Featured Alumnus: John Mori '05
Dedicated to Building Experiences for Fellow Avonians
During his years as a student at Avon Old Farms School, John Mori made headlines for his moves on the ice: he co-captained a two-time hockey New England Championship team, two-time hockey Founders League Championship team, and two-time Christmas Classic Championship team. He matriculated to Providence College where he played in the Hockey East conference, and then competed in three years of professional hockey. But John says he always knew sports would end, and he’d need a plan to land on his feet when the skates finally came off.
“Everything I learned at Avon, thanks to the guidance of my parents and the support of the entire Avon community, got me to where I am today,” John says. “It wasn’t just what I learned on the ice—it was the confidence I gained, the sense of self I developed, and the values Avon instilled in me that allows me to do my job well. I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room at Avon, I had to work hard academically. But I had significant support as I put in the work, and that prepared me for life.”
As much credit as John gives to Avon, a quick look at his list of accomplishments reveals that he was not only a driven athlete, but a driven student and community leader as well. As a first-year sophomore, he was recruited as an Admissions Ambassador, a role he continued for all three of his years at AOF. He also earned a spot on the Honor Roll or the Dean’s List all three years. As a junior, he was made a Monitor in Diogenes dorm. That well-rounded approach to life and all of its facets has served him well.
Today, John is a Managing Director and Head of the Special-Assets Group at Cowen, a diversified financial services firm founded in 1918. He is responsible for the investing, sourcing, trading, and sale of various illiquid credit products. The path to leadership however didn’t start out easy, and so he is now determined to provide opportunities to young professionals looking to get a foot in the door like he once had to.
“After Avon, I went on to Providence to study political science,” he explains. “A lot of my teammates were taking marketing, management and business classes, and I took a few of those as well, but it wasn’t anything that got me excited about getting up and going to class in the morning. Political science did that. I was able to argue my opinion, write strong papers, and even more importantly, listen and learn from the opinions of others.”
John says his time at Avon allowed him an easy transition to Providence—he didn’t struggle with being away from home or time management because Avon had already given him the tools and skills to handle those obstacles. While many students had a hard time adjusting to college life, John was focusing on what lay ahead.
“As a junior I landed an internship at the Rhode Island office of the United States Secret Service, which was a tremendous learning experience,” he shares. “It was hands on work. … I was given real tasks and assignments to complete. It offered me a glimpse into what a career in the Secret Service might look like. After the internship, which I thought was cool, I didn’t see it as a career. It was the experience of a lifetime to ride in a presidential motorcade during the 2008 election, but it wasn’t something I wanted to compete in every day.”
After graduating from Providence, John went on to play the next three years in the minor professional hockey leagues all the while continuing to formulate his Plan B for life after hockey. I needed to find the thing that drove me to excel like hockey had since the time I was four or five years old.”
During one off season, John secured an internship with Sotheby's International Realty where he was able to gain more real-world experience. Once John decided to call an end to his hockey career and after numerous disappointing attempts at securing a full-time job outside of hockey, finally an opportunity presented itself that really got him excited at American Franchise Capital.
“That internship helped me find what makes me tick. I had to beg the firm to give me a chance to just be in the room, and I consider myself extremely lucky that they did. It was an unpaid summer internship, so I worked during the day and coached at night to pay the bills. I did well enough that they eventually hired me and I worked there for three years.”
John learned through his work at American Franchise Capital that he liked the profession and it made him want to compete every day. The new challenges that were presented allowed him to hone the skills that Avon gave him to be a leader.
“For someone who was a timid kid and didn’t have a lot of confidence outside of the hockey rink, Avon’s community environment made it easy to learn how to deal with different kinds of people and has helped me throughout my life. Without those life skills, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
In 2016, John made the move to Cowen. It was there that he set his sights on paving the way for others like him who really had to fight to gain job experience and eventually John expanded Cowen’s internship program to Cross-Asset.
“I wasn’t a business or finance major with a focused degree and career path...I had a bit more of a liberal arts approach in political science, so I really had to put in the time, effort and networking to earn my first job,” he says. “I applied to 15 firms before one finally clicked. It can feel like a dark place when you’re constantly said no or given an excuse as to why you aren’t good enough, but those are the times when the words ‘aspire and persevere’ mean the most. I owe it to not only other Avonians, but other young people who are trying to make it to be given a fair chance to explore the workforce.”
