Former H&R Block CEO Encourages Openness and Versatility
When Alan Bennett ’72 says, “Don’t predestine your future. Be open to experiences,” students are inclined to listen. He followed his own advice and has tremendous success to show for it, including runs as interim CEO of H&R Block from 2007 to 2008 and president and CEO from 2010 to 2011.
Bennett says preparation for those leadership roles “came from a balance of experiences” in finance, marketing and sales, as well as experience running a small business early in his career.
As an accounting major, Bennett aspired for a career in finance culminating in a CFO position. He took an accounting position with Ernst & Whinney after graduation, but he soon deviated from the typical accountant’s trajectory. In addition to finance positions with the insurance giant Aetna, Bennett accumulated experience in running a small business and was head of sales and marketing for Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. for 10 years.
During Bennett’s time on campus as Sigmund Weis lecturer and executive-in-residence, students benefited from that varied experience through his lecture, A View From the Boardroom, and classroom visits.
Bennett’s lecture conveyed the importance of vision and strategic decision making. “Everything stems from having a vision of what the company might be or could be in the future,” he said. “That directs all other activities.”
In the classroom, Bennett delivered presentations. For a Legal Environment and Management course, he emphasized the board’s ethical responsibilities and role in fostering a company’s reputation. “The most important thing is having the right tone at the top of the company,” Bennett says. Top executives should be, “living in the culture they want the company to emulate.”
He also fielded questions on excelling in the job market. “Companies are looking for differentiation, and the more you can do to separate yourself in positive ways, the better chance you have at achieving earlier success or more success,” Bennett says.
Bennett advised students to aggressively pursue experiences. “Effort counts. I think if you make 10 sales calls, you make one sale. If you make 20, you’ll sell two,” says Bennett, who applies that principle to career management. “Always be thinking about how you can make [your area] more efficient. How do you add value to the process in that area?”
He described the business students he interacted with as “smart, inquisitive and purposeful,” just as his classmates were during his time at Susquehanna. As a student, Bennett snagged an internship with a top accounting firm. He praises Susquehanna for delivering internship opportunities many other schools couldn’t. His education also helped him take advantage of opportunities that came during and after his time as a student.
“My Susquehanna education opened my eyes to be open to learning,” Bennett explains. “When I got in the real work force, I did learn.”
As an alumnus, he supports the school as a member of the Susquehanna University Board of Trustees. He believes that alumni involvement sends an important message to students: “The education that Susquehanna provides is at par or beyond other schools, and you can compete for prestigious jobs in any marketplace.” Bennett reminds students, “This is an education that should be valued.”