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RMA Speaker Discusses His Journey From The Orphanage To The Boardroom

By Bob Shullman

At the Retired Men’s Association (RMA) of Greenwich’s meeting on Wednesday, May 18, Bob Phillips of the RMA had a fascinating discussion with Ed Hajim about his childhood, his education, his family and his business experiences at the Capital Group, E. F. Hutton, Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street companies as well as the book he has authored about his life.

At the age of three, Ed was kidnapped by his father, driven cross-country from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and told his mother was dead. He pressed his face against the car window, watched the miles pass and wondered where life would take him. Probably not where you would expect. As recounted in his book, On the Road Less Traveled: An Unlikely Journey from the Orphanage to the Boardroom, Hajim’s story is an improbable one of being bounced from foster homes to orphanages after his father left him to go to sea as a radio operator. Ultimately, however, he came to live the American dream as an accomplished Wall Street executive, proud father of three, grandfather of eight, and charitable benefactor to a world which seemed intent on rejecting him. Many years into his adulthood and after the passing of his father, he discovered his mother was in fact alive in St. Louis, adding a totally new and unexpected dimension to his life’s story.

In 2015, he received the Horatio Alger Award, given annually by the Horatio Alger Association to 10 to 12 Americans who exemplify the values of initiative, leadership and commitment to excellence, and who have succeeded despite personal adversities. Mr. Hajim is a graduate of the University of Rochester and Harvard Business School, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He began an eight-year tenure as chairman of the University of Rochester’s board of directors in 2008, the year in which he also donated $30 million dollars to support scholarships and endow the Edmund Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His family foundation has made generous donations to organizations that promote education, healthcare, arts, culture and conservation. He has close ties to Greenwich having resided here for 33 years, started Greenwich Management Company, served on the board of trustees and chair of Brunswick School, and served as a trustee of Greenwich Hospital.

When asked at the beginning of the discussion why he wrote this memoir about his life, Ed ‘s response was because both his family and the University of Rochester, where he graduated with his bachelor’s degree and then became chairman of the board years later, wanted to know who he really was. Why? As he said during the discussion, “…I buried my background.” His mantra was to stay hidden. By writing the book that took him seven years, he learned a lot about himself. When asked about growing up, Ed focused on the Catholic nuns who educated him, along with the families with whom he lived—some who were very hugging and loving, and some who were very cold and housed him solely because they were paid to do so. Looking back on his youth and thinking about moving from family to family, Ed realized his life was not enjoyable as a youth but it made him figure out how to survive in challenging circumstances. As Ed said “…I was a survivor…” and “schools made me successful.” Big picture, when he started working after graduating from Harvard Business School, his experiences growing up had taught him that he needed to deal with whatever he was asked to do and do it well. He learned he had to be persistent and resilient. Based on living and working that way, he has concluded that “…education is a lifelong process…” and “…it was my ticket out.”

Later during the discussion, Ed recounted what it was like to reunite with his mother when he was 60 years of age, 57 years after he was told she had died and also to discover he had a younger brother who is a doctor and with whom he is now very close. His mom was 81 when they reunited and she died at 93 so he had 12 very good years with her. Notably, Ed stated that like himself “she was not a feeler.” Like himself, his mom was a “thinker.”

For those interested in listening to more of this fascinating discussion, it is suggested you go to the RMA website and click on the video of the presentation at https://vimeo.com/user9053619/videos.
The RMA’s next presentation will be on June 1 with Edward (Ted) Farley Aldrich, amateur historian and international banker, about his book The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration that Won World War II. His informative presentation will focus on one of the most consequential collaborations of the twentieth century, in which General George Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson led the American military efforts during World War II in challenging roles that blended business, politics, diplomacy, and bureaucracy in addition to warfighting. With a dazzling synergy, they transformed the outdated, poorly equipped American army into a well-equipped modern fighting force of millions that won the war.
RMA speaker presentations are presented as a community service at no cost to in-person or Zoom attendees. The RMA does request that all eligible individuals consider becoming a member of our great organization, and thereby enjoy all the available fellowship, volunteer and community service opportunities that the RMA offers to its members. For further information, visit www.greenwichrma.org or contact Joe Mancinelli (mailto:jlmanc@optonline.net) or Peter Stern (mailto:members@greenwichrma.org).

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