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Q&A with Wayne Firsty ’85: “You un-age when you walk back through those doors.”

Left to right: Marty Isaac, Perry Rotella, and Wayne Firsty

Q: Tell us about your fraternity experience. Why did you join Alpha Chi Rho as an undergrad? 

A: I chose Penn because I thought it was a fun school for smart people. I wanted to join a fraternity that had a mix of people—that wasn’t all athletes or all business majors. Phi Phi Chapter had a great group of diverse brothers who worked hard and played hard at the same time. I lived in the house for two years and then off-campus as a senior, but with two of my Phi Phi brothers.

I was also a college cheerleader for two years. The brothers gave me grief about it, until they realized it was a way for me to be ‘hands on’ with many pretty girls on a regular basis.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time in the chapter? 
A: To list a few: hanging with the brothers, intramural sports, the “Moose is Loose” parties, playing Whales Tales, and sitting on the roof deck overlooking college green. The house was right smack in the middle of campus and the roof looked over the green—it was prime real estate. In the spring or fall, you could sit up there with a book or drink and listen to music.

At our parties, we had live bands a few times, and from 9 to 1 a.m., we’d enjoy the music, drink, and have fun. Some of the parties were themed “The Moose is Loose”. In the middle of the great room above the fireplace is a huge moose head. It’s sad thinking about it now because some moose gave up its life. Anyway, one year, another fraternity took the moose head. We didn’t know where it was—it was gone, so that became our party theme because “the moose was loose.” We did replace it later though.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your brothers? If so, tell me about your visits with them.
A: The brother I keep most in touch with is Brian Harris (Phi Phi 1986). Even though he graduated one year after me, we both worked at the same company in New York City and then roomed together at grad school (MIT). We live on opposite coasts but talk about once a month and even manage to see each other about once every year, whether it be at a school reunion or when one of us travels to the other coast for business or pleasure.

"You un-age when you walk back through those doors, even 30 years later. You remember what fun it was when you were there and how fortunate you were to be part of a good group of folks."

Q: Where’s the first place you go when you return to Philadelphia? Why? 
A: I visit the AXP house to see what has changed, see the pictures on the wall, and hear the walls talk. I enjoy listening to the new brothers, playing a game of pool with them, finding out about social activities, and seeing my old room. You un-age when you walk back through those doors, even 30 years later. You remember what fun it was when you were there and how fortunate you were to be part of a good group of folks.

Q: Tell us about your career path, positions held, and what helped you get where you are today. 
A:
I was in the M&T Program at Penn and graduated with dual degrees in finance and computer science. After Penn, I worked in New York City for three years doing consulting and then trading commodities. In 1988, I went to graduate school at MIT and received my MBA and a Master’s degree in operations manufacturing.

After graduating in 1990, I moved to Connecticut and managed factories for The Stanley Works for six years and then two other smaller manufacturing companies for three years.

In 1999, I was recruited to California as general manager to lead the turnaround of a sheet metal enclosure company. After a successful outcome 18 months later, I hopped on the ‘Silicon Valley’ start-up wagon for the next seven years—three different datacomm/telecomm startups (one successful, two not so much)–my role always focusing on the operations and supply chain end. In 2007, I joined ProWorks, an electronics contract manufacturing company, as their VP of Process Engineering and Product Realization. We grew the business, and in 2009, sold it to Creation Technologies. 

In 2014, Julie, my amazing wife of 15 years, passed away after battling a rare form of cancer. Between that and having been at Creation for seven years, it was time for a change. I started my own business doing operations and supply chain consulting. My primary clients were a direct methanol fuel cell company and a lighting company.

This past March, a colleague who used to work for me called and notified me of a senior operations and product engineering role opening at a rapidly growing startup called Nutanix. I met the team, and joined them in April. We sell a software and hardware solution to large companies enabling them to simply manage and scale (cloud like) their data centers. I’m responsible for product engineering, manufacturing test, and manufacturing quality.

Q: Did your time in Alpha Chi Rho help to prepare you for your career? If so, how?
A: Penn certainly did help from an academic standpoint. And the fraternity did in a few ways: the ability to work with a group of people, building team camaraderie (a skill you need wherever you go), and the ‘work hard-play hard’ lesson. In addition, when I graduated, there were brothers I spoke to on regular basis to share lessons learned and ask for advice.

I was also house manager one year, which helped me gain organizational skills. You have to run the house and manage bills, so you have to be organized yourself and then organize other people. That experience clearly carries over to leading organizations.

Q: What advice would you give to future generations of Phi Phi Chapter members?
A:
The friends you make when you’re in college are often the ones you keep for life. Really work to make a close-knit group of friends. You’ll appreciate it later in life. There is always that ability to connect with your brothers no matter where you are. Create and nurture that close group. It pays back all the time.

Wayne lives in Campbell, California (near San Jose) and has two children, ages 14 and 11, with his late wife. He says that since her passing, he’s met a wonderful woman and both kids are doing well in school and sports.  If you visit the Bay area, let him know (wayne@firsty.com).