Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

A very formal thank you

“Do well and do good.”

It’s a simple saying repeated often at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business. But it’s an expression that our graduates take to heart because they know that a career in business has to be about more than just making money. It has to be about doing things the right way, about leading responsibly, and about helping others—especially those in need.

On Sept. 28 at its annual gala, Quinlan honored four distinguished alumni who do exactly that.

Carol McCarthy (MBA, ’85) received the Raymond C. Baumhart, S.J., Award for her leadership at Remedy, a marketing agency that works exclusively with healthcare organizations. Three other Quinlan alums—Nathan Ledesma (BBA ’09), Austin Morris (BBA ’11), and Derek Varona (BBA ’07, MSA ’08)—received the Emerging Leader Award for their work with BowTie Cause, which makes custom bow ties to promote awareness for a variety of causes.

Here are their stories. 

(This story appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of Loyola magazine.)

Bow ties are formal. Quirky. Maybe even fussy.

But to Nathan Ledesma (BBA ’09), Austin Morris (BBA ’11), Derek Varona (BBA ’07, MSA ’08), and Mike Sullivan (BS ’08), there’s more to bow ties than meets the eye.

The four friends, all different class years, met through the Sigma Pi fraternity at Loyola. After graduation, Ledesma, Morris, and Varona went to work for Deloitte in Chicago. Sullivan enrolled in law school at John Marshall. On a whim, Morris and Ledesma started wearing bow ties at work on Fridays. 

“I thought, I’m going to be a tax accountant. I have to do something cool,” Morris said. “So I started wearing a bow tie.”

Meanwhile, the four Loyola grads had been looking for a way to get involved in community service.

“We volunteered through the fraternity in college, and we’d all gone to Catholic high school,” Morris said. “We all had the common desire to do something like that after college.”

Wondering if there was a way to align their fashion statement—that is, bow ties—with their itch to get involved, they turned to the only place one might find such a seemingly improbable marriage: the Internet. That’s where they first stumbled across BowTie Cause, an organization started by former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones that produces bow ties to promote awareness of a variety of causes. Ledesma sent an e-mail indicating that he and his friends were interested in learning more and getting involved. 

Meanwhile, Sullivan did his own research.

“I had been talking with Nathan about this, so I looked it up, and I found that they had only done one or two ties,” Sullivan said. “It turned out that their first bow tie was for juvenile diabetes research—which my sister has. I thought, ‘This is amazing. And a very strange coincidence.’ ” 

Sullivan contacted one of the coordinators of the juvenile diabetes research foundation gala in Cincinnati, at which Dhani Jones had introduced the bow tie. The coordinator sent some of the bow ties to Sullivan, and the four friends wore them to the Chicago juvenile diabetes gala. They then posted pictures of themselves at the event on Twitter. That got the attention of Chad Williamson, the CEO of BowTie Cause who started the organization with Jones.

“It was sort of crazy the way it started,” Williamson said. “I saw this Tweet of a picture of all of them at the Chicago Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gala wearing the bow tie we’d done for Cincinnati. I thought, ‘Who are these guys that care this much about their cause?’ And it turns out it was the same guys that had just e-mailed me.”

Williamson asked the guys to put together a proposal about what they could offer.

"We said, ‘We want to bring your organization to Chicago, using skills we’ve learned at Deloitte and leveraging networks with Loyola,’" Varona said. Williamson was impressed.

Although the foursome started by attending galas, Tweeting photos, and helping to build the image of the organization, they have come to play a larger role in the BowTie Cause. Whereas Williamson’s background is in social work, the business acumen of Morris, Varona, Ledesma, and Sullivan has helped the organization to expand. They manage partnerships with other organizations that are interested in a bow tie, from pricing models to design, timing, shipping, and packaging.

So far, BowTie Cause has 94 partners and has produced 129 unique bow ties, for causes from leukemia and lymphoma to Immaculate Conception School in Chicago. In 2012, BowTie Cause sold more than 5,600 bow ties; this year, sales are projected to hit 7,500 ties.

“It’s unbelievable to look at the traction we’re starting to get,” Morris said. “Not only from partners who want to design a bow tie, but I get easily five or six e-mails per day from individuals who want to buy a bow tie because they have a personal connection to a cause. It’s neat to see it blooming like that.”

The four are careful to point out that wearing the bow tie is not an empty gesture, and not just a way to express vague support for a cause. The ties are designed with fairly abstract patterns, and pointedly don’t include logos or names of organizations. 

“We want people to ask questions,” Sullivan said. “That’s the real value—not as a fundraising tool, but as a reason to tell the story.” 

They four see themselves benefitting on a personal level as well. They’re gaining valuable organizational experience as well as expanding their networks and their resumes. They all express genuine delight at being able to help their wide variety of partners bring visibility to their causes.

And they get to do it in style.

How it all started

When linebacker Dhani Jones got drafted by the New York Giants from the University of Michigan in 2000, a friend told him he had to start wearing a bow tie if he wanted to be anybody in New York. Jones didn’t think much of the good-natured advice, but when that friend was later diagnosed with cancer, Jones started wearing a bow tie in silent solidarity.

The friend eventually recovered, and Jones began to wonder how a bow tie might bring visibility to other causes. Chad Williamson, who was then in graduate school for social work, invited Jones for an interview for a series about athletes involved in the community.

Somewhere along the line, Williamson asked about the bow tie, and the two started talking about it as a concept for nonprofits. The rest is history.