Board chair Alan Griffith ’64 ends distinguished career at The Bank of New York
Lafayette Alumni News, September 2005 – Accustomed to being at the sharp end of organizations, Alan R. Griffith ’64, chair of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees, won’t let his recent retirement as vice chairman of The Bank of New York end his leadership efforts.
“It’s time” to retire, he said in mid-June, two weeks before his final day at the bank. “It has been a very rewarding career. I’ve been here 41 years. Retirement will enable me to devote more time to Lafayette and the other non-profits with which I am heavily engaged, so that will keep me busy.”
“My Lafayette activities are meaningful and tremendously rewarding,” he says “The college is such an important institution, and its mission is so important. My retirement now gives me the ability to deal with people in the administration and faculty and with fellow board members. They are all dedicated and impressive individuals, and the experience of interacting with them on the challenges and opportunities facing the college is very rewarding.
For Griffith, increasing the percentage of alumni who make a contribution to the College every year is an important priority.
“A strong level of financial support from alumni is vital for Lafayette’s future. Without it the college just couldn’t move forward,” says Griffith, who chaired the New York City regional portion of the six-year, $213 million Lafayette Leadership Campaign (1995-2001).
“When alumni realize how their Lafayette Experience helped prepare them for success – not just financial success, but enrichment and enjoyment in their lives – along with this comes, hopefully, a commitment to support the College and to make sure similar opportunities are provided to future students.”
It’s not surprising that Griffith values commitment so deeply. Spending four decades not only in the same industry, but at the same company, is increasingly rare in the business world’s high echelon, regardless of the generation.
“There were constantly new challenges, and it was and is a very good organization, so I was never tempted to leave,” he says. “Other opportunities were presented over the years, but what was going on at the bank continued to be interesting and stimulating.”
Less than a month after receiving his Lafayette diploma Griffith began as a management trainee with Empire Trust Company, which was acquired by The Bank of New York in 1966. He held several key positions at the bank.
He became assistant treasurer in 1971, assistant vice president in 1972, and vice president in 1974. He was elected senior vice president in 1982, and organized the communications, entertainment, and publishing division, which has been one of the fastest-growing areas of the bank’s corporate banking business. The division is recognized as a leader in lending to the cable television industry, broadcasting companies, newspaper and magazine publishers, and the entertainment industry.
In 1985, he was elected executive vice president and named head of the special-industries banking sector. Three years later he was elevated to senior executive vice president. He became chief credit policy officer in 1989.
In 1990, he was elected senior executive vice president of The Bank of New York Company and president of The Bank of New York. Since December 1994, he served as vice chairman of both the company and the bank. In April he will conclude his service as a director.
“The Bank of New York was founded by Alexander Hamilton. It’s an organization with tremendous history, tradition, and global respect – it’s a quite a tribute that it has survived all these years. It has transformed itself as we have become a global organization, and I have been intimately involved in that transformation and change,” he says.
“I’ve been able to travel all over the world and to watch us grow and be successful. That success comes from the personal relationships. It’s not one person, it’s working as a team to achieve goals. And that has been very rewarding and satisfying.”
Even before he officially organized the communications, entertainment, and publishing division, Griffith was positioning the bank to be a communications industry leader, foreseeing the growth potential of cable television.
“I always found radio, television, and cable television to be interesting industries. We had major involvements from a banking standpoint with the cable television industry very early on, back in the ’70s,” he recalls. “That gave me the opportunity to be very involved with the beginnings of some of today’s major companies, Comcast, Viacom, and Time Warner.”
For the past decade Griffith was responsible for the company’s international banking sector. His experience positions him to judge how well Lafayette prepares students to comprehend and adapt to globalization’s challenges.
“Lafayette isn’t just preparing students for banking or other businesses, but for the global marketplace,” he says. “Its curriculum, its programs that give a significant percentage of students overseas experience, its effort to build geographic diversity in the student population, which provides opportunity for understanding and cultural exchange, all prepare students for the years ahead and the global world we live in right now. The College has been out in front on this for years.”
“Lafayette’s success under Art Rothkopf’s leadership has been extraordinary, and the institution is stronger today than it was 12 years ago by any measure,” he continues. “It says a lot that this institution was able to attract someone of Dan Weiss’ capabilities as president.”
Griffith, who received the George T. Woodring ’19 Volunteer of the Year Award in 1999 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2001, has been active in Lafayette’s leadership since the late 1980s. A trustee since 1994, he succeeded Lawrence J. Ramer ’50 as board chair in 2001.
He chaired the Lafayette Leadership Council and was a member of the All-College Task Force on Alcohol and Substance Abuse (1998) and All-College Committee on Selectivity (1999).
Griffith has taken particular pleasure in hosting student groups at his workplace, sharing with them his insights and experience in the banking industry.
Increasing the number alumni who participate each year as donors to the annual fund is critical for the long-term health of the college, Griffith says. All gifts, small or large, help advance the College, he stresses.
Improving annual fund participation among recent graduates is particularly important, he adds, noting that for younger alumni, participation as annual donors is more important than the money given.
“Students graduate with a great deal of enthusiasm about what they have received from the College and a sense of what they can bring to the College. We need to work hard to maintain that engagement, not lose it and try to reestablish it years later,” he says. “I was very pleased to see the high level of giving in the graduating class this year. It’s a very good sign.”
Lafayette’s advancement also depends on the volunteer efforts of alumni, Griffith emphasizes. “The college’s ability to meet its mission largely depends on it,”
“We are blessed with a terrific group of people who are engaged at the college. If you could quantify it, literally hundreds of people are doing something for the college every day. It’s almost hard to imagine how broad the support is on a day-to-day basis. I am literally awed. It’s a great strength of Lafayette, and it’s one reason why I and many others are so confident about the future of the College.”
Griffith also plans to share more of his time with other non-profits about which he cares deeply.
For more than 25 years he has been on the board of the ALS Association, dedicated to the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Though he isn’t touched personally by ALS, he has devoted tremendous effort to the cause. For 10 years he organized the Lou Gehrig Sports Award dinner, which has grossed more than $8 million.
Griffith serves on the boards of two organizations near his home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. His is also co-chair of the British-North America Committee, a group of leaders from business, labor, and academia in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada committed to constructive relations among the three countries and their citizens.
“Anybody who has participated in supporting non-profit organizations, without exception, will tell you how personally rewarding and enjoyable it is. It is definitely a two-way street,” he says.
He hastens to add that retirement also means more time to spend with his wife, Penny, his children, Tim and Libby, and Libby’s five-and-a-half-year-old twins, “both of whom have been to Lafayette,” he says proudly.