Portraits of future leaders in business



Justin Runquist

Energetic, passionate and youthful.

These words describe Jennifer Nichols and J.D. Allen, two young leaders who were students at Villanova two years ago. Today they exemplify the “new breed” of executives who know the benefits of working hard and having a blast, both in and out of the office.

Nichols is an Associate Consultant at Peterson Consulting, a worldwide corporation that helps businesses manage disputes, regulation and change. Having recently moved into a leadership role in the accounting realm, she has come a long way from being a “confused marketing major.”

Allen is a consultant for Merrill Lynch in his position at Deloitte & Touche, one of the Big-4 accounting firms. He says his position at Merrill is widely sought after and yields much experience relevant to life even outside the office.

Life experiences are what shape these young leaders approaches to life, professionally and personally.

Cast your net wide and far

Nichols and Allen are friends with different professions and goals, but they agree that to be successful there is no substitute for hard work and the power of networking. Persistence has opened the windows of opportunity during their career searches.

Allen learned this early when he wanted to intern for Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign. By adamently calling his local government office and sending out résumés, Allen made his name known. He used the same strategy when he desired an internship position with Deloitte.

“Deloitte was the most friendly, young and exciting firm, and I wanted to work for them,” “I attended informational meetings, continued learning more about them and sent out my résumé to their recruiting department.” This hard work paid off when a Deloitte representative called Allen informally to discuss an internship possibility. He accepted a job the next day and later entered a full-time position after graduation.

Nichols has taken a less traditional path, but has always worked hard and seized the right opportunities. She entered college as a political science major and later graduated with a marketing degree. Her greatest opportunities arose from her interaction with Villanova faculty.

“Dr. Bonner helped me to find a marketing-related internship with a broadcasting firm,” Nichols said. “I then took the initiative to meet with Dr. Catanach on several occasions, and his advice helped me a great deal. I was curious about accounting as a minor, especially since I enjoyed Dr. West’s class and his hands-on approach toward teaching.”

Catanach suggested she pursue accounting as a minor, the Villanova MAC Program after graduation and an interview with Peterson Consulting. She subsequently followed the three offers he made, and it paid off. Catanach was especially supportive in the process by helping Nichols obtain an interview with Peterson, even though she signed up late.

“Dr. Catanach helped open a huge window of opportunity for me,” Nichols said. “He said my experience in the MAC program would benefit both myself and Peterson. This made me much more marketable when applying for a job with them.”

Take advantage of every experience

Allen and Nichols believe that all education and job experience is relevant. They continue to take lessons learned from Villanova’s MAC Program and expand on their undergraduate education.

“The MAC program gave me a much broader view of the business world,” said Allen. “I learned about all sorts of important fields, such as computer programming, negotiating, risk management and mergers and acquisitions. Having a greater knowledge of industry helps me at Deloitte and also influences my life outside of work.”

Nichols also made the most of her undergraduate and graduate education, even when courses seemed irrelevant to the real world.

“I found that it’s not so much the subject matter of classes, but the skills you gain from them,” Nichols said. “They really teach you how to think, and that’s what matters most.”

Have no regrets!

“I pride myself in having no regrets and always doing the best I can,” Allen said. “I think if you do the best you can, wherever you are in your life, you’ll be happy with what you’ve accomplished.”

This no-regret philosophy gives Nichols and Allen a unique approach toward life. One way they apply this philosophy to their lives is maintaining Catholic ideals, such as helping others and living honestly.

“I want to earn my MBA and work as hard as possible at this point in my life…my ultimate hope is to become a teacher down the road,” Nichols said. “It will allow me time with my family, help high school students and devote time to the American Cancer Society.”

“There is much to be said about a Catholic education,” Allen said. “By volunteering in activities like Special Olympics at Villanova, I saw the value of compassion and integrity…Deloitte is a company that prides itself on integrity, and the recent Enron scandal has forced accountants such as me to re-examine our roles as stewards for the average investor.”

After his career of serving investors, Allen said he has considered serving the public sector. “I would love to run for office one day,” he says.

The other essential component to the no-regret approach is simple for Nichols and Allen: Have fun. They stress the importance of enjoying college, going out on weekends and making friendships a top priority.

“If you’re not enjoying yourself, you aren’t getting the most you can out of your job, your classes or your life,” Allen stressed.