Featured Alumnus: John-Oliver Beirne
John-Oliver Beirne '03 came to Avon Old Farms School in search of something new, something different, something that would challenge him. Like many others before him, the moment John-Oliver stepped foot on Mrs. Riddle's campus of stone and oak, he knew the place was something special and was a school he needed to be a part of.
"I remember my tour guide Chris Higgins '01," he recalled. "And he, and every other person I interacted with that day, emanated a true sense of camaraderie. I met a lot of guys - football guys, hockey guys - and they all shared a strong bond. That stuck with me after the visit."
When he returned as an enrolled student the next fall, John-Oliver lived in Elephant dorm. He quickly realized that boarding school was going to be much different than living at home.
"I was on my own, of course, but there were high expectations - getting up and being ready to start my day the moment I walked into morning meeting; going to each class prepared for the lessons at hand; attending meals on time; going to study hall. It was different. It was discipline. And I appreciated the regimented structure."
Beirne played both hockey and football at Avon and remains in touch with coaches Driscoll and Detora. And while he says Mr. Detora was brutal in the physics lab, he credits him as well as Mr. Narsipur and Greg Squier for opening his eyes and challenging him to think in new ways during his years on the Farm.
"Like a lot of guys graduating high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do in college, or where I wanted to go."
He looked at smaller schools where he thought he would enjoy playing football, including Middlebury, Colby, and Bowdoin. But, he realized that they were too similar feeling to his boarding school experience. Then, when a family friend invited him to visit at Southern Methodist University, John-Oliver unexpectedly fell in love with the place. He applied, was accepted, and double-majored in finance and Mandarin.
"During college, I lived abroad in China twice," he said. "Having gone through business classes and language courses, I knew there were amazing opportunities overseas. I wanted to find a way to pair my two skills and create a career."
In Texas, not many people were thinking about international finance, so he headed east and began working at a firm in New York, WP Stuart & Co. From there, he started to develop a network and eventually had a fortuitous encounter with the CEO of a hedge fund in Hong Kong.
"The day we met, he had no opportunity for me, but a month or two later, I got a call from the company's CIO saying that there was an opening, and if I wanted it there was a one-way ticket for me at the airport," he shared. "I packed two bags, boarded a plane, and flew to a city that I had never been to before to start my dream job."
John-Oliver says he was thrown into life at the firm quickly, and that the learning curve was steep. But, with great mentors and the motivation to put in the extra work to get up to speed, he climbed the ladder from analyst, to head analyst, to head of research in a few years' time.
"I attribute much of my success not only to the structure that Avon gave me to lean back when things got crazy but also to Mr. LaRocque's ever-present reminders of being mindful and making time to self-reflect," he said. "In the good times and the hard times, I always had an idea of what my day needed to look like, and I often heeded Mr. LaRocque's advise to reflect on where I was, what I was doing, and what footprint I was leaving on the world. That helped me immensely."
One of the teams at John-Oliver's firm was ready to start their own fund and wanted him to be a founder in the new venture. He called home to seek some advice from his father - also a finance man.
"We agreed that it was an amazing opportunity for me," said John-Oliver. "I was going to go for it. But, then when I traveled home for the holidays, my dad told me a bit more about his own work, and his personal goal of also starting his own firm. Having spent the last four years analyzing businesses all over the world, I was interested by a business trapped in the wrong corporate structure."
So, in 2010, John-Oliver moved back to the U.S. and began planning on how he and his father could establish their own firm. In 2012, they started Beirne Wealth Consulting.
"It essentially was the same firm that it had been for the last 50 years, we just finally got our name on the door," he explained. "We started with seven people in an office in Connecticut. Now we have 25 people on-staff, in Shelton, Connecticut, Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Miami, Florida."
The firm provides consulting expertise to defined benefit and defined contribution plans, endowments, foundations, and nonprofits. Private clients include wealthy individuals and prominent families many of whom bring complex wealth management challenges and multigenerational planning needs.
Three years ago, John-Oliver was feeling the need to become more involved with the school that helped him formulate so much of his personality. The idea of joining the National Council was suggested, and he followed through.
"I went so far away for college and for work that when I came back to Connecticut, I had unfortunately lost touch with many of my old connections, including a lot of great people at Avon. This opportunity gave me an avenue be more engaged, which was something that was really important for me."
Despite multiple trips back to campus for National Council meetings, alumni hockey games, and other events, this spring will be the first Alumni Reunion Weekend John-Oliver will attend.
"I was always away on business it seemed, so I am very excited to return to campus and am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends. I want to know what everyone is doing - who has families, who got into what field, but mostly I want to have that sense of being together back again. Avon was such a formative part of my thinking and skills that I've taken with me. It has a very special place in my heart and my thoughts. I hope that someday we can all work together to give back to the school that gave, and continues to give, so much to us."
For more information on Alumni Reunion Weekend 2018 or to register visit www.avonoldfarms.com/reunion or contact Liz Abramson at (860) 404 – 4268.