What happens when we bridge the gap between the real world and our imagination?
“Balance,” says chief executive James “Jim” Keyes ’77, “and the ability to move forward in wonderfully creative ways.”
When technical know-how is coupled with art, the result can produce wonders like Edison’s light bulb, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight and Steve Jobs’ Apple revolution.
It’s why CEOs like Keyes, chairman and chief executive officer of natural grocery chain Wild Oats Marketplace, take note of job applicants who have an interest or background in the arts. A former history major who enjoys sculpting, painting and music when he’s not at the office, Keyes credits Holy Cross’ liberal arts education with propelling him to success in business strategy and marketing. Tapping into the arts, he says, trained him to thrive in subjectivity, critical thinking and communication — necessary skills in the corporate world, where few things are black and white.
“In retail, consumer demand changes every day. There is constantly a new consumer product on the market,” explains Keyes, who also served as CEO of Blockbuster and 7-Eleven. “The challenge lies in being open and seeing into tomorrow’s needs, not yesterday’s. That requires a combination of left-brain technical skills to lead the business and right-brain creativity to understand the needs of a consumer.”
A 21-year veteran of 7-Eleven, the world’s largest chain of convenience stores, Keyes served as president and CEO from 2000 until 2005. Under his leadership, the company experienced record sales and profits. He is a firm believer that employees trained in the liberal arts add value to a company by imagining possibilities and adapting to changing priorities. An emphasis on creativity and critical thinking, Keyes adds, is vital to the success of any business.
Around 12 years ago, following a business trip to Japan, Keyes convinced Anheuser-Busch to get excited about beer in aluminum bottles, and he stocked 7-Eleven with it, a first in the United States.
“The aluminum bottle originated at a minibar in Japan. The first time I picked one up, it was so cold, I could barely hold it,” recalls Keyes. “I brought that package back to the U.S. and shared it with Anheuser-Busch. For me, that experience stands as a classic example that there are opportunities to be creative everywhere we look. Even in a minibar at a hotel, you can find the next great idea.”
Michael Beatty, acting chair of Holy Cross’ visual arts department, says a background in the arts, whether it’s visual, music, theater or literature, is a signpost for hiring managers.
“It suddenly makes that person a little more interesting,” Beatty says, adding that one of his former students, now an employee at Voya Financial, was an attractive prospect thanks to his visual arts training at Holy Cross.
“The arts stand out because it’s original research,” Beatty explains. “You’re creating something new and just doing that gives you a certain sense of confidence in your own ideas and projecting them to the public.”
Employees trained in the arts also bring an alternative point of view in day-to-day decision-making, Beatty adds.
“Students who have a deeper understanding of what art means in our culture — that’s a very important perspective to have. It broadens your horizon, and that’s a very important thing in the world for better understanding other people and one’s self.”
Having a visible space on campus dedicated to the arts (see story about the new center for arts and creativity), adds Beatty, where students can study, perform, discuss and explore those places where imagination and the real world intersect, takes the idea that arts are integral to a Holy Cross liberal arts education and transforms it into a physical manifestation.
“The new center for the arts and creativity is a place to experiment and cross boundaries as students take inspiration from working in the arts and integrate those lessons into the rest of their lives,” Beatty says. “Whether one is a biology student, a math major or a theatre major, the new center will be a space where diverse perspectives can collaborate and learn to question what is possible.”
Keyes likes to think of his business projects as blank canvases. He often gives public talks on “The Art of Business,” in which he shares three ingredients to becoming successful: Expect things to change, have confidence and maintain a sense of simplicity.
“We are all artists, we were all born with the ability to create,” says Keyes, who praises his mom, Dorothy, for not being a stickler about coloring inside the lines.
“It’s a matter of overcoming our fear of failure,” he adds. “We tend to go through life with our heads down, just focusing on the task. The arts at Holy Cross have given me the ability to go through life with my head up, still focusing on the task, but at the same time taking in all the beauty around me.”
