Business Alumnus Receives Volunteer Service Award

By Kelli B. Grant ’04, May 8, 2019
Steve Gonick '85 chosen for his commitment to helping students succeed.

man in suit

Steve Gonick '85 mentors students in the School of Business. (Photo by Cascadilla Photography/Andy Gillis)

Stephen “Steve” Gonick ’85 was thinking about professional wrestling.

Not as a next career move — but because right after his interview with ICView, he was hopping on a FaceTime call with a current business student whose dream job is with World Wrestling Entertainment.

“I’m either going to talk common sense into him or help him get that job,” Gonick says.

Probably the latter.

Gonick is a fixture at the School of Business, serving both on the dean’s Business Advisory Council and as a member of the Investment Advisory Board. In his role as the school’s executive and entrepreneur in residence, Gonick visits campus at least once a month for a few jam-packed days of giving lectures, speaking in classes and meeting one-on-one with students to help them prepare for their careers.

By his estimate, he mentors about 125 students each year and, since 2014, has guided some 700 — most of whom he has stayed in touch with.

“Honestly, it’s like a shot of B12,” Gonick says. “I love working with students. Maybe I’m living vicariously. And I’m trying to set an example to them, of giving back.”

His extensive mentee network led Gonick to help the School of Business form a Young Alumni Network, which connects current students with recent graduates who have common interests or a similar career trajectory.

“So you have a student who wants to work for Unilever one day, and then you know we have a young alumnus at Unilever to connect him with,” Gonick says. “Because those young alums are really the ones that can help these students get their jobs. I was very concerned that if I got hit by a bus, all of this data that’s in my head about these students and where they are would be lost,” says Gonick, whose efforts earned him the Alumni Volunteer of the Year Award from IC’s Business Advisory Council in 2016.

When he’s not on campus, Gonick dedicates time to the investment company he set up with his wife, Denise, which invests in socially responsible start-up businesses. In that capacity, he’s a cofounder of Passport for Good, which works with schools, churches and other entities to encourage volunteerism — and then uses software to track and measure its impact.

During his own undergrad tenure, Gonick majored in personnel administration and industrial relations.

“At the time it was basically human resources,” he explains. “But when I got out of school, I did what most kids do when they don’t really have a good understanding of what they want to do: go into sales.”

One of his first sales jobs involved phonebooks for U.S. West, one of AT&T’s newly divested Regional Bell Operating Companies for a local phone service, known as the “Baby Bells.”

“I got to call on all different types of businesses, like a plumber, or a law firm, or a big utility company,” he says. “It got me into marketing.”

Gonick worked in marketing for various pharmaceutical and consumer product companies. He took a leap of faith during the recession in 2009, leaving Johnson & Johnson to form Adirondack Funds, a mutual fund firm.

When he left Adirondack in 2014, Gonick says, it was a chance to take stock of the situation and what he wanted to do. The School of Business’s executive and entrepreneur in residence opportunity came up shortly after.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do something that makes my heart feel good?’” he recalls. “And my vehicle was Ithaca College and the students.”