Where Are They Now: Alumni Award Recipient Robert Byrnes Class of ’76

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bobby byrnes

Did you know that the CEO of Wawa went to Villanova? Or that NASA astronaut Andrew M. Allen is a Villanovan? Villanova has a network of over 123,000 alumni, many of whom have gone on to do incredible things. They have stories to tell, advice to share, and amazing memories of their own Villanova experiences.  

In this column, we will share their stories, both of their time here at Villanova and beyond. This week, we feature Robert Byrnes, a 1976 graduate who has dedicated a lot of time to his alma mater since graduating. Byrnes has received all three of Villanova’s alumni awards—the Young Alumni Medal, the Loyalty Award and most recently, the St. Thomas of Villanova Alumni Medal. Additionally, he served as President of both North Carolina and New Jersey’s regional University alumni clubs and as President of Villanova University Alumni Association. Along with Byrnes’ dedication and support to Villanova, he is President of R.S. Byrnes Associates, Inc., a manufacturer’s representative sales agency. Byrnes truly reflects Villanova’s Augustinian values of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas in all that he does.

 

The Villanovan (TV): How has Villanova helped you grow into the person you are today? And how has it helped you get the point you are at today? 

Robert Byrnes (RB): Villanova has always been a huge part of my life. I attended Villanova sight unseen, meaning that the first time I stepped onto campus was move-in day. I know that sounds bizarre in today’s world, but my father never finished the eighth grade and my mom went to high school at night. I was the first male to go to college in my family. Villanova was bigger than my high school, but not too big, and I thought it was the perfect size. Villanova changed my life. I went to public school all my life, so I was moved more spiritually than previously. At home, I was a regular churchgoer because of my parents, but at Villanova, I wanted to go. Villanova produces not only really smart undergraduates, but they’re ethical and moral too. That trifecta is the difference between other schools and Villanova. When I visit Villanova now, I always spend time in the chapel and do some introspection. Villanova helps move my moral compass in the right direction. I try to do it every time I’m there, and next week will be the sixth time that I will be on campus this semester. In general, I learned to make better decisions because of Villanova’s influence. Also, when I visit now, I work with students and always try to connect them with those I know. I want to give back to the community that gave me so much.

TV: Can you describe your experience as a part of Villanova’s Alumni Association?

RB: In 1986, I won the Young Alumnus Award, which is given to an alumnus within 15 years of graduating from Villanova. In 2014, I received a unique award: the Loyalty Award. It is the oldest award on campus, about 85 years old. They have the original award and if you are awarded it, you get to keep it for one year and then you get the replica. Only the previous living award members can vote on the newest award recipient. In 2018, I won the St. Thomas of Villanova Medal. I believe I’m the only Villanova alumnus to have all three of those. After graduating Villanova, I went to graduate school for my MBA and then moved back to New Jersey and realized that the Villanova alumni club was really small. After I joined it and became President, it became the most active alumni club in the country. 

Then, I moved to North Carolina, where there was also a small alumni population. One day, I was driving and saw another car with a Villanova sticker. I honked at the guy driving and made him pull over at the next parking lot. I asked him if he would join Villanova’s alumni club for North Carolina, because I was going to start one, and he said no but that he would give a small donation for it. Now, there is about 800 Villanova alums in or around Charlotte, North Carolina.  I am on the leadership counsel for it now, but I was President for 10 years. It is now one of the most active clubs in the country. We host golf tournaments and other activities and raise money for undergraduates from North Carolina and South Carolina. 

In 2010, I was elected President of Villanova’s Alumni Association and then asked to become campaign chair for the annual fund committee. I was tasked to raise 750 million for the campaign, “For the Greater Great: The Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change.” We ended up raising over 760 million. Part of what I’m most proud of is that we’ve raised over a million dollars a year with donations of less than $250. If everyone can contribute something, the campaign can blossom. 87,000 total people gave to the university and more than half of those were first time givers. For the last 14 years, I have hosted new student send offs for those students from North and South Carolina in our home. When we find out the list of students going, I have ‘Welcome to the Nova Nation!’ t-shirts and attach a note to them saying “Congratulations! You must be smart. Welcome to the Nova Nation!” Then, I go door to door and present it to them. I drove 1,000 miles in three days this year. I don’t call before I arrive at their homes. I just stop in. It has really been gratifying with the responses. 

TV: Can you tell me a little about your work-life timeline after graduating from Villanova?

RB: After graduating with an MBA in Finance, I wanted to go work for a Big Eight accounting firm (now Big Four). But then, my father called and bribed me, and I ended up working for his company, a manufacturer’s representative sales agency, now mostly based in the mid-west. Now we do business everywhere, from Mexico to Canada and throughout North America. We create material components that end up in your car. I worked with my dad from 1978 to 1988. Then I moved the business in 1991, and I have been doing that my whole life. I travel extensively throughout the country and try to grow the business. I like the whole entrepreneurship thing. I like working for myself and working hard and getting to reap the benefits. I also allow time to have other interests. I put my family first, my profession second and carve 15-20% of my time to something worthwhile. When I first moved to North Carolina, I was the chairperson of my church, the largest Catholic parish in country, with 38,000 parishioners. The first thing I did was borrow 19 million dollars. I built a grade school and a parish house. I like to raise money for good causes.

TV: What is your favorite Villanova memory?

RB: I was manager of the men’s basketball team when I was a student in 1973. I was Rollie Massimino’s manager for his first three years and there were only three of us. The special thing about being his manager were the things that I learned from him as a coach, a leader and even just as a person. I was also at all four Final Fours. The greatest day of my life, besides marrying my wife and the birth of our children, was 1985 when we beat Georgetown. Well, until 2016, when we had that buzzer beater.

TV: What is the best connection you made during your time at Villanova?

RB: Joining a fraternity (Delta Tau Delta). The reason I joined was because I couldn’t get a date my freshman year. At the time, Villanova was a 2 to 1 ratio of males to females. One time I watched eight women jump into a car going to Delta Tau Delta. I found out how to join and, at the time, Dan DiLella was president. He is a trustee today and benefactor to the Daniel M. DiLella Center of Real Estate for VSB. Our fraternity was started in 1971, and since then, our members have given 25 million dollars to Villanova. So, the best connection was being accepted to the frat and all the connections I made there. They are all such amazing men who have done great things. We’re still very connected now as 80 of my fraternity brothers attended my speech at the St. Thomas of Villanova Alumni Medal award ceremony.

TV: What advice would you give to recent graduates?

RB: Utilize the Villanova club system throughout country for networking. The first thing we do is send your resume out and roll a quick note to ask for help. We send it to 800 people in 30 seconds. The club system really works. Also, the best kept secret at Villanova is the career center. They are all amazing people doing amazing work. They will help you. It’s a lifetime benefit for free. You can always go back there and get help with a job.

TV: Do you have a life motto?

RB: I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.