Keyes’ perspective on the arts is far from unique. Meet other Holy Cross alumni who say their arts background enriches and enhances their careers.
Reminiscent of keys on a piano, this crosswalk is on Wall Street in New York City — where Natalya Krykova ’14 uses skills from her piano training every day as a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase. Photo by Michael Paras
Natalya Krykova was a recipient of the Brooks Music Scholarship, which provides a full tuition scholarship to students who demonstrate outstanding achievement and also major in music or pair their music major with a second course of study, and she chose a psychology major in addition to piano.
While a classically trained pianist might seem an unlikely fit for Wall Street, Krykova says her education in the arts fine-tuned her performance for her current role as a strategy associate at one of the largest financial institutions in the country. Today at JP Morgan Chase, Krykova breaks down complex business issues into simple terms so that they are not only understood by an audience, but can be altered as needed.
“Piano taught me to be very methodical, diligent and determined,” Krykova says. “Like any instrument, it takes so much practice. That has also taught me patience. I apply what I’ve learned from piano to my job every day.”
Born in Ukraine, Krykova began playing piano when she was 5 years old. Her family moved to the U.S., settling in Nashua, New Hampshire, when she was 8. In addition to naming her a Brooks Music Scholar, Krykova says Holy Cross gave her the opportunity to explore other interests simultaneously. She delved into courses in the health professions advising program and interned at Fallon Community Health Plan in Worcester, where she was introduced to strategy and business development.
“I didn’t really see myself going into medicine, but strategy was problem solving, and it was helping people,” Krykova says. “Holy Cross is all about that. This was work where I found myself helping to make policies that worked for people, to make their lives better by guiding them through a complicated system.”
Still, finance was not even on her radar.
“Econ majors want to do finance,” she says. “I had no desire to do anything related to finance.”
In her senior year, she began applying to jobs with an open mind. Every business has strategy jobs and she combed through listings from technology to retail. Then her parents gave her some wise advice: Why don’t you call up alumni from your school and ask them what they do?
She reached out to several Holy Cross alumni, asking questions about what their average work days were like, what they loved best and what they found most challenging about their jobs. Finally, a call to an alumna working in strategy at Morgan Stanley piqued her interest.
“I thought, you’re learning everyday — problem solving, helping teams and helping to make the company better?” she says. “It sounded like a perfect fit.”
Krykova fired off her resume to Morgan Stanley. Her training in music combined with her education at Holy Cross, she says, made her a more interesting candidate for the job.
These days, the musician/Wall Street strategist continues to play piano to feed her artistic soul. At 24, Krykova has already crossed two major items off her bucket list. The first was performing on stage at Carnegie Hall when she was just 17. The second was moving to New York City after graduation.
“Every day I thank piano for helping develop my artistic side, and Holy Cross for helping me take that training and think outside the box with it.”
Dr. Jim Maliszewski ’07, an internal medicine physician, checks in with patients during morning rounds at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Photo by Ryan Henriksen
James Maliszewski understands the value of listening. A hospitalist at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, Maliszewski treats adult in-patients. Those individuals most likely have no clue their caregiver was a visual arts major. But majoring in art in tandem with taking premed classes (known today as health professions advising) gave Maliszewski the best of both worlds.
“Focusing on more than just the science has definitely made me a better doctor,” he explains. “There’s the whole art of medicine — the human interaction — that goes into your work as well. To connect with and empathize with another human being is not something that can be learned in a textbook.”
Like many first-year students, Maliszewski wasn’t exactly sure which career path he wanted to pursue. At first, he studied chemistry, before exploring visual arts courses during his junior year.
“I always loved drawing and felt I would have a lot more fun focusing on what I really enjoyed,” he says.
His first drawing class sold him on a major in visual arts.
“That really got me started because it sparked within me an approach to drawing that I had never really thought about,” he recalls. “Every new art class expanded my view. There wasn’t a class I didn’t enjoy.”
That same year, Maliszewski, whose parents both work in medicine, decided he wanted to become a physician. His training in the arts, he says, was just as vital as the sciences to the development of his physician skill set.
