September 09, 2021

School of Business to launch program honoring Michael J. Berkeley ’85

By Vicki-Ann Downing

Michael J. Berkeley ’85 wasn’t supposed to be at work on Sept. 11, 2001, his 38th birthday. He went to his office on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower for a morning meeting, after which he was to join his wife, Lourdes, and their two young sons for a celebration.

When an airplane hijacked by terrorists struck the building that Tuesday morning in New York City, Harold Starks ’86 was at work at Hofstra University, where he was the assistant athletic director. His first instinct was to call Mr. Berkeley’s cell phone to make sure he was all right.

“It was busy,” Starks said. “Every 15 minutes I’m dialing that number again. Busy. Busy. Busy. I called Mike’s cousin, who was one of my best friends and living in New York. He said he was going to try to call, too. I told him to keep in touch and keep me posted. The whole day we kept checking in. ‘Have you heard from Mike?’

“I remember that day so vividly,” Starks said.

Michael J. Berkeley '85's name at the 9-11 Museum and Memorial in New York City
Michael J. Berkeley ’85 is honored at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.

In the two decades since Mr. Berkeley died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, his Providence College classmates have not forgotten their friend — a finance major with confident determination to make it on Wall Street, a walk-on guard for the basketball team, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship recipient, a jokester who bestowed a nickname on everyone he met.

After graduating from PC, Mr. Berkeley earned an MBA from Columbia Business School. He worked for several years as a bond trader at Merrill Lynch before launching his own firm, The Berkeley Group, which focused on brokerage securities, private equity investments, and golf course development projects.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of his death, the School of Business is launching the Michael J. Berkeley ’85 Business Excellence Program. It is designed to promote academic success and community building through speakers, networking, and mentoring opportunities. In addition, each year, six students from populations that are underrepresented at the business school will be named Berkeley Scholars. They will receive assistance with academic advising, internship placement, peer and alumni coaching, and possible financial assistance with study abroad.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Dr. Sylvia Maxfield, business school dean. “To name a program after Michael Berkeley, and to tell everyone even the shortest version of his biography, will inspire a whole lot of students.”

Michael J. Berkeley '85 in the Veritas yearbook
Michael J. Berkeley ’85 in his Providence College yearbook.

John Regan ’85 was Mr. Berkeley’s classmate at Iona Preparatory School. Their friendship deepened in college, where their friends grew to include Andre Owens ’85, who was Regan’s roommate, and Keith Lomax ’85, a basketball player like Starks and Mr. Berkeley.

As the reunion for the Class of 1985 approached, Regan, now a principal of Park Bridge Financial in New York City, began to think about ways to honor Mr. Berkeley by raising funds for something special in his memory. He contacted Owens, now a partner at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., and a member of PC’s Board of Trustees.

“Andre is a doer,” Regan said. “There are people who talk about things and people who do things. Andre immediately saw the potential in the idea.”

Owens contacted PC’s Office of Institutional Advancement. He liked the idea of a program that would embody Mr. Berkeley as a person.

“We talked about his role as a student — a very good student — and a very talented basketball player able to walk on to the PC team,” Owens said. “He was serious and focused on what he wanted to do after PC, in terms of going to Wall Street and furthering his education.”

Regan kept thinking about a conversation he had with Starks about the basketball players who attended golf tournaments to benefit PC’s athletic program. Starks, now PC’s coordinator of student-athlete mentoring and athletic alumni events, told Regan it was the first time some of the players had ever stepped onto a golf course.

“Some had never been to a country club before,” Regan said. “How does one know how to act in a situation when one hasn’t ever done it before? How do you get an internship if you’ve never had an internship? We thought about a program for students who didn’t have the same opportunities as others, to teach them everything from resume writing to cold calling to dressing for an interview to creating a network to address your own dreams and aspirations.”

The idea resonated with Maxfield, who has worked to increase diversity in the School of Business. Believing that all students should have the opportunity to be successful in the world of business, she embraced the creation of a program that would honor Mr. Berkeley while providing opportunities for students to excel in their studies and their careers. The business school agreed to match the funds raised by Mr. Berkeley’s classmates to establish the program.

Maxfield said the fundraising will continue. Eventually, she hopes that the Berkeley Scholars might receive financial assistance to eliminate the need for student loans.

Before establishing the program, the group met via video conferencing to discuss the idea with Mr. Berkeley’s wife and brother, who were enthusiastic.

Launching the program on the 20th anniversary of 9-11 — which would have been Mr. Berkeley’s 58th birthday — allows his friends to tell stories about him all over again.

“Mike had a great sense of humor, first and foremost,” Owens said. “He was someone who fit in well with all communities. When we were at PC, it was not quite as diverse as it is today. Mike had friends across the spectrum. He was a very open, very jovial guy.”

Regan remembers Mr. Berkeley’s habit of assigning a nickname to everyone he met, whether they appreciated it or not.

“He was quick to use that as an icebreaker in any kind of situation,” Regan said.

“Mike had a master plan,” Starks said. “Growing up in New Rochelle, he caddied as a young man at Winged Foot, which is a very prestigious golf course, and I think in his mind he said to himself, ‘One day, I want to be a member here.’ And that was something he achieved.”

Basketball players received per diem money when they were on the road. Most went to McDonald’s and loaded up on the largest available size hamburgers and fries, along with apple pies and milkshakes, Starks said. But Mr. Berkeley ordered only two cheeseburgers, a small fry, and a soda, and put the change in his pocket. And when they went to the convenience store for sodas, Mr. Berkeley opted for a drink mix. When they finished their sodas, he still had a drink.

On trips to downtown Providence, the friends would often accompany Mr. Berkeley to visits to a stockbroker who was a family friend.

“He would show Mike how to make trades with $10, $15,” Starks said. “He was getting Mike some experience. We were just sitting there, we didn’t have a vision, we were just running late to wherever we were going, but we should have been doing what he was doing. We were making jokes and he was learning the business for free. It paid off later. He knew what he was doing.”

“I loved him,” Starks said. “I miss him.”

About the Berkeley Scholars Program Providence College and 9-11

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