Trustee Sean Hanlon ’80 Instills Ethics Lesson in Next Generation
Ethics (noun): derived from the Greek word ‘ethos,’ meaning character or conduct.
When it comes to operating ethically in business—and in life—it’s one thing to talk the talk, it’s another to actually walk the walk. That idea was central to a discussion on ethics in the financial industry led by Trustee Sean Hanlon ’80.
As a wealth management advisor, executive, founder, investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Hanlon has a rich career to draw upon. He is CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Hanlon Investment Management, which he founded in 1999, and Vestbridge Advisors, founded in 2022, both SEC-registered investment advisers. His financial services career includes advisor roles at Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber.
“Ethics is about your conduct,” he shared with the almost 200 students, staff and faculty against the backdrop of a lit New York City skyline. “Do the right thing, even when no one else is looking.”
He emphasized the importance of living by a code of conduct, especially in the finance industry where doing what is right for the customer and your company is paramount.
But sometimes doing the right thing is not black and white, especially for those new to the industry with managers or more experienced colleagues asking to complete certain tasks or change behavior. What to do then? “I use the ‘that-doesn’t-feel-right-to-me’ test on those gray areas,” he explained. “We all have trusted people in our lives. Reach out to them.” He gave a nod to his two co-panelists, teaching professor and director of the finance and financial engineering graduate programs Dr. Emmanuel Hatzakis and teaching associate professor and Stevens Student Managed Investment Fund (SSMIF) instructor Dr. Jonathan Kaufman, as the role models students can and should be looking towards.
As the world is getting increasingly complex, opening doors for more ethical dilemmas, Hanlon was optimistic about technology’s power to create a more ethical world. “Technology is helping root out unethical behavior.” He offered the example of technology’s role in preventing securities violations. “I know CEOs of major corporations who after they make an announcement about a buyout or something that pops the stock 20, 30, 40%, they'll get a list of names from the SEC within a week, asking they review the list and identify anyone ‘they know’ who recently transacted in the stock. [Before] they didn't have the technology to observe every trade.”
While acting ethically is good for the bottom line, helping to protect jobs, companies and shareholders, he emphasized its role in ultimately leading to more fulfilling relationships with family and friends. He also underscored the importance of acting with integrity and dignity. “Those are important. Only you possess them, and nobody can take them away from you.”
It was a powerful message that Joelle Saad-Lessler, associate dean of undergraduate studies at the School of Business, said was important to hear and expressed gratitude for Sean for sharing his insights and life experience with everyone. “It is the insights of industry leaders like Sean that resonate with students and hopefully impart why it is important to abide by a code of ethics. The message Sean sent is that at the end of the day, success in life is not measured by the size of one's portfolio but by the relationships formed, the reputation for being a 'quality person' and maintaining one's integrity."
“In today’s business landscape, leaders are increasingly facing complex ethical dilemmas. That’s why it is imperative we cultivate the ethical awareness of our students. The Ethics Lecture Series of the School of Business helps us advance this objective by providing our students with real dilemmas and practical advice on how to navigate the kinds of scenarios they may face in the workplace,” says School of Business dean Gregory Prastacos. “We are grateful to Sean Hanlon, who, through his leadership and philanthropy, has shown that he actually ‘walks the walk’ of being an ethical leader.”
Since earning his B.E. in mechanical engineering in 1980, Hanlon has been actively involved in the Stevens community. He has served on the Board of Trustees since 2010 and, along with his wife Cathy, generously donated the funds that established the Hanlon Financial Systems Center, where he is chairman of its Advisory Board. The Center is comprised of two state-of-the-art facilities that replicate Wall Street trading rooms and provide access to the most current analytics, tremendous computing power, and data tools used by faculty, undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students. The facilities also support the work of the SSMIF, Trading Day and other programming and events.
His contributions have been integral to transforming the Stevens curriculum by ensuring students receive an industry-ready education for the digital era to enhance their competitiveness and ability to stand out in the workforce.