“Day to day, working in medicine can be an odd job,” he says. “You frequently meet people in the setting of real physical and emotional suffering. Helping a patient navigate that experience can be tricky.”
Life is not a straight path, and Maliszewski credits his arts and humanities education at Holy Cross for preparing him to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.
That same education also makes him a unique candidate in a hospital setting, where many of his peers are strictly science-oriented.
“When someone comes in and is diagnosed with cancer, I’m not going to open a book and explain it on a cellular level,” he says. “In that moment people need a physician who can guide them through by listening, asking the right questions without lecturing, and using imagination to walk in their shoes. On the worst day of their life people don’t need a doctor, but another human being who can empathize.”
Every student, Maliszewski adds, can benefit from taking some classes in the arts.
“The unique thing we acquire at Holy Cross is a very broad intellectual foundation,” he says. “I have depended on that foundation throughout my training and career and it has allowed me to keep a much more open mind. Being open to learning new things and having new experiences is what the Magis is all about.”
Propped on the couch with her ideas, her two children and Shakespeare over her left shoulder, Emily Strong Holmes ’04 works on a draft of her sixth novel — leveraging the imagination from her theatre major to fulfill a childhood dream born at age 10. Photo by Tom Rettig
Once upon a time, Emily Strong Holmes was bit by the acting bug. “Reading, writing plays and performing was a huge part of my life,” says Holmes, who fondly recalls her days on the stage at Wakefield High School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. “I knew I wanted to focus on the arts in college and the strength of the theatre program at Holy Cross was a major reason why I decided to attend.”
At Holy Cross, Holmes immersed herself not only in stage performances, but the behind-the-scenes creative process of writing and production work. Here, Holmes says, she learned one of her most important life lessons.
“We can easily get too caught up with the idea of perfection,” she explains. “With scene work and production work, you never really get it right. You just get it closer. It’s a beautifully messy, creative process that lets us walk in other people’s shoes, helps us to understand life experiences and reminds us that we’re all human.”
Following graduation, Holmes’ love of theatre brought her back to Wakefield High, where she worked as the school’s theatre director. She became certified in English and public speaking, which led her to teaching English full time.
Then five years ago, Holmes’ daughter, Lily, was born and Holmes found herself stepping back from theatre and diving into her laptop, where a book began to emerge.
A young adult paranormal thriller, “Spirit Legacy” follows college student Jess Ballard who, at a critical time in her life, begins to see ghosts. Some of the book’s imagery, adds Holmes, comes from her memories of the Holy Cross campus.
“It started out as a bucket-list kind of thing,” she says. “I thought, even if this never takes off, I can say I started it, I finished it, and I can be proud of the fact that I produced something tangible to put on my bookshelf.”
Nearly six books later, Holmes’ writing career has become successful enough for her to quit her day job and pursue writing full time. But getting here, she adds, had much to do with her experience in theatre at Holy Cross.
“Theatre prepares you to take risks, to trust your creative strengths and put yourself out there to tell stories that you might not be able to do otherwise,” she says.
After sending out several query letters to traditional publishers and not getting any serious bites, Holmes decided to publish her book herself. Lily Faire Publishing was born and Holmes’ first book was available for sale to the public in July 2013. Since then, she has welcomed her second child, Myles, now 2, and her Gateway Trilogy series has sold tens of thousands of copies on eeholmes.com and Amazon. The third book in Holmes’ Gateway Trackers spin-off series is due out this year.
“Ten-year-old me would be very excited about this because she was always curled up with a book,” Holmes says.
The arts at Holy Cross, she adds, is vital in offering life skills that are applicable across the spectrum of job opportunities and life opportunities.
“Everyone at some point in their lives is going to have a job interview, to speak in front of a group or sit down one-on-one with a colleague to work through a project or solve a problem,” Holmes says. “The arts help us discover who we are, teach empathy and give us a broader sense of the world. Because if we can’t connect with people, then what are we here for?”
Written by Rita Savard for the Summer 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.
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