Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2004

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True to her School
Jean Tempel ´65



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True to her School

True to her School
Jean C. Tempel

Jean C. Tempel ´65 has picked her battles in life
and in business


Four decades ago when Jean Curtin Tempel ´65 went to the Hartford Club for a lunch meeting with securities analysts, she had to take the service elevator to the dining room with the waitresses.
Tempel was an analyst with Connecticut Bank & Trust Co., but the business club in Connecticut´s capital city didn´t let women in for lunch. She technically wasn´t supposed to be there.

Tempel, one of a handful of women breaking into corporate executive ranks nationally, didn´t complain. She was thinking strategically: It was still legal to pay women less than their male co-workers for doing the same job. Tempel was certain the situation at the Hartford Club couldn´t continue for long.

"You picked your battles," she said. Tempel focused on substantive bottom-line issues: winning equal pay, exceeding job expectations, and proving she could make important contributions.

The strategy worked. Today Tempel is a sought-after business consultant who has a knack for helping tech start-ups find their niche. She is fascinated by technology, understands finance and is a savvy investor.
She also loves Connecticut College.
Tempel became a member of the Board of Trustees in 1995 and is the second largest donor in Connecticut College history. The only person to give more was the late Sarah P. Becker ´27, whose gifts have totaled $13.8 million.

As vice chair of the Board and chair of the Finance Committee, Tempel has been an articulate advocate for strengthening the College´s financial position and building its endowment. She has championed a financial strategy to grow revenues and contain costs, while reducing the annual rate of spending from endowment. The strategy has resulted in small cash operating surpluses for the past three years and, in March, an improved debt rating outlook from Moody´s Investors Service.

"Jean has a brilliant financial mind," said trustee Dale Chakarian Turza ´71. "She is in many ways the conscience of the institution. She brings all of her business acumen to the table."

In recognition of her professional accomplishments and service to the College, Tempel´s fellow trustees voted unanimously to award her the Connecticut College Medal during Commencement exercises on May 23. Created in 1969 to mark the 50th anniversary of the College´s first graduating class, the medal is the highest honor the College can confer on an individual whose personal achievements or service to the College have enhanced its reputation and nourished its growth. Nominations for the medal can be made by alumni, faculty, staff or students.

Tempel is managing general partner of First Light Capital, a Boston-based venture capital group that specializes in early-stage financing of technology startups. She launched First Light in 2000 after 10 years in tech investing and, before that, 25 years in banking technology, marketing, investments and operations management.

Many of Tempel´s gifts to Connecticut College are for programs that incorporate technology into learning. She was a leader in launching the computer science program, has financed three professorships in the sciences, and is an enthusiastic proponent of the electronic portfolio developed by the Career Enhancing Life Skills, or CELS, program.

In addition, Tempel has been instrumental in getting technology into Connecticut College classrooms, showing faculty how to use it to improve their teaching, and making it possible for professors to expand their scientific research, said Stephen H. Loomis, the Jean C. Tempel ´65 Professor of Biology.

One of Tempel´s gifts created an institute for showing faculty members how to incorporate technology into their teaching - for example, by using the Internet to post a syllabus, set up on-line chats with students, and provide links to research sites. Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies Eugene V. Gallagher, who helped manage the program for several years, said Tempel has a keen appreciation for the role technology plays in teaching and learning.

"She has appropriately prodded the college to keep current," he said. Her Jean C. Tempel Foundation supports dozens of educational programs and institutions. They range from Rosie´s Place, a shelter for women in Boston, to the New England Aquarium and the United Way. Many of the gifts are for programs that help disadvantaged children.

Tempel said she is motivated by a desire to help young people with fewer opportunities and by the realization that she is in a position to make a difference. She reached that position by getting into computer technology just as it was beginning to revolutionize everything in business from purchasing to payroll. Tempel was able to link her knowledge of computers with her experience in finance, creating a specialization in tech financing. Along the way Tempel also learned how to thrive in a field that historically had retained few women as professionals. She developed an instinct about which battles were worth fighting, came to terms with her own limitations and helped pioneer the way for others.

Tempel has a reputation for being shrewd and demanding, but also flexible. When circumstances justify a second look at a decision, she doesn´t hesitate to reconsider, according to Loomis. At the College, he said, she is known as a facilitator who helps set up programs, establishes goals and requests progress reports, while being careful not to interfere in day-to-day management. "She is one of the most down-to-earth people you´ll ever meet," Turza said. "She just dedicates herself to the task that´s in front of her and she does it completely selflessly, without any pretensions, without any airs, without any hidden agendas."

Loomis said Tempel´s no-nonsense approach is a great asset. "She doesn´t hide her impressions. You know where you stand with her all the time," Loomis said. "I like people who work that way. I like her toughness," he said. "I really trust her intellect and I trust her reasoning."

Tempel arrived at Connecticut College as a student in 1961. Her father, John J. Curtin Jr., had grown up in Farmington, Conn., graduated from Fordham University and was an office equipment sales manager. Her mother, Sarah Miller Curtin, was a 1933 graduate of Skidmore College with a degree in math. They had raised their daughter with the expectation she, too, would go to college.

