When others his age were exploring retirement, Stephen J. Friedman took on a new — unexpected — challenge.
“I spent most of my career as a lawyer and in government,” he says. “I was a partner in a large firm.”
He pauses then adds with a most charming laugh, “Then I became a born-again academic.”
Indeed, Friedman — at age 66 — became the dean of Pace University School of Law in White Plains in what would mark the start of a whole new path.
“It was interesting because I didn’t really think of myself as ‘an education person,’” he says, though he had worked with legal-education entities and taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School for about 10 years.
But, he adds, “I thought this is an area where I thought I could make a contribution.”
And others clearly agreed, though Friedman wasn’t looking for a new career.
“I loved that job,” he says of his time as dean, smiling as he adds, “I thought it was my last job.”
Not quite, as he would find out three years later.
“I basically became president overnight in the summer of 2007 and then I found myself on an even steeper learning curve.”
It was a time of declining enrollment and other challenges.
“I learned a lot — and fast — and I made a lot of changes. I changed almost the whole senior management group.”
And, as they say, he hasn’t looked back.
As the seventh president of the private institution founded in 1906, Friedman works out of an 18th-floor office at One Pace Plaza, in the heart of the school’s lower Manhattan complex adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall.
“Pace is engaged in a program of really massive renewal and change and rebirth, but we’re still rooted in our tradition,” he says.
With campuses in New York City and Westchester County, Pace enrolls nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in its College of Health Professions, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences (which includes Pace School of Performing Arts, launched in 2014), Lubin School of Business, School of Education, School of Law and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.
As president, Friedman oversees it all — working with the school’s board of directors — and that includes master plans for both the New York City and Pleasantville campuses.
Throughout, he says, his role is to help students “improve their prospects in life, give them a running start in their careers.”
It’s a noble — and impressive — goal for an unplanned second act.
A LOVE FOR EDUCATION
Friedman will easily reel off facts and figures, discussing student population and faculty experience. He points to successes of specific programs, from advances in the physician’s assistant division to a new performing-arts school that works with The Actors Studio. Pace, for example, was ranked in the top 15 percent for Return on Investment out of 1,500 colleges from PayScale.com. In 2014, the Pace team won first place at the National College Fed Challenge, an economics competition, ahead of schools, including Princeton University and the University of Chicago. In addition, Pace’s master’s program in computer information technology was ranked No. 9 for “Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs” by U.S. News & World Report.
An easygoing conversation with Friedman also touches on topics ranging from technology and its applications in the classroom to landscaping on the Pleasantville campus to impressive student successes.
“A high percentage of our students get very good jobs,” Friedman says. “It’s incredible, exciting and gratifying to make that kind of contribution.”
But Friedman hardly takes all the credit.
“I have a lot of meetings,” he says. “I’m really an old-fashioned manager. I like to meet a lot with my senior managers.”
And he also finds rewards in fundraising for the school, which he has been doing more often.
“A lot of my private-sector friends would say ‘Ew. You’re going to spend a lot of time fundraising.’”
Friedman loves it — “I meet so many interesting people.”
FROM THE START
Friedman, it seems, had a drive to succeed from his earliest days.
A Brooklyn boy who would go on to receive an AB (artium baccalaureus) magna cum laude in 1959 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Friedman earned his JD magna cum laude in 1962 from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and winner of the Sears Prize.
His career was devoted to the fields of law and government.
Friedman came to Pace as a former senior partner and co-chairman of the corporate department of Debevoise & Plimpton. He had served as commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, deputy assistant secretary for Capital Markets Policy at the United States Treasury Department, as executive vice president and general counsel of the Equitable Companies Inc. and the E.F. Hutton Group Inc. and as law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.
Friedman wrote and lectured often on regulation of the securities markets and of financial institutions and is also chairman emeritus of the American Ballet Theatre. Today, he serves as a board member of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities and the National Museum of the American Indian-New York. He also serves on the board of directors for the Alliance for Downtown New York, Inc. and the Westchester County Association.
These posts, he says, keep him “connected” with Pace’s communities.
Friedman, who lives in Manhattan and also has a home in Pound Ridge, remains as devoted to his own family — where, it must be said, success seems to thrive.
He proudly shares that his wife, Fredi, a veteran of the publishing industry (Little, Brown & Co.), is a literary agent and president of literary-management firm Fredrica S. Friedman & Co. Daughter Vanessa Friedman is fashion director and chief fashion critic of The New York Times, while son Alexander is in asset management, the CEO of GAM Holding in London. Three grandchildren round out the picture and keep Friedman on his toes.
Friedman concludes that his foray into education — he announced Jan. 27 he will not request reappointment after the conclusion of his current term, June 30, 2017 – has been nothing short of rewarding.
“It’s a very challenging job, but it’s the best thing,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of things, and it’s really the most exciting, challenging and fun thing I’ve done.”
And with that delightful laugh, he ends on a note of typical candor.
With a grin he sums it up: “Not every moment —but it’s great.”
For more on Pace University, visit pace.edu.