Passion and Persistence: Alumni Career Day Offers Students Advice on Life and Careers

When Tim Gaillard ’61 graduated from The Gunnery, he said he and most of his classmates planned to work for a single, large company such as IBM after college, and stay with that company for life “because they would take care of you.”
“Entrepreneurs were artists, and you didn’t want to do that because you wouldn’t make much money,” said Gaillard, who went on to become a highly successful entrepreneur in hotel and restaurant consulting, as well as advertising and public relations. He has taught entrepreneurial students and advised entrepreneurs on the key principles of starting their own businesses, and now, in “semi-retirement,” has launched his sixth entrepreneurial business, making furniture.

Gaillard was one of 17 Gunnery alumni from the Class of 1957 to the Class of 2014 who returned to campus on April 28 for Alumni Career Day. The annual event provides an opportunity for alumni to talk with current students about their college experiences and career paths, and how The Gunnery prepared them for life after high school.

The alumni in attendance this year represented diverse fields, including film and television, veterinary medicine, finance, business development, public relations, political consulting, technology, qualitative research, innovation consulting, commerce and education. Some were just starting their careers while others, like Gaillard, have enjoyed multiple careers. All were eager to share what they have learned on their journeys.

During two, morning break-out sessions, small groups of 10 to 15 students met with one featured alumnus or alumna for classroom discussions that were facilitated by Gunnery faculty. The students also were invited to attend a networking session and a luncheon with the alumni in Solley Dining Hall, where they could engage in one-on-one discussions and ask questions.

“The goal was to help students find out more about the fields they're interested in and provide opportunities for them to ask very specific questions,” said Jessica Baker, Associate Director of Alumni & Parent Engagement, who envisioned and executed the new structure for the day.

During his discussion with students, Gaillard noted that the average number of jobs someone was expected to have in their lifetime used to be 1.5. “Now it’s five,” he said, encouraging students to find their passion and use it to launch a successful business. “Know what you’re comfortable with, what you like and don’t like,” he advised.

After graduating from Colby College, Gaillard’s first job at the age of 19 was at the Hilton Hotel in New York City, which had opened just in time to serve patrons of the 1965 World’s Fair. He was promoted several times within the company and became the banquet manager of the Parkview Hilton in Hartford, which was built in 1954 overlooking Bushnell Park and catered many important social and political events during his tenure. When Hilton offered to promote Gaillard to a new managerial position at the Hilton in Buffalo, New York, he turned the company down, because it required a five-year commitment. He chose instead to return to Washington, Connecticut, where Headmaster Ogden Miller offered him an opportunity to serve as General Manager of the Mayflower Inn, which was at that time owned by The Gunnery.

He successfully turned the struggling business around and a few years later, left the hotel and restaurant industry to begin a new career in advertising and public relations. He started his own firm in 1983 with the help of a friend and created award-winning marketing and public relations campaigns for consumer and business-to-business clients.

Gaillard has since lectured on marketing and public relations trends and techniques at area universities and served on the boards of six business associations. Based on his own experiences, he advised current students interested in entrepreneurship to make sure they have a business and marketing plan, to pay themselves a salary, and to seek out experienced business owners and interview them about what they did right, and what they did wrong, in starting their companies. “Go talk to the people running those businesses and pick their brains. They love doing it,” he said.

A more recent Gunnery graduate, Victoria Lussier ’10, studied Spanish and Italian language and literature at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She lived in Florence, Italy, for eight months during her junior year of college and now lives and works in New York City, where she is an account executive for Direct Energy Business, one of the largest commercial retail energy suppliers in North America.

“Sometimes what you study and what you’re passionate about isn’t your job – and that’s OK,” Lussier told the students, admitting that she hasn’t always know what she wanted to do in terms of her career. “It’s important to have a general idea of what you want to be,” she said. But she said, “There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do it. It’s about what's right for you.”

Although she “planned everything” as a student at The Gunnery and in college, she said she would not have known that she would end up in her current job. She started working for Direct Energy Business, formerly known as HESS, as an intern in college. The internship not only helped get her foot in the door, it fast-tracked her career. When a temporary position opened up, she applied, and was hired after a one-hour interview.

As part of her inside sales role, she had to cold call customers by phone and in person. “That was character building,” she said. “It’s kind of a rite of passage in sales, and it was my least favorite thing that I’ve had to do.”

Her advice to students: be persistent. And always send a handwritten thank-you note after an interview. This spring, she earned her fourth promotion within the company.

Outside of work, Lussier volunteers in the children’s wing at a domestic violence center and at Ronald McDonald House. She is also planning to return to Italy for the first time since 2012.

Caption: Featured guests at The Gunnery’s 2019 Alumni Career Day included:
Otoja Abit ’04 – Writer, actor, producer and director
Jennie Archer ’11 – Veterinary Assistant Team Lead, Clarendon Animal Care
Hilary Benjamin ’08 – Associate, Credit Finance, Apollo Global Management
Peter Bergen ’84 – Founder & Principal, NassauPoint
Wyatt Clark ’13 – Private Wealth Manager, Merrill Lynch
Tim Gaillard ’64 – Entrepreneur and craftsman, No 2 Alike
Chris Healy ’76 – Executive Director, Connecticut Catholic Conference
Aaron Levy ’12 – Co-founder, GenH
Victoria Lussier ’10 – Account Executive, Direct Energy Business
Francesca Moscatelli ’80 – Qualitative Research Consultant, Integral Researchers
Meg O’Brien ’84 – Director of Finance and Administration, the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale University
Amanda Payne ’14 – Innovation Analyst, Fahrenheit 212
Andy Powers ’11 – Senior Consultant, EY
Jack Reynolds ’68 – Founder/Principal, Reynolds Group, Private Investment Counselors
Peter Smith ’57 – Visiting Lecturer, Political Science and International Relations, University of Colorado-Boulder
Emily Wierdsma ’96 – Special Education Teacher, Eagle Hill School
Trevor Ogden ’00 – Academic Dean, English faculty, Hackley School

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.