Tag Archives: John Knowles

Hospitality lights Long Island

Rob Salvatico, a Legatus member in the Long Island Chapter and 45-yearold corporate president, is not the kind of person who thinks things just happen, or that one can stand still waiting for them to happen. Rob is the kind of leader who is hungry for the ball and wants to get into the arena.

“I firmly believe that God has a plan for each of us,” Salvatico says. “As I look back on my life and career so far, a few themes emerge: I want to do good for my family, my business and all the people we employ and serve, and I want to constantly be giving back to the less fortunate.”

From Italian Catholic immigrants

Rob’s perspective has its roots before he was even born, in the remarkable story of his father Albert Salvatico, son of Italian immigrants and native of the Bronx. Catholic institutions, especially Catholic education, were resources the Salvaticos could always count on as they pursued the American dream. Albert recalls that Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx instilled him with the “respect and manners, along with the morals, ethics and confidence” to lead an aspirational life.

Albert rose rapidly through the ranks of leading insurance firms – first as a top executive in established companies, and then founding his own firm, fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming an independent entrepreneur. In 2000, Albert and his brother, Lou, joined with Rob in a completely new venture: developing and managing hotel properties on Long Island. The adventure that awaited them has been remarkable, to say the least.

“By God’s grace, our new family company enjoyed immediate success,” Rob recalls. “We were surprised. We are humble people and when the risks we took and the hard work we put in paid off quickly we felt so blessed. It enriched our family in so many ways and brought us together.”

Faith and family footing

Rob grew up in the Village of New Hyde Park just east of Queens. From the beginning, faith and family were at the center of everything for Rob.

“I’ll never be able to thank my family enough for the foundation they gave me,” Rob says. “From the very beginning, I knew unconditional and limitless love. Our Catholic faith was the foundation for everything. My parents and other relatives embrace all Catholic teachings fully, but more importantly, they live it each day!”

Rob followed his father’s example in realizing the value of Catholic education. He graduated from the acclaimed Chaminade High School in central Long Island before earning his college degree at Hofstra University and an MBA from Fordham University. The timing of Rob completing his advanced education coincided nicely with his family’s new hotel initiative, and Rob became the general manager of Wingate Inn in Garden City, New York. Driving that property to excellence was a key element of the family company’s early success – allowing the Salvaticos to invest in their Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn Express properties on Long Island’s East End, which also prospered. As the company grew, so did Rob’s role, quickly earning promotion to president and chief operating officer (COO).

Hard hit – and healed – from recession

Few businesses experience uninterrupted growth, and the Salvaticos’ company, incorporated as JARAL Properties as their holdings became more numerous, was no exception. “The financial crisis and recession that shocked the economy in 2008 hit my industry hard,” Rob soberly recalls. “The years that followed were the toughest of my life. We were not sure when things would turn around, and we had to make many difficult decisions. As much as my family expressed gratitude when we got off to a great start in the hotel development business, we again turned to our faith and each other to persevere through a terribly rough time.”

The business has recovered fully from the challenges of 2008-12, and today Rob is growing his personal leadership to the next level. He completed the Energeia Partnership of Long Island in 2013, a community-focused curriculum for serviceoriented civic leaders and shortly thereafter accepted an appointment to the Molloy College Board of Trustees. In July 2016, Rob and his wife, Cynthia, joined Legatus, accepting an invitation from several of that chapter’s members who are active in business leadership organizations. Rob jokes that he is known widely as the “Hotel Guy” across Long Island. He hopes to translate his growing recognition and influence into good works for his community.

Change through affirmation

“The Salvaticos have always given back in a big way,” Rob expresses with pride. “Charity and community service are central to our company’s identity. We provide financial support, donate hotel stays, and volunteer hours to worthy causes all over Long Island and beyond.” Rob notes that his father, Albert, a student decades ago at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, today serves as chairman of the board there and is on campus giving back several times a week. Cardinal Hayes has a 100% minority student body and a 98% graduation rate. Rob is also active with Cardinal Hayes and his own alma maters, and says, “Every kid needs to know that they are believed in! Through mentorship and encouraging each young person, we can change lives and families just as mine was transformed.”

His mother, Jean, devoted many years working pro-bono for the Hospice Care Network until the need to care for family became greater, and she now serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Garden City. Rob credits his mother with being the figure in his life most responsible for keeping him strongly connected to the Church and the faith.

