Thomas “Tom” P. McDonough, BA’71

Tom McDonough was initially attracted to Northeastern University because the cooperative education program helped him to solve a critical problem: how to finance his education. But the ability to graduate without any financial debt turned out to be only a fraction of the benefits he gained through co-op.

His positions at three different companies not only landed him an impressive resume out of college, each taught some very fundamental skills that McDonough applied throughout a highly successful business career. He retired as President from Coventry Health Care Inc., a Fortune 500 company, in 2008.

“Co-op taught me how to be a team player and to communicate more effectively in a business environment. Acquiring these building blocks early was foundational to a successful career,” said McDonough, a member of Northeastern’s Corporation who studied management in the College of Business Administration and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1971.

Through his co-ops—at an insurance company, a family-owned produce business, and a mutual fund—McDonough had the opportunity to experience a variety of corporate cultures.

“When I finished school, I had a sense of how one has to adapt in order to operate in various environments to become successful. Learning how to respond to change is an experience you carry with you,” said McDonough, who throughout his professional career did extraordinarily well at succeeding in situations that required change or repair, such as mergers and acquisitions.

Co-op also was an opportunity for him to see first-hand how companies are run, observe different styles of leadership, and discover traits he would someday emulate in his own management technique.

As someone who believes in the old adage “the harder I work, the luckier I get”, McDonough feels Northeastern students have a huge advantage over others because of the professional work experience they acquire before graduation day.

While on co-op, McDonough gained real-world experience in a variety of challenging projects, from reconciling hundreds of accounts that were out balance for a mutual fund company, to analyzing complicated data for an insurance company. “You learn valuable lessons about deadlines and accountability that can’t be taught in the classroom,” he said. “This exposure also allowed me to evaluate the type of roles I found attractive as well as those that were less appealing.”

When asked what advice he would give to current Northeastern students he replies: “If you have a clear path of where you want to go, take it. Co-op can help you get there. If you’re not sure of your path yet, don’t over think the concept of having to work in a specific industry or organization. Concentrate more on the learning experiences that the co-op job will offer. The opportunity to change is available. And in my case, change was good.”