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Fred Festa ’81 Receives SUNY Oswego Presidential Medal During December Commencement

During the December Commencement ceremony, SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley awarded Fred Festa ’81 with the Presidential Medal for his expert leadership skills at Fortune 100 companies as well as start-up businesses, and for his generosity to his alma mater.

“Your success as a business leader has been extraordinary,” she said in presenting the medal. “What’s more impressive, however, is your ability to look beyond the bottom line to the backbone of any successful venture—the people. You embrace a leadership style that focuses on listening, empathy, sincerity, enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. You set high standards for yourself and others. You inspire others by backing your words with actions. Throughout your life, you have maintained a strong sense of service to others and support for your community.”

Currently chairman and chief executive officer of W. R. Grace & Co., Festa gained experience and acumen as he ascended the management ranks over two decades with General Electric, Allied Signal, ICG Commerce and Morgenthaler Private Equity Partners.

Festa delivered the Commencement address, sharing with the graduates lessons he has learned about leadership, relationships and new experiences.

“As you sit here wondering what you are going to do with yourselves or how you are going to influence the world,” he said, “I will tell you, in all sincerity, that you can’t know now what situations you’re going to face. You don’t know where your path will take you, or how you’ll develop in your career or in your life.

“I can tell you though, if you approach life as a series of lessons,” he said, “as a series of self-reflections, as a series of events from which you can learn and improve, you will ultimately accomplish everything you want to.”

Festa joined Grace, a global specialty chemicals and materials company, as president and chief operating officer in 2003. He assumed the CEO responsibilities in 2005 and was named chairman of the board in 2008. He served as president from 2003 to 2011.

He championed the transformation of Grace into a fully integrated operating company. Under his leadership, the company’s revenue grew 60 percent, from $2 billion in 2003 to $3.2 billion in 2011. He spearheaded intensified productivity efforts at Grace that delivered cost savings and revenue enhancements of $155 million in 2011. He created the Grace Research Council to oversee greater R&D collaboration, generating an active innovation pipeline. Products introduced in the past five years delivered around one-third of Grace’s annual revenues in 2011.

He graduated from SUNY Oswego magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. An avid supporter of his alma mater, Festa and his wife, MaryLynn Barbero Festa ’82, established the Festa Graduate Leadership Fellows Program to provide exceptionally motivated individuals an opportunity to pursue leadership experience in a professional environment. He also worked with Oswego to establish the W.R. Grace Internship Program.

Festa also owns the minor league Greenville (S.C.) Road Warriors hockey team, an affiliate of the New York Rangers. At Oswego, the Festas funded the new Festa Graduate Assistantship Award for Men’s Hockey, which provides a learning and mentoring opportunity for a graduate student whose interests include a future in coaching.

Because of his work in expanding these co-op and work-integrated educational opportunities, he was named to the 2012-13 World Council and Assembly on Cooperative Education (WACE) Hall of Fame.

Festa has shared his experience and lessons on leadership with Oswego students as the keynote speaker at the 2011 Future Oswego Leaders Conference, as a 2010 recipient of the School of Business Beta Sigma Gamma Award and through a 2004 visit to chemistry and business classes with the Alumni-In-Residence (AIR) program.

“There is always a reason for everything that happens,” Festa told the graduates. “Your experiences are designed to shape you, define you, and hopefully, grow you into the mightiest person you can possibly be. I strongly believe, the reason things happen lies in what those experiences help us become. It’s the difference between looking back and looking forward, as I challenge you to do.”

-Margaret Spillet