John F. McCarthy

Teaching Excellence

Assistant Professor of Business
University of New Hampshire Manchester

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John F. McCarthy

Jack McCarthy can trace his fascination with business to his childhood days as a hustler. That is what the vendors inside Fenway Park are called. He started out by selling popcorn (the lightest thing to carry and therefore assigned to the youngest) and over the years, worked himself up through the ranks during Red Sox games—through Coke, hot dogs, and ice cream to the pinnacle of ballpark concession sales, scorecards. "If you go to baseball stadiums, the person who's selling the scorecards has it the best; it is the hottest product. You have to work hard to meet the demand, but it's worth it because you make the most money from the higher sales volume. I had that and I didn't want to give it up, even though I was married and in grad school, and had a child," he says.

The experience taught McCarthy a lot about business: it was straight commission, so it taught him incentive; daily sales results were posted, so it taught him accountability; and there was intense jockeying for the best stations in the ballpark, so it taught him the value of strategy.

His early indoctrination continued when McCarthy entered Boston Latin School as a middle school student. The competition was brutal. "We were told in the first days, ’look to your right and look to your left. Of the three of you, only one will be here in two years.’ We had no choice but to be competitive and to focus on achievement and to be self-motivated. Otherwise, you’d fail. You'd be out."

McCarthy parlayed what he learned into a successful 18-year career as a financial professional. But he left that world when he realized that he loved teaching. As the demands of his job increased, he found himself rearranging his business travel around a course he was teaching one night a week at Bentley College. "I worked 8 to 10 hours a day and then I'd go teach this finance course in the evening. I found that at 10 o’clock at night, I was more energized than I had been at noon."

Having grown up in an inner city neighborhood in Boston, he is drawn to the Manchester campus and its diverse student population because he feels "the urban pull." A strong believer in urban education, McCarthy is mindful of the pressures his students typically face as parents, caregivers for elderly parents, and often as full-time employees. Yet their motivation is remarkable. "They will drive faculty for value," he says. "They are here for two reasons, one, to get the degree and two, to learn the skills they need to get themselves to a better place."

Known for his use of unusual case studies, video clips, anecdotes, and visits from real-life leaders to drive home his points, McCarthy loves the reward of watching his students "get it." "Jack comes across as being light-hearted and humorous. He's very funny. But underneath, he's an absolute workhorse," notes business lecturer Walter Alderman. "Students appreciate his humor, but they also recognize a deep underlying short, Jack has the ability to inspire."

McCarthy teaches a number of courses in UNH's business program in Manchester, which he proudly heads. The focus—always—is on successful teamwork. It's a primary lesson and his students never forget it. "I am so much better at training people and working in teams because of all the group projects we had to do in his classes," says April Gilcreast, a recent graduate who is now working as an underwriting technician in a large firm in Andover, Mass. "I learned so much about working with different types of people and figuring out what makes them tick, that I no longer always try to lead the show. Everyone has something beneficial and unique to offer."

And that's McCarthy's bottom line. In a twist on what he learned at Boston Latin, the businessman-turned-professor is likely to greet his students on the first day of class and say, "Look to your right and look to your left. The keys to your future are sitting next to you. The world is getting smaller and you're going to feel it more and more, because you will be working with people who are different than you. If you're not open to that diversity, it will be an impediment to the productivity of the organization. Your advantage is that you come from a diverse learning environment. Leverage the heck out of it."

—Sarah Aldag