Alumni couple impact UA students, campus community during whirlwind visit


  1. Reconnect with friends at alma mater. “Check.”
  2. Receive prestigious Simonetti Award. “Check.”
  3. Inspire UA students during luncheon. “Check.”
  4. Serve as keynote speaker for H. Peter Burg series. “Check.”
  5. Carry Zips pride everywhere and make plans to return to UA. “Check.” and “Check.”

Diana '80 and James '82 McCool

It might not have been the official itinerary for James ’82 and Diana ’80 McCool, who visited The University of Akron on April 11 from their home in San Francisco, but the checklist certainly provides an accurate description of the couple’s activity-packed day on campus.

After accepting an invitation from Ravi Krovi, dean of the College of Business Administration, to be honored as a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Dr. Frank L. Simonetti Distinguished Business Alumni Award, Jim graciously agreed that he and Diana also would make the most of their day on campus – meeting and impacting as many fellow Zips as time would permit.

First stop: Simonetti Award
The day began early for the McCools at the Sunrise Breakfast – the traditional venue for Simonetti Award recipients. Jim, who holds a B.S. in business administration from UA, was one of just five alumni to be presented with the award, which recognizes both professional excellence that brings honor to the College of Business Administration and an unselfish record of service to an alumnus’ local community and beyond.

A 28-year veteran of the financial services industry, Jim is executive vice president of Client Solutions Enterprise with Charles Schwab, where he oversees numerous key business units and wealth-management acquisitions. His impressive career also includes service in government affairs on issues of regulatory reform affecting defined contribution plans, and he has provided expert testimony on various issues involving the retirement plan industry. What’s more, Jim was congressionally appointed to the Department of Labor ERISA Advisory Council in 2005, which he chaired in 2007; is a member of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries; and holds multiple securities licenses.

Second stop: Student luncheon
The McCools next enjoyed lunch with College of Business faculty and students who serve as officers of the University’s Financial Management Association and Financial Planning Association student groups.

College of Business faculty and students enjoyed lunch with the McCools, who shared insights on achieving personal and professional success.

Pleased for the opportunity to inspire students and share thoughts on achieving personal and professional success, the couple emphasized the importance of leadership, setting goals, following-through, and becoming stronger and more effective from mistakes. Jim, a pilot, also commented on the similarities between flying an airplane and a successful career, noting that successful people – like pilots with instrument certification – are able to navigate tasks to completion regardless of the climate.

Most importantly, the couple remarked how their Midwestern values have contributed significantly to their success over the years, and they encouraged students to use these values to their advantage. Both Jim and Diana are Ohio natives who met on the UA campus when Jim, who was president of Phi Sigma Kappa, invited Diana to a dance. Now living in California, the couple said they frequently are asked about their Midwestern roots – particularly if they are from Ohio – because their treatment of others stands out in a good way.

Final stop: H. Peter Burg speaker series
The most recent in a long line of impressive leaders to address College of Business students through the H. Peter Burg Personal Leadership and Development Speaker Series, Jim spoke candidly about his career in the financial services industry. He discussed his increasing responsibilities, some of his greatest challenges, and the qualities today’s students will need to be successful.

James McCool spoke candidly about his career in the financial services industry with UA students enrolled in the the College of Business Administration.

Jim challenged students to “keep their eyes wide and their antennas up” in an effort to see the unmet, unexpressed needs of a customer, and he shared some of his guiding principles, including:

  1. Moving from an “I” to a “we” mindset,
  2. Perfecting the service experience,
  3. Realizing that every interaction makes a difference,
  4. Demonstrating courage under fire, and
  5. Building trust through accountability.

Jim also shared his belief that Akron possessed a critical core strength that was evident in graduates from The University of Akron: The city and the University produce great people who have an extraordinary work and service ethic.

As their full day of meeting and sharing with students and other members of the UA campus came to a close, the McCools remarked how rewarding their experience had been. The couple also looked forward to taking part in yet another UA tradition – returning to campus every April to honor the new class of Simonetti award winners.

Ongoing student support
Avid supporters of The University of Akron, the McCools have offered their expertise and made gifts in support of student success.

Jim, for example, served as keynote speaker of the 2012 Economic Summit, “Strategies in an Uncertain Global Environment,” hosted by the Department Finance in UA’s College of Business Administration. In speaking to an audience of students and professionals, he provided his outlook on the economy and explained what companies can do to build and maintain their reputation, emphasizing that service and courageous leadership are the top attributes.

In addition, the couple has, for two consecutive years, provided a gift enabling UA business students to attend the national IMPACT conference, an invitation-only forum hosted by Charles Schwab that brings together influential presenters, exhibitors, and experts to network and learn about industry issues and best practices. The IMPACT conference was held in Chicago and Washington, D.C., in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and is scheduled for Denver in 2014.

As evidenced by student remarks, the conference has been a most worthwhile experience:

“Thank you so much for your generous gift in sending me to the Charles Schwab IMPACT Conference,” wrote Danielle Molyet in a letter to the McCools. “The experience provided top-notch industry education, and it also taught me professional skills, such as networking. Since the conference, I have already made connections with several professionals from across the country, and I feel much more confident in finding full-time employment after graduation.”

“Thank you for the experience that made my senior year one to remember,” wrote Zach Savage. “I really enjoyed discussing the lessons your coach taught on effective presentations.”

And Sally Schmitt added, “It’s thanks to your generosity that students are able to become excited about the business world. I’ve taken a lot away from the week in D.C. and want to again thank you for the wonderful experience.”