Patrick Coyle, ’84 alumnus, may have been your typical Albion student-athlete who spent his freshman days in second-east Wesley, pledged a fraternity and played college-level lacrosse, but what Coyle took away from his liberal arts education is far from archetypal. Originally from Gross Pointe, Mich., Coyle moved to Chicago the February after he graduated where, driven by a fear of failure, he would eventually begin building his successful career as a financial adviser for Bank of America’s wealth management division, Merrill Lynch.
Similar to many college students, Coyle tested different fields of interest in college. As a biology turned economics major, Coyle was inspired by professors across the board who challenged him to apply his knowledge in the classroom to real-world scenarios. Among the professors he mentioned during our interview, Economics professor Dr. Dan Christensen was the only professor still currently teaching.
“Well, he’s probably not blonde anymore,” Coyle laughed, recalling his summer school class with Dr. Christiansen.
Among other inspiring professors such as Scotty Craycraft and Claire Dixon, Dr. Christiansen, who will retire this May, left Coyle with memorable knowledge in economics applicable to his career today.
“He challenged us to look at a circumstance in society, apply economics to it and then write about it using economics as opposed to some other lens,” Coyle said. “It was impactful.”
Besides this influence from Albion professors, the peers that Coyle surrounded himself with outside of classes made all of the difference. Coyle pledged Sigma Nu during the spring semester of his freshman year and valued the strong group of fraternity brothers he became a part of. Among this tightly knit group, Coyle mentioned multiple friends who are now business owners, CEOs, or people who, ultimately, “went out into the world and knocked the cover off the ball.” These were the people who pushed him, not only throughout his academic career, but beyond it.
“Out of this little school came this group of people who ended up doing quite a few pretty cool things in life,” Coyle said. “And it’s not over.”
Coyle’s close friend and former fraternity brother, current CEO of The Parking Spot, Kevin Shrier, described him as “an outgoing and gregarious guy” who always kept him laughing during their college days.
“If Pat wasn’t working for Merrill Lynch I think he could be a stand-up comedian,” Shrier said.
But beyond Coyle’s fun-loving and humorous side, there was no doubt in Shrier’s mind that Coyle would move on and become very successful after they graduated.
“I think that ability to connect with people and have people attracted to him because he is just a great person to be with really helped him in his career,” Shrier said. “I think his clients, for one, love that he knows what he’s doing, but they love being with him too—it’s just the person that he is.”
Following graduation in ’84, Coyle left Albion wondering what in the world he was going to do with his degree. The summer before, Coyle had fallen in love with the city of Chicago and became interested in commodity business. After spending some time traveling after graduation, Coyle decided to move to the Windy City and find work as a commodities broker for Thompson McKinnon. A year later, in September of 1987 (one month before Black Monday), Coyle made an important pivot in his career and began work as a young, cold-calling broker for Merrill Lynch.
“Our business is about building a business,” Coyle said. “And it’s a business now, not just a kid who’s scared to death that he’s going to get fired because 95 percent of the people who walked through the door got fired. I was motivated by fear.”
Early on in his career at Merrill, Coyle had the opportunity to team up with a senior advisor who taught him the ropes. It was this mentor early on who sent Coyle in a direction aimed for success.
Coyle has since created a substantial business as Senior Vice President of his wealth management team. His current client base of wealthy families and individuals stretches from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, down to Florida and up through Chicago but numbers and figures were hardly the emphasis in Coyle’s description of his team’s success. It is the relationships formed with these clients that makes his business meaningful and rewarding.
“Next to their doctor, there is nothing more personal or important than their financial well-being,” Coyle said. “We become a big part of their life and they to us.”
Coyle’s partner at Merrill, senior vice-president CFA John Schmitt, shared in these similar values and saw them widely reflected in the person Coyle is.
“Pat has a very unique and special ability to connect with people and put them at ease. In our business we’re obviously dealing with people’s personal wealth—a very trust-based personal relationship,” Schmitt said. “I would trust him with my life.”
So how did Albion play into Coyle’s wide achievements? It was the underlying liberal arts degree that he successfully allocated—no pun intended.
“What makes a kid from Albion attractive is that you’ve had a pretty wide scope of experience and exposures and it makes you more interested and malleable—its attractive,” Coyle said. “You come out of there tooled but not tooled for specifically one thing.”
It was the wide range of fields, personalities and angles of Albion’s liberal arts education that allowed Coyle to test different waters throughout his college career. It was this “platform for people to cut their teeth, try things, experiment, get to know themselves and gain confidence” as Coyle put it, that inevitably sent him to Chicago with a willingness to work hard, an open mind to discover where his knowledge was best applicable and a clear pallet ready to absorb all he could.
Coyle mentioned that his friend, a CFA, often comments about the education Coyle received at Albion College. More than once he has enviously said to Coyle, ‘You got an education, I learned skills.’
When asked what advice he would give to undergraduates approaching graduation and in search of jobs, Coyle emphasized confidence, honesty and the importance of picking a career that fits you over the career you believe you should fit into.
“Come out of [Albion] and be really, unflinchingly honest with yourself and with your perspective employer and not only feel like you are being interviewed but interview the employer,” Coyle said. “The ability to really be engaged in the process with the person separates you from the pack plus it serves you much better in the long run than trying to fit what their profile is.”
Coyle offered a more down-to-earth perspective than what is more ordinarily emphasized to college students. His advice to students may very well take the edge off and work as a “be-yourself and be confident in your skills” pep talk for those approaching interviews in the near future.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of— just be direct. Speak directly, honestly and respectfully,” Coyle said. “If you try to fit into a box that you think they want you to fit into, you may end up somewhere that isn’t really a fit for you.”
During his four years at Albion College, Coyle gained more than he may have realized at the time. He explored his academic interests across opposite fields, he applied knowledge of theories to tangible, real-life conditions, he surrounded himself with people who would graduate and create wildly successful lives for themselves and, most importantly, he gained confidence to venture out into the real world and harness what he had learned and experienced into a successful and rewarding career.
“This little school, man,” Coyle said. “People go out and do big things.”
Photo via Merrill Lynch