Looking forward, Rob is eager to continue growing his company and giving back. “Long Island is my home and I love it, but it has its challenges. Infrastructure issues, divisions among the various interest groups, class segmentation, young people migrating out and others. I am determined to be a part of the solution to these challenges and preserve my home as one of the best places in the world to live and work.”

Legatus has been a positive addition to his life at this exciting moment: “Long Island is a diverse Legatus chapter with many different age ranges, professional orientations, and personal backgrounds represented. It is blessed with amazing leadership starting with Paul and Sherry Durnan and Monsignor Jim Vlaun. Cynthia and I love the ‘date night’ aspect, and being around people who share our values and belief in service. It is important to us that Legatus is a Catholic organization, starting each meeting with the sacraments and Mass. Legatus is a perfect organization for someone with my family’s story and worldview to be an active part of.”

A Philadelphia president’s story

To those busy Catholic professionals who say they don’t have time for Legatus – think again. Thirteen years ago, Sean and MaryJo Bellew, both successful thirty-something lawyers, made the gratifying decision to join Legatus. Earlier this year, Sean finished up a two-year stint as president of the second oldest chapter in the country – Philadelphia – and MaryJo remains an active Legatus member while primarily focused on raising their five children, taking time away from her own successful legal practice. Both of them could not be happier with their decision.

For many Legatus couples, a dedicated monthly Catholic “date night” helps keep their marriage strong, and for Sean and MaryJo, this is no exception. When asked about his advice for young Catholic executives, Sean emphasizes the importance of first choosing a great spouse, then working as a team, setting priorities together, and making sure that Legatus is among them. While this has not always been easy for Bellew, a partner at Duane Morris, one of the largest law firms in the world, it has been well worth it.

According to Sean, one of the other main benefits of Legatus is the opportunity to meet like-minded executives and their spouses. Although over the years Sean has benefited spiritually and professionally, particularly from his relationships with Deacon Al Clay and the other presidents and chapter officers that preceded him, he finds the friendships he’s built with all his fellow Philadelphia Legates truly edifying. He considers many of the Legatus leaders he has grown close to over the years as role models and almost as family.

Sean was very humbled by the Philadelphia board’s confidence in him when they elected him as president and has been delighted to serve. Philadelphia is a thriving Legatus chapter, the largest in the Northeast, with a rich history and a very promising future. He has thoroughly enjoyed working with his fellow board members, and through careful succession planning, is ready to pass on the mantle of leadership to other outstanding leaders. He believes that the new board will perpetuate many of the goals he pursued for the Philadelphia Chapter: increasing membership overall, including younger Catholic professionals; maintaining a very high caliber of programming, especially speakers and spirituality; and increasing fellowship with neighboring Legatus chapters in the surrounding region such as in Wilmington, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, and Bucks County.

Not surprisingly, Sean is convinced that ultimately the greatest benefit he and MaryJo will receive from Legatus is the enrichment of their Catholic faith, and the increased likelihood that their children will be strong in their relationship with Christ as well.

Adversity breeds strength

Ave Maria School of Law weathers storms & critics, emerging stronger than ever . . .

Hunter Felknor could have gone to any of seven law schools after graduating from Ohio’s Miami University, but ultimately he chose a fledgling Catholic institution in Naples, Fla., for its mission and location.

On May 12, Felknor was one of 174 students who formed the largest graduating class in the history of the Ave Maria School of Law, an independent school founded by Tom Monaghan in 1999 to integrate natural law and the Catholic intellectual tradition into the study and practice of law.

Felknor, who recently interned with the Office of the State Attorney in Florida, said Ave Maria far exceeded his expectations.

“I chose Ave Maria with hopes that the people would have more of a sense of community – and that’s what I found,” he explained. “I couldn’t imagine a more genuine community. People there are concerned not just with looking out for themselves, but also putting their faith in front of themselves.”

Tumultuous start

Now led by dean and president Eugene Milhizer, a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, Ave Maria was conceived by a group of professors at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law who lost their jobs after protesting a decision to have a pro-abortion judge give the oath of commitment at the end of a school-sponsored Red Mass for lawyers.

They drew up a proposal for a new law school and presented it to Legatus founder and chairman Tom Monaghan, who funded the school through his Ave Maria Foundation. Monaghan has also acted as chairman of the law school’s board of governors from its inception.

