After majoring in political science and history and studying all over Europe, Bob Carpenter ’73 was working on a Master’s in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia when he had what he calls “a little bit of an epiphany.”

You couldn’t really understand what was going on in the world, he realized, unless you understood economics.

That led to a second Master’s degree, an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; a job as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group; and great success as an executive in the information technology and electronics industry at Square D, NCR, AT&T, and Philips.

Carpenter retired in 2006 as CEO of IHS Group, a leading worldwide content, software and services provider of technical and business information solutions.

Q&A

Did your education in global affairs wind up paying off?

Having the international experience was terrific, because every corporate assignment that I had always had an international dimension. It was nice to be able to function internationally and I think that my international colleagues appreciated the fact that I knew a little bit about their country’s history, politics and social issues.

Studying abroad helped me tremendously in my business career, and I am so pleased to see that MPA now has a global scholars program and that the student body is increasingly international in composition. I think that is just wonderful, not only for international students who get to experience firsthand the American culture, but also for our American students to have peers and colleagues from different cultures and environments. It’s great to see that happening here at MPA.

How did your MPA education lay the groundwork for professional success?

I cannot claim to have been an academic superstar at the Academy. In fact, I’m sure that I graduated in the bottom half of the class; but I don’t think it matters so much here, because of the individual instruction and the individual efforts that teachers provide students. You can find things that you really enjoy and that you are really good at.

For example, I was horrible at French. I had a wonderful teacher, Ms. [Patti] Dolan. She did her best, but since I had no aptitude, no French linguist was created! I did, however, really enjoyed history, and my teachers ignited a passion that I think was there. You find the things that you love.

I also think that you learn to learn at MPA. You become autodidactic. That’s a big assist whether you go to a small college where there is still more personal attention or you go to a large university. You know what it’s like to be rigorous in your studies. You are able to learn on your own and have the self-discipline to do that. It was a big plus.

I was, at best, a mediocre student at MPA, but I graduated Phi Beta Kappa as a Rector Scholar from DePauw with degrees in political science and history and had scholarships at the University of Virginia and Northwestern.

Sometimes when parents are looking at a school, they say, “Gosh, will my child graduate in the top 10 percent and will they get into a good university?” That may not be the right question. The right question might be: “Will this school teach them to learn on their own and will it motivate them now and in the future?” I think these are the two critical things for success in the future.

Who were some of your favorite teachers?

Mr. [Earle] Irwin, he was really good in U.S. history. [Dr. Larry] Brown, I had him for physics and advanced physics. Here is a case again, where although I had a great interest in the scientific field I did not have the mathematical background to be successful in high school, but he was a tremendous teacher. And so many of the things that I did later in business had a technological basis and I never felt uncomfortable with learning the technology behind them. A good deal of that I credit to Doc Brown.

I had Doc Brown in Physics when he was getting his Ph.D. at IIT and he brought in a little handheld thing; I think it was a Bowmar Brain [the first American-made, pocket-sized calculator]. He mesmerized us with the speed of its the four basic functions. It sold for the “very reasonable” price of $150, which would be five or six times that much in today’s currency. My first exposure to electronic computers came from Doc Brown!

How about athletics? You went to DePauw initially on a football scholarship.

Yes, the second dimension that was so influential here at MPA was the athletics. We just had a group of coaches who were wonderful as motivators. I think that the small size of the school really works, because the coaches are actively on the lookout for young people with some, but not overwhelming athletic interests and abilities. At a much bigger school, unless you are a superstar, the coaches don’t have much time for you. It’s a numbers game and you don’t get the time and attention you would at a small school like MPA.

I played football for Coach [Warren] Jones. He was great in a number of ways. He could scare the heck out of you when you first met him. Here was this combat veteran marine from World War II, veteran of the tough Catholic league and artful master of the language of motivation. One of the things I said about him at the Athletic Walk of Fame ceremony last fall was that he was able to take a limited amount of talent on a team and develop it. He was an incredible motivator, strategist and tactician. He was a wonderful coach who kept in touch with and supported his players even after graduation.

In wrestling, Coach [Chuck] Cleary was an amazing coach and motivator. He could motivate you to lose weight, exercise like crazy and wrestle outside your weight class. He showed us that mental limits were there to be overcome and that you were capable of much more than you thought possible. As a result, when you went into a college situation, you could “stretch”. You’ve been successful. Staying up to do a paper? That’s not as hard as losing 20 pounds. Realizing your ability to go beyond limits goes into your psyche. It helps you in college and beyond.

What is it like to come back to campus now?

Physically, the layout is very similar. I think they’ve done a marvelous job restoring the gym. Its nice to see how well it’s been restored. It was beat up when I was here. I remember lots of fun in the gym because of the hours spent there. I remember dances in the gym as well.

I remember one time sophomore year with Mr. [Henry] Lee. He was head of the Key Club. There was some snafu with Kiwanis and there was a problem with the peanut supply. He somehow came through and came up with 6,000 pounds of unbagged peanuts. We had to bag those peanuts in Alumni Hall that night and the next day we hit the street corners with those peanuts.

I also really enjoyed the plays. The music and art programs were really good. I may have played a burly extra, a soldier in “Camelot.” Looking back on it, I just marvel, having only 230 upperclassmen, the things that were accomplished socially and artistically. I was in total awe and admiration of what they were able to do.


This piece originally appeared in the Morgan Park Academy magazine.