I really enjoyed it.”

That case study became a training manual at JPMorgan, and eventually Jon leveraged it as a frequent guest lecturer at the NYU Wagner School of Public Policy on real estate valuation and transaction structure, and a regular on Columbia’s campus, too. Then Jon was asked to become a mentor at Baruch College in NYC, a part of the city’s university system. 

“My wife, Meg, was doing work there, so I signed on. Soon it dawned on me that this could be very helpful, but working with students at Baruch wasn’t the right match,” he explains. “These people were more based in accounting, whereas my focus was more on the business. And so, I looked for other opportunities and began mentoring at Fordham and eventually, the Urban Land Institute. I’ve been mentoring for about the last 10 years, and it’s a truly wonderful experience.”

Since retiring nearly a decade ago, Jon and Meg have enjoyed international travel, making their way from continent to continent, but while at home, Jon continued to mentor and train as a consultant. 

 

Alex Ball ’10

Alex has been very busy this past year, recently completing his Master of Science in real estate development at Columbia University, marrying his fiancé, Adriana, and moving from New York City to Darien, Conn. His new degree, he says, will surely help him accomplish his goal of moving from an advisory role to the principal side of the real estate business.

“Looking back to the root of things, I credit my friend and classmate Paul Cadenhead’s father with sparking my interest in real estate,” Alex shares. “As a junior and senior I traveled out to Jackson, Wyo., to visit Paul and learned about what his dad did for a living. The concept of using real estate and development as an investment was eye-opening. I recall he was developing a rugby field and complex at the time and it was so intriguing. I had no idea then how impactful that exposure would be on my future.”

Alex graduated from Avon after two years and studied rhetoric and public speaking at St. Lawrence University. During his senior year, his interest in real estate surfaced by way of an internship and independent project focused on investment sales and the exploration of the dynamic real estate market of New York City compared to areas just a bit further north that were primarily developed for agriculture, not skyrises. 

“While my career prospects in real estate were certainly strengthening, after college I decided to quench an adventurous craving I had in my system and returned to Wyoming to become a fly fishing guide—a passion I learned from Mr. Crocker back at Avon.”

After that stint in the wild, Alex entered corporate America through a job as an analyst at Cushman & Wakefield before becoming a director and then VP of the capital markets group at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). His responsibilities included building out middle market teams and working on development deals. Ultimately, his interests came full-circle as he began to work on ‘Place-Making’: making a special place for a community to grow, as his friend Paul’s father was doing with the rugby stadium years before.

“When you say real estate as a category, there really are so many areas that you can work in professionally—it’s very broad,” explains Alex. “I knew I needed some guidance and direction from those with experience. My father was a professional mentor, as was my grandfather, so I grew up knowing the value of building relationships with others who have come before you to help learn the way. That led me to join the Urban Land Institute, which I conceive to be the preeminent real estate think tank.” 

 

The Urban Land Institute

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world. ULI is its members—delivering the mission, shaping the future of the industry, and creating thriving communities around the globe. It has grown to become a global network of 45,000+ professionals in every sector of real estate development and land use, from private enterprise to public service.

By 2020, Jon had retired from his career in real estate finance at JPMorgan and was doing consulting and training part time. Alex was beginning his career at Jones Lang LaSalle. Alex and Adriana live on the Upper West Side, and Jon and his wife Meg live on the other side of Central Park in the nearby Upper East Side. One was looking for opportunities to mentor and share life experiences, the other was looking to learn. Both members of the Urban Land Institute, the two were paired through ULI’s mentorship program and met for the first time three years ago.

 

The Connection

Alex admits he did some research on Jon before their first meeting, and immediately noticed on his LinkedIn profile that he listed Avon Old Farms as a secondary school. Upon their first meeting, it was one of the first topics of conversation.

“Alex asked, ‘Did you attend Avon Old Farms?’ and I of course responded yes, and was in shock when he revealed that he was an Avonain, too,” shares Jon. “Getting partnered with someone and then finding out that you share a common experience—and such an important one at that—is immensely satisfying. After our first meeting the unbelievable coincidence of it really sank in: I just met an Avonian, completely without planning or intention. In the mentor/mentee relationship, there are a lot of unknowns that need to be learned before and true coaching can take place. Coming together with a shared experience gave us a head start.”

Alex agrees, saying that their shared experience of attending Avon Old Farms—even generations apart—was enough to establish a rapport with each other. “In the mentor/mentee relationship, two people usually don’t have much in common, simply because their life experiences have likely been so different. But, knowing that we had walked the same halls; eaten at the same tables; studied in the same rooms; played on the same fields… It was a bond that we shared as brothers that made everything else come much easier.” 

As it turns out, both have an avid interest in academics. Jon consults with former clients on training, and Alex had a yearning to attend graduate school. Jon was able to write letters of recommendation for Alex, and followed along as Alex studied at Columbia. Additionally, Alex reflected on their shared values—steadiness, determination, thoughtfulness—as Avonians and attributed that to the bond that developed over the years.

“Avon played a big role in my character development. Years after graduation, and now through a mentor relationship with Jon, Avon is positively influencing my professional development,” said Alex about the chance meeting.  “I agree,” said Jon.  “Mentoring programs are a great way to share experiences and strategies outside of the usual work environment.” Both highly recommend mentorship as part of one’s career advancement.

While the terms of the ULI mentor/mentee relationship concluded after 12 months, both Alex and Jon found that their relationship had turned into a very meaningful connection. The two meet up regularly, and talk on the phone often. Upon Alex’s wedding, he shared that Jon was so kind as to hand-deliver a bottle of champagne and note of congratulations...the relationship has truly become a friendship.

“I know that when I am talking with Jon, I am getting an unbiased response from someone who knows me, understands my aspirations, and will put my best interests first,” explains Alex. “There’s nothing in it for him, except to see me do well and learn from his experiences, and that’s unlike anything else.”

 

Why Become A Mentor?

Jon shares that mentoring is about learning just as much—if not more than—a mentee. 

“Being a mentor demands that you think critically about your own experiences and the results that were achieved, and then encourage your mentee to think analytically about their own challenges,” explains Jon. “It’s not the technical skills, it’s the soft skills—critical thinking skills, people skills—that you can help a person develop.”

Alex responds that it’s incredible that Jon feels as though he’s gotten as much out of their relationship as he has. “I don’t think Jon knows just how positive of an influence he has had on my life. I am so grateful that I’ve had the chance to learn from him and have him in my court. Jon truly epitomizes what a mentor can be, and this experience has highlighted for me just how important it is for future generations to learn from those who came before them.”

 

Find Your Own Connections!

Are you looking to network with Avonians in your professional field? What about trying to connect with some people who share a common history in your new hometown? Avon knows the value of the Brotherhood, and has resources available to help alumni accomplish these goals.

The website avonoldfarmsalumni.com allows you to both reconnect with old classmates as well as enabling you to utilize the trusted Avon Old Farms School environment to expand your professional network.

  • Connect: Find and reminisce with fellow graduates, see what they have been up to and stay in touch.

  • Give back: Introduce, employ and offer to act as a mentor to our graduating students.

  • Expand: Leverage your professional network to get introduced to people you should know.