John created hands-on internships where students gain real work experience, are responsible for projects, and have mentors at the senior level by their side along the way. The way he sees it, it’s a win-win: real world, intense working experience for students, and an extra hand for his colleagues during the summer months to ease a little of the workload.
“When I interned at American Franchise Capital, I literally was sitting next to one of the founders of the firm. I was afforded an opportunity to experience what was going on at the highest level of the company and to determine whether or not it was a career I ultimately wanted to work toward. I know that for me that’s how I learn: by doing. So, I wanted Cowen’s Cross-Asset Internship program to be similarly structured.”
Avonian Jake De Saint Phalle excelled as a summer intern with Cowen and was hired as an analyst two years later. It was no surprise to John in 2020 when Avonian Andrew Merrell applied for an internship at Cowen and also passed the rigorous application process with flying colors.
“We set it up so that the entire committee needs to approve the interns we bring on. When I know an Avonian was in the mix, I’m biased because I know what he has in him. But Andrew and Jake were easy choices for the rest of the committee, too. They came to impress. I remember with Jake, everyone was blown away by his intellect and how personable, strong, honorable, and respectful a person he was. It was a unanimous decision to offer Jake a full-time role after his internship. To me, that speaks to the product that Avon continues to produce, and is why I feel so compelled to remind Avon to keep sending students my way, either for internships or for advice.”
Over the years, John says he’s stayed in close contact with Avon for several reasons: the school did so much for his development; the faculty have become close friends; his Avon buddies are the strongest relationships he’s ever had; and, he feels like he needs to give back.
“Honestly, I miss it. I even thought about becoming a teacher/coach at one point because it was a way back to a place I love so much. I feel so eternally lucky that my parents put such an emphasis on a good education and sacrificed to give me the opportunity to attend Avon. I may have thought I was going to Avon to play hockey, but I got so much more. It made me a better person and student. I gained skills I use every day in my life with my wife, my work, my friends and family...Keeping in touch allows me to say thank you to the school for giving all that to me.”
John shares that he’s been in constant communication with his Avon teachers and coaches since the day he came to Avon, most of all with Coach Gardner.
“I have known John since he spent three years at Avon. He was and is an extremely hard-working and loyal person,” comments Gardner. “John is passionate about whatever he does. I count him as one of my good friends now and someone who is a great example of what we, as a school, want our alums to represent in their values and commitment to excellence.”
John says he still calls Gardner all the time, sometimes when things aren’t going right at work or in life.
“He’s the person I can ask, ‘Am I looking at this the wrong way? What am I missing?’ He’ll always be a huge mentor to me.”
And John is there to support and mentor others, too. Whether it’s his classmates or the next generation of Avonians looking for a word of encouragement or advice, John says he’ll be there in an instant. As a member of Avon’s National Council, he hopes he can remain a part of the school and help it continue to be the best it possibly can be.
“If it’s possible to make Avon better, I want to do that. Helping teachers or students, being a part of Avon’s continued development will be the best reward I could ask for.”
By the time John graduated he had earned a spot in Avon’s elite league of renaissance men: young men who were athletes, community leaders, and diligent workers. He was made Head Monitor of Diogenes as a senior, a captain of the hockey team, and earned both the Founders Medal and the Order of Old Farms. In fact, at graduation when John was presented with the Order of Old Farms Medal, this was said about him:
The next winner of the Order of Old Farms is just that—a winner in every sense of the word. Committed to excellence in all that he does, this individual is respected by all at school. A Captain of our hockey team, the head monitor of his dormitory, and a regular member of the Honor Roll, this individual always aspires and perseveres.
Those words continue to ring true today. John is a class ambassador, serves on the National Council, and volunteers his time with a wide variety of Avon initiatives, including the Hockey Alumni Executive Committee. In 2011, he founded the nonprofit organization Hockey 4 Health to help families in the hockey community that are going through medical hardship. We couldn’t be prouder to call John Mori a brother.