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How a Ph.D. student Became a Corporate Vice President

Bob Kelly: Corporate Vice President for M&A Strategy and Business Development, Microsoft  

Date published: June 29, 2016

What brought you to UD?

Bob Kelly

As a high schooler my father started a liberal arts high school in central Massachusetts. He himself was a well-read and decently educated man who loved learning and wanted to expose us to the finest thinkers and he thought there was no way we were going to get that in our local parochial school. So he took matters into his own hands. It so happened that same year, 1978, there was another liberal arts school founded about 30 mins north of where we lived. This was a liberal arts college however by the name of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. Because they shared similar visions and were so close, my dad and his co-founders befriended the founders of Thomas More, one of whom was Dr. Mary Mumbach, a graduate of UD and one of Dr. Louise Cowan’s beloved students. Well as it would turn out, 8 of the 10 Kelly kids attended and graduated Thomas More and many of us had the extraordinary good fortune to not only have Dr. Mumbach as a professor but also to have studied with both Drs Louise and Donald Cowan. For me personally, when I made the decision to go to graduate school to get my Ph.D., the choice was obvious. It didn’t hurt that my older sister Kathleen Kelly (now Marks) attended UD for 2 years ahead of me so the path was worn smooth for me to find my way to UD.

Tell me a little about your experience at UD?

What can I say about UD? I had the finest time there, made and kept my best friends there, met my wife there, married on campus there, received my Ph.D. there and was nurtured, tested, challenged, and in many ways raised there. UD for me is not just the institution and the professors although they are of the highest caliber. For me UD is the extended community, one that not only embraced me when I attended but still does today. I not only had the fortune of incredible minds such as Dr. Alvis, Dr. Bradford, Dr. Gregory, Dr. Dupree, Dr. Thurow, and many more as members of the faculty and daily professors, I also had the Cowans, Drs Herchel and Dona Gower, Nancy Marcus and many more friends of UD adopt me and many of my circle of friends and brought us into theirs. I will never forget the thanksgivings at the Gowers or the Easters at the Cowans or the generosity of Nancy Marcus to a poor graduate student in need of medical work. I was exposed to and educated in the ways of the southern gentlemen by two of its most profound practitioners in Dr. Cowan and Dr. Gower. I have carried those lessons with me every day. UD fundamentally changed me and gave me the foundation of my future life – including my best friend and wife. Who can ask for more from a university than to provide the experiences and the foundation for the rest of one’s life?

How do you use your degree today?

After finishing coursework and marrying my wife, we moved to her home town of Seattle where I spent the next 3 years doing my comps, language exams, research, dissertation and defense. All the while I was working in a lumber yard to make ends meet and to avoid working in an office Just after I defended in late 1995, I left that job and took a few months off. Well we really couldn’t afford that and despite nearly 2 years of searching for a teaching position around the world, a friend called from Microsoft and asked if I would like to do a 2 day temporary job there calling customers who were beta testing some software for $10/hr. I said no and my wife said yes! Well that 2 day contract turned into a yr, turned into a full time job, turned into a career. I have had amazing experiences running some of the largest businesses in technology (at one point I ran an $8b business), to traveling the world, to meeting the brightest and most influential people from Bill Gates, to Steve Ballmer, to heads of state. I have had the opportunity to be a part of the birth a new path forward for Microsoft in cloud computing with Windows Azure. I was one of the fastest people to go from entry level to Corporate Vice President in the history of the company (10 yrs from entry to CVP) and all the while I always tell people about my Ph.D. in English Literature from UD. In fact that 1st year when I was a contractor, one of the senior leaders on the business used to say “where is that Ph.D. guy. We need him to help on this.” I have always been proud of my accomplishments at UD and am 100% certain I would not be where I am today professionally without my work and degrees from UD. For years I lamented not being the teacher I always wanted to be but over the last 5+ years it has become clear to me that I am a teacher—its just the content is way different than I anticipated.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

There are too many ways to answer this question. Personally I couldn’t be more proud of my wife and my 4 kids. Annmarie (formerly Flynn), my wife of 25 years and also a UD grad, is an accomplished mother, board director and member, including the UD National Alumni board, home designer, clam farmer (yes there is a story there) and a constant giver. Our 4 children are each extraordinary in their own way and make us proud in all they do and while I blame all that on Annmarie, I think I had a little to do with it. Professionally I am not sure I could have accomplished more or had more fun doing it. None of this comes without effort and discipline and I think that is what UD, in addition to my upbringing and Thomas More, was able to teach me. Accomplishments are the result of the effort and discipline you put into them. They are rewarding and fulfilling but only if they come with effort. They are both ends in themselves and building blocks to accomplish more. While I am not yet even 50 yrs old, I feel like I have built the foundations of accomplishments to build more on, to give more from and to share with others.

What things have been significant influences on the direction and shape of your career? What advice would you have for a student looking to grow in a similar path?

I alluded to this above – its all about hard work and discipline. Having done a junior and senior project, having had to study and pass comps, having to stay up all night to prep for one of those UD exams, each of you know how rewarding it is when your work is recognized and you have accomplished something meaningful. Treasure the time at UD, the influences of the professors, the ideas, the friends, the walls of those buildings as they will shape the rest of your life. I was both fortunate and naïve enough to believe I could do something for which I was conventionally unprepared to do. Believe in yourself, believe in your ability, work harder than you thought possible in all phases of your life, and the rewards are immeasurable. My story is not just my story. I am the product of nature and nurture. I, like you, was blessed with natural talents. But I was also nurtured into using them in ways I never predicted. But isn’t that what we were all told when we went to a liberal arts school? The naysayers say “how will you get a job?” while the supporters say “prepare yourself.” I am a firm believer in prepare yourself. Learn how to learn. Be disciplined. Work hard. The results will be worth it.

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