Fenwick nurtured the service seeds planted by the parents of this alumnus, who has been employing the power of business to solve social problems for five decades.
By Mark Vruno
Fenwick High School and University of Notre Dame alumnus Paul Tierney, Jr. ’60 resides on the East Coast in Darien, Connecticut, and New York City. But his humanitarian roots were planted at home in La Grange Park, IL, and at St. Francis Xavier Parish & School.
“My mother and father always talked about the importance of doing good works for your fellow man,” says Mr. Tierney, who is three months into his retirement as chairman of TechnoServe, an international, nonprofit organization that promotes business solutions to poverty. The company works with enterprising people in the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses and industries. “Our clients are small, poor, grassroots,” he notes.
Tierney encourages the use of private equity and venture capital to fund entrepreneurial firms in locales such as Africa and Latin America. As he told Forbes magazine in 2010, he believes this funding approach “can be a superior alternative to the traditional development funds funneled through the likes of the World Bank,” the international financial institution that provides loans to countries of the world for capital projects.
Paul Tierney at a Glance
From La Grange Park, IL / St. Francis Xavier
Fenwick High School, Class of 1960
University Notre Dame, 1964 (magna cum laude)
Harvard Business School, 1968 (Baker scholar)
U.S. Peace Corps (Chile)
Growing up Catholic had a lot to do with his public-service interests, especially helping those less fortunate. “My parents taught that with great gifts, great action is expected,” points out Tierney, who has had a highly successful career in investments. The then-youngster heeded the advice of Mr. & Mrs. Tierney, whose ideals and principles, in turn, were honed and nurtured by the Dominicans at Fenwick. Fifty years ago, using the power of business to solve social problems was somewhat radical; it definitely was not a mainstream notion.
Tierney graduated magna cum laude in 1964 from ND, where he majored in philosophy. He applied to law school, business school and several doctoral programs but instead chose the Peace Corps, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s volunteer organization founded three years earlier. “I was sent to Chile on an economic-development program to work with farmers in the agrarian reform movement,” he explains. “My job was to help people structure and improve cooperatives.”
While in rural South America, Tierney says he met a lot of bright people in development. “but few of them knew business or had practical skills.” So, after his service, he went to Harvard Business School (HBS) on a fellowship from the Ford Foundation“to learn how commerce actually works. By the time I finished my MBA program [in ’68 as a Baker Scholar],” he adds, “I thought that more effective work in economic development would be done in the private sector.” In a 2002 profile written by the Harvard Business School, Tierney says he realized he could make a larger impact on society if he first succeeded in business. “I’ve really had two careers,” he observed, “one as a for-profit financial entrepreneur and one as a crusader for economic development.”
Tierney set out on what would be a 30-year career in investment management, first starting a merchant bank in London and then overseeing financial programs at the U.S. Railway Association, which would become Conrail (now CSX). Next, he was a senior vice president at White, Weld & Co., which Merrill Lynch purchased. In 1978, he co-founded Gollust, Tierney & Oliver, the general partner for Coniston Partners, which was a $1-billion value investment partnership focused on strategic block investing and private equity. The firm split up in the mid-1990s.
“After about 15 years of building my own company, I felt like I should come up for air,” Tierney reflects. “I’d made some money, I had some experience, I saw how the real world operated, and I understood capital markets. But I still had a taste for the work I was interested in when I was in the Peace Corps.”
Technology in the Service of Mankind
Tierney started looking for ways of getting re-engaged and surveyed several organizations. “I found many relief organizations, but I didn’t find many development-assistance organizations,” he told HBS. “I wanted something that was hands-on and firm-based, not just a think tank or a Band-Aid.” A friend mentioned TechnoServe, and Tierney’s world changed
Businessman and philanthropist Ed Bullard founded TechnoServe in 1968 after his experience volunteering at a hospital in rural Ghana, West Africa. Bullard was inspired to start an organization that would help hard-working people harness the power of private enterprise to lift themselves out of poverty. He launched TechnoServe – short for “technology in the service of mankind” – to help poor people by connecting them to information and market opportunities. “It was a much smaller organization back then, with a single office in Norwalk, CT, and an annual budget of around $5 million,” Tierney remembers.
“I visited four of the countries TechnoServe operated in and, as I saw what was going on in the field, I became more and more confident that this was an organization with a good approach that was making a real impact.” Tierney kept stepping up his involvement with TechnoServe, starting as a volunteer member, then a board member, then chairman of the Executive Committee and, ultimately, chairman in 1992.
For 27 years he was at the helm, steering the philanthropic “ship” into countries such as Haiti in the Caribbean, India in South Asia and Mozambique in Southeast Africa along the Indian Ocean coast. Based in Washington, D.C., TechnoServe today has grown to more than 1,500 employees and operates in 29 countries. “Thirty-five years ago, there were only five or six [countries],” Tierney reports. TechnoServe has become a leader in harnessing the power of the private sector to help people lift themselves out of poverty. “By linking people to information, capital and markets, we have helped millions to create lasting prosperity for their families and communities,” proclaims its website.
One of his favorite success stories from the field is set in civil war-torn Mozambique, where Tierney encountered female workers in a cashew-processing facility who were grateful for their jobs. “It was very hard, grinding work, but these women told me they were happy to be able to do it in safe conditions,” he remembers. “They were sending their children to school with the money they were earning.”
At a coffee project in Tanzania, people literally broke out in song and dance, praising TechnoServe for the work it did, which has contributed to a greater level of education in the community. “It is gratifying to see how this type of work allows a second or third generation to continue on a trajectory of significantly increasing their standard of living,” he shares.
Meanwhile, at Aperture Venture Partners, the other half of Tierney’s time was spent assisting portfolio companies interested in healthcare in a variety of ways – from strategy and raising capital to M&A, business development and corporate governance. He also is co-founder, managing member and partner of Development Capital Partners, LLC, a New York-based investment firm with an exclusive focus on “frontier” and emerging markets such as Africa, India and Latin America. His son, Matthew, is the other co-founder.
Fenwick builds on foundation
When he thinks back to his high-school days 59+ years ago, Tierney cites the overall culture and style of Fenwick: “Its tradition of education and achievement,” he notes. Father Regan had a particularly strong influence over young Paul. “He was the best theology teacher, in my opinion, and made the most sense out of Christianity and Catholicism.”
Father Jacobs was Fenwick’s Dean of Studies in the late 1950s. “He was approachable,” Tierney recalls, “and talked a lot about [my] interests.” He has fond memories of Latin Teacher Fr. Hren’s invitation-only “Mozarteum” group that featured pizza and music. “For me, it added a level of sophistication to school,” says Tierney, admitting that Gene Autry cowboy songs were about the extent of his play-list genre early in life.
“At Fenwick, I participated in a lot of teams, clubs and activities,” he remembers. The 1960 Blackfriars yearbook lists Tierney as a member of the National Honor Society as well as the golf and debate teams. “Father Conway taught math and coached debate at that time,” he says. “We also competed in oratorical contests,” which is where Tierney developed his capacity to think on his feet, argue, debate and speak in public. He reflects: “These skills have served me well, always.”