Alumna and donor Anne Welsh McNulty ‘75 establishes Institute for Women’s Leadership with $5 million donation



Haley Millstein

The word “Accomplished” falls short when used to describe Anne Welsh McNulty ’75, who recently donated $5 million to establish a new Institute for Women’s Leadership at the University. The institute is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2017, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the University’s decision to make all disciplines co-educational.

A graduate of the all-girls Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pennsylvania, McNulty has called the Main Line home from a young age. While in high school McNulty served as Vice President of the student council and met her late husband John. The two continued their romance as Anne attended Villanova, and John studied at nearby rival, Saint Joseph’s University.

During McNulty’s time at Villanova, she majored in English and Philosophy and served as editor for The Villanovan. Nervous at the prospect of of securing a job upon graduating, McNulty also completed an accounting minor in her senior year, and graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1975.

After graduation, McNulty was hired by Coopers & Lybrand, a public accounting firm in Philadelphia. This, according to McNulty, “was probably attributed to the fact that the firm was under pressure to hire women.”

McNulty was joined by 50 other new accountants, 45 of which were men. McNulty recalls being “the least academically prepared,” having only taken a few accounting courses her final year.

Like most post-graduates, the transition between college and the real world was difficult. “It was a complete adjustment leaving Villanova, which was very supportive and encouraging environment, and coming to the reality of the work place,” McNulty said.

The firm was a difficult environment for women. “The majority of the men were openly hostile and vocalized their disagreement with the hiring of women,” McNulty said. The harassment didn’t end with doubting female capability. “Nowadays we would cringe at the sorts of comments the men made about the women’s appearances,” she adds.

Despite her questionable preparedness, Anne was the only woman to survive the first year at Coopers & Lybrand. She reveals, “When reflecting on the experience, I often think of the old Henry VIII nursery rhyme.” McNulty refers to the popular rhyme, comparing the fate of the Henry VIII’s six wives to that of her fellow, female co-workers. The tune reads, “King Henry VIII, to six wives he was wedded, one died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.” Of the five women hired by the firm, two quit, two were fired, and one survived—McNulty.

When asked why she believed she was the one to survive, McNulty attributed her success to both her experience at Villanova and to her support system. “I had such a positive experience at Villanova and was so successful there, that I couldn’t imagine not being successful at public accounting,” McNulty explained.

The benefactor adds, “My husband was also incredibly useful in coaching me on how to deal with the criticism and ridicule, and to ignore the men’s commentary.” She deemed her husband’s instruction “invaluable.” 

Experiences like these are what fuels McNulty to devote her life to the promotion of leadership, especially for women.

After gaining some experience in the corporate world, McNulty and her husband made the risky decisions to leave their jobs and go back to school full-time. “It was just ambition for advancing in career position,” McNulty explained, when asked what motivated her to return to school. “The people that were getting promoted and paid better had a higher education, so I wanted to put myself in a better position.”

The McNultys attended University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business together, which, “was definitely a fun way to do it.”

After receiving her MBA in Finance and Insurance, McNulty went back to work, eventually became the managing director at Goldman Sachs, and later the senior executive of the Goldman Sachs Hedge Fund Strategies Group.

Following her work at Goldman, McNulty co-founded JBK Partners, where she currently remains. In addition to her work with JBK, Anne serves on the boards of the Wharton School of Business, The Metropolitan Opera and the Child Mind Institute, and is a Trustee of Naples Children and Education Foundation, which benefits children’s charities in Florida.

Despite her busy lifestyle and residency in Naples, FL, Anne remains passionate about her alma mater. McNulty is part of what she calls a “crazed” Villanova family. Both her father and uncle graduated from Villanova, where her uncle was also an Augustinian. All five of McNulty’s siblings also attended the university, three of whom married Villanova graduates.

When asked if she always saw herself becoming such a prominent leader, McNulty laughed. “My parents were both very into education and pushed us,” she explained. “My mother was very hands-on in terms of making sure we did our homework.”

“My mom would actually read our homework assignments so she could ask us questions,” McNulty continued. Although this might have not been ideal for Anne in the moment, she agrees, “It worked out really well for us and that we had a lot of competitive sibling pressure to do excel.”

McNulty now has three children, all of whom attended University of Pennsylvania for their undergraduate degrees. Her daughter now attends Harvard School of Business.

McNulty’s commitment to Villanova, and to education inspired her generous donation of $5 million as part of the comprehensive university capital campaign, “For the Greater Great: The Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change,” launched in October 2013.