The family summered in East Lyme, so Tempel became familiar with Connecticut College as a girl. "I always loved the school - beautiful campus, small, which I liked," she said. Tempel spent her high school years at the Albany Academy for Girls in New York, where her father had been transferred, so attending a women´s college seemed logical. She liked that atmosphere. "Underneath it all I think I was a little shy," Tempel said.

As a freshman, Tempel was drawn to mathematics, although she had no clear career goal in mind. All she knew was that she loved working with numbers and loved anything that put mathematics to practical use. It was a difficult program: Of 45 math majors in her freshman class, only seven graduated in the field.

But Tempel thrived. She discovered that she loved economics - it is after all, simply applied mathematics. She also learned about herself. One of her favorite classes was with art historian Edgar Mayhew. Even today, when Tempel visits a museum she can appreciate the paintings in a way that she couldn´t before taking Mayhew´s course. "The College was just a wonderful part of my life," said Tempel, who graduated with a major in math. "It was the perfect education for me."

After graduating, Tempel was hired as an analyst at Connecticut Bank & Trust in Hartford. She loved the challenge of keeping up with the changing business environment, understanding how it affected her companies, and forecasting how they´d respond to various financial, market, government and employment pressures.

Soon Tempel was working toward a master´s degree in computer science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute-Hartford, predecessor to the Hartford Graduate Center. She got her computer science degree in June 1972, one of two women in a class of 184 men.

In the meantime, Tempel helped CBT automate its trust department - the second in the United States to computerize its records. She was later sent by the bank to the executive education program at the Harvard Business School, and in the late ´70s, as senior vice president for marketing, helped CBT oversee the launch of one of the first automated teller machine networks in the United States.

As she maneuvered through a man´s world, Tempel´s initial strategy was simply to fit in. For 30 years, she was often the only woman in the room. She wore dark suits and didn´t call attention to her gender. When she became one of only two women members of the Hartford Club, she agreed not to use the men´s bar, figuring the restriction would fade away eventually and wasn´t worth arguing about.

Pay was another matter. In the 1970s Tempel was told that her male peers had to be paid more because they had families to support. When her requests for equity went unanswered, Tempel began looking for another job and got an offer. Faced with the prospect of her resignation, the bank responded with proposals for advancement and a pay increase. She stayed.

Tempel said her biggest advantages were that she was young, she stood out, and she had an advanced degree in a field - computers - that older managers knew very little about, but realized they needed to understand.

Her life took a new direction after a trip to Chicago to teach at a banking conference, where she met Boston trust banker Peter A. Wilson. They were married in 1980. The couple settled in Boston, where Tempel adjusted to life with two teen-age stepchildren and fashioned a new career.

She initially signed on at New England Merchants Bank - later Bank of New England - where she developed marketing strategies across a group of differing products and systems. Two years later, Tempel was hired by The Boston Company, a bank holding company that had just been acquired by Shearson, which in turn had just been acquired by American Express. Her job was to "clean up" the custody operation. Within two years, Tempel was executive vice president, managing both the custody and the information technology operations as the bank grew in the 1980s from a small private New England institution to become a major pension and endowment custodian and mutual fund processing bank. By the end of the ´80s, Tempel was managing 3,200 people in a new IT center outside Boston. The bank had $15 billion in custody in 1983 and $288 billion in 1988.

"I loved it. It was great, because I had a great team of people," Tempel said. But American Express began rethinking its business strategy and selling off pieces of the bank. Tempel left in 1990, and a year or two later the operation was sold to Mellon Bank. Mellon, she said, adopted the information systems her team had developed and/or installed.

Tempel began working as a consultant and capitalized on her banking and information technology executive experience. In 1991, she was hired by Safeguard Scientifics Inc. as president and chief operating officer. Safeguard, a Philadelphia-based company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, invests in small tech companies and then works with them to build management teams and develop business strategies. Safeguard hopes to grow these companies and sell them to larger technology firms, or to take them public. Tempel stayed for two years. She was instrumental in the company´s turnaround to profitability, and in the founding of Cambridge Technology Partners, which grew into a $2 billion company. It was recently acquired by Novell Inc.

"I found I really just loved working with early stage entrepreneurs," Tempel said. Her strength was helping them with their customers - the companies buying their technology. Tempel returned to Boston and worked for TL Ventures, a venture capital investment company, until starting First Light Capital in 2000.

In the meantime Tempel had become a trustee at Connecticut College in the mid 1990s. She always loved the school and had reached the point that she thought she could make a contribution. The decision came when she was approached about making a donation to another college. Tempel decided her first priority was her alma mater.

Her involvement grew quickly as the College tapped her technical and financial expertise. Her advice to today´s students is simple: Use college to experiment while looking for a career path. It probably will be the only four-year stretch in their lives when they´ll be able to explore different interests freely, Tempel said.

Her advice for alumni is likewise direct. "Your college is doing some great things," Tempel said. She suggests that they look back at their years at Connecticut College, think about what they enjoyed, and get involved in parallel activities now. That type of participation is critical to the College´s future, Tempel said.

"There are lots of opportunities," she said, "and there´s always room to do more."


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