After a successful start with founding dean Bernard Dobranski, top-level professors, and students, however, Ave Maria faced fierce opposition when its board decided in 2007 to relocate from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Naples. Some students and professors decided not to make the move to Florida, but others took a more adversarial position.

Three faculty members filed lawsuits against the school, alleging they had suffered reprisals for opposing the relocation plan. Some faculty members also sent a formal complaint to the American Bar Association, which touched off an investigation into the school’s ability to attract and keep competent faculty.

“The opposition was small in number, but loud in voice,” said John Knowles, Ave Maria’s director of external affairs. “It was a big decision and something no American law school had done: relocate from one part of the country to another. It was just a big decision, and big decisions are rarely uncontroversial.”

Nonetheless, by the time the move took place in 2009, Knowles said, a recovery was well underway. The ABA investigation found the school to be in full compliance with association standards — and that fall, Ave Maria welcomed the biggest class in its history. Fundraising continued to rise, culminating in a record year in 2011. And, by the end of 2009, all three lawsuits stemming from the move had been settled.

Maturity

Today the school continues to thrive on a number of levels, according to Milhizer, who came to the school in 2001 as an associate professor and oversaw the relocation as acting dean.

Last year’s overall enrollment was the largest ever and the alumni rolls are now approaching 1,000. The last two years have been strong in terms of faculty recruitment, he said, and the school has just established its first endowed chair — the Reed Larsen Professorship of Labor Law, supported by the National Right to Work Foundation. The chair is filled by John Raudabaugh, a labor and employment law expert who served on the National Labor Relations Board under President George W. Bush.

Additionally, Milhizer said, the school’s moot court team was one of 16 to make it to the finals of a prestigious American Bar Association national competition. This year, the school also launched the International Law Journal, an online publication that explores international law issues from a Catholic and moral perspective.

Milhizer said he considers the chair, moot court competition, and new law journal to be three significant steps in the law school’s maturity.

Robert George

Robert George, who holds the McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, said when he visited Ave Maria in the spring as commencement speaker, he was particularly struck by students’ intelligence and enthusiasm — and the quality of the younger faculty members he met.

“It’s certainly a good sign for the future of the law school that they’re able to recruit talented, young legal scholars who obviously are deeply committed to the Catholic tradition of the institution,” George said. “You can always tell how an institution is doing by the quality of students and especially its younger faculty. If it’s hiring younger, outstanding faculty, the trajectory is good.”

Academically, the school currently is working on improving its passage rate on the Florida bar exam. Milhizer said the school had years with both good and average bar results in Michigan, but since the move to Florida, the results have left room for improvement.

Independence

Meanwhile, further evidence of a turnaround can be seen in the law school’s independence from Monaghan’s foundation.

“We have become financially self-sufficient in the last two years, which is an important step in the maturation and development of the school,” Milhizer said. “We have to rely not only on tuition, but the support of people who believe in what we’re doing.”

Knowles said the school’s current fundraising priorities include endowed faculty positions and finding ways to subsidize student tuition. Last summer, Ave Maria accepted one of the largest contributions in the school’s history. The six-figure gift will provide a strategic reserve for attracting, recruiting and retaining top students, and providing for their tuition and other expenses, Knowles said.

For current and future students, the school’s Florida location provides abundant opportunities for career preparation because of the presence of a strong bar association, quality law firms and respected local judges, Knowles said. And because Ave Maria is the only law school in southwest Florida, students have an edge when it comes to competing for internships, clinical programs and mentoring opportunities with area legal practitioners, he added.

Knowles said he thinks Ave Maria was able to weather the relocation controversy because those who remained with the school banded together and forged strong relationships. “And they worked harder. They recognized they were part of a great franchise, doing something that had never been done before. Sometimes, adversity breeds strength.”

The school’s future could eventually involve another move — this one to nearby Ave Maria, Fla., home of the university that shares its name. However, Milhizer said, this would require a substantial capital campaign and donors who support relocation, adding that no such plan is imminent.

In the near term, the school is more likely to consider offering a graduate law degree program or devising ways to reach into Latin America and the Caribbean. Milhizer said the school recently began a strategic planning process, the results of which should be available within the next year.

For now, he said, “We would like to continue to do what we’re doing in terms of educating students the way we are.”

Judy Roberts is Legatus magazine’s staff„ writer.