The donation is gifted from the John P. and Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation, which was founded in 1985 and “supports the education and leadership development of individuals who strive to make a difference in the world.” The foundation has already established a leadership program at the Wharton School of Business, as well as Science and Math Scholars Programs at Hunter College and Saint Joseph’s University.

Additionally, the foundation is home to the John P. McNulty Prize, which recognizes the impact of individuals in the corporate world who have used their abilities to address the world’s toughest challenges.

Plans for the Women’s Institute are already under way, with a launch committee comprised of Villanova faculty members. Over the past year, the committee has worked with McNulty to gather baseline data, develop a mission statement and goals and propose initial programming for the institute.

“I am really honored to be involved in creating this institute, but really this has been created along with the most prominent women and male leaders on campus,” McNulty said.

Committee members include April Age, Michele Gianforcaro, Assistant Director of Professional Development, Tim McMahon, Senior Vice President of Advancement, Dr. Gary Gabriele and Dr. Amy Fleischer of the College of Engineering, Dr. Jean Lutes and Dr. Lisa Sewell of the English Department, Director of Economics Dr. Cheryl Carleton, Elizabeth Dowdell, RN, of the College of Nursing, Executive Director of Alumni Relations Amy Layman, and Cheryl Morris of the University Communications staff.

“The committee is a very powerful coalition of people putting together an exciting plan with a lot of good stuff,” McNulty said.

The appreciation is reciprocated. Dr. Carleton states, “Anne’s commitment and input to the process has been inspirational.”

The institute’s home on campus has not yet been determined, but its desired location is somewhere central to students of all colleges.

“At my time at Villanova, there was nothing for the advancement of women,” Anne said. “When I look back we were conscious of certain things but completely unconscious about others. We all understood the classic example of John vs. Joanne on a resume—John gets higher offers and more offers having the same qualifications as Joanne.”

McNulty finds that history and societal norms are key factors in preventing women from obtaining the most senior positions or the corner offices. “That’s where the numbers haven’t improved,” she said. “It’s not a simple answer. Individuals are trying hard enough, it’s systematic.”

Within a corporation, McNulty argues, “It’s important that you receive mentors that help you model the right path, can promote you, and explain to others why you should be advanced.” When McNulty was first starting out, there were no women in higher positions to help.

“We are so much further along at recognizing those things and fighting the harassment, but we have to figure out ways to find equality, and that is what this institute is all about,” McNulty continued.

Carleton outlined the goals of the institute, saying, “The resources will be available for all Villanova women:  students, both graduate and undergraduate, faculty, staff and alumnae. The Institute will provide programming, mentoring, and networking opportunities as well as supporting courses that help to ensure that Villanova women have the skills and opportunities to become leaders no matter where they find themselves.  It will also engage in and support research that informs individuals, firms and government policy makers about the importance of women leaders and what needs to be done to ensure their success.  The Institute will also be involved in advocacy for women leaders.”

McNulty desires for the center to work on both a micro and a macro level. Within the University, the institute will encourage all students, not just women, to lean in and take more opportunities. On a larger scale, Villanova will not only raise consciousness, but will become part of the national conversation about women in leadership. Through research, courses and symposiums, the institute aspires to address broad structural and societal issues.

“The McNulty Institute will take a holistic approach to fostering the success and leadership of women,” said Amy Fleischer, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Chair of the McNulty Institute Steering Committee. “We aim to provide new programming that supports Villanovans as they take on leadership roles—here on campus and throughout the world, while also maximizing what’s currently successful on campus.”

 This institute will ask the tough questions: are there enough women role models at Villanova? Are they being promoted? Are we supporting them? The center will also provide stronger alumni ties, not only for the business school, but also for students of all colleges.

Just as she always encouraged her children to share their voices, McNulty hopes that Villanova student voices will be heavily involved in the creation of the institute. Student opinions will soon be gathered through focus groups and other types of surveys.

Above all, the institute encourages women to help each other, “Not only in the corporate world, but in all community organizations or parts of the world where women can be leaders” McNulty said. “Lets help one another to strengthen ourselves.”

“One of the most powerful ways to ignite change is to develop the next generation of passionate, ethical leaders,” said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D, Villanova University President. “Anne is one of those leaders. Her gift will meaningfully increase Villanova’s ability to empower and support women leaders and will have an impact well beyond the borders of our campus.”

The University as a whole is endlessly grateful for McNulty’s gift and the impact the institute will have on our students and society. The institute will only strengthen the strong sense of community already present here at Villanova and provide a strong foundation for a new legacy of women excited and empowered to take on the world.