For a little more than a decade, the Rev. Edward Salmon was living the life.
As a mediator of contract negotiations and grievances for the service company then known as Allied Maintenance Co. during his 30s, Salmon was flying cross-country first class and eating in the finest restaurants with clients.
"They would put a plate out in front of me with filet mignon, and then it was, ‘Would you like another, Mr. Salmon?’" he says.
But something still itched in the back of his mind, pulling him back to the calling he had heard earlier in life to become a Jesuit priest. After a return to the priesthood in 1980 and three decades of service in Jesuit settings, Salmon heard another calling.
This time, in 2010, it was a phone ringing. The chairman at McQuaid Jesuit High School was on the line, telling Salmon that the school’s president was posting his resignation. The chairman asked Salmon to return to the school where he had once spent five years as chaplain to become interim president.
Salmon accepted the challenge to lead a school that had a $10.7 annual budget and 110 employees. The school’s enrollment, which has remained steady in the past few years, is close to 840 students. As he assumed the interim role, he noticed the need for a better level of discourse within the school. There were great things happening, he notes, but people were not talking about them enough.
"As interim I was just kind of holding the sails, but I saw the need for someone to listen," says Salmon, 75. "I started to think about how to go about fostering good things among staff and faculty and our students and their families."
Salmon put in his bid to become the school’s full-time leader, and in late 2010 the board selected him. Taking over at a time of difficult demographics-the number of high-school-age students in the area is declining-Salmon is leading McQuaid on a path of growth and drawing on the negotiation and business skills from his first career to do so.
"Running a school is no longer something you can take for granted," Salmon says. "There are things like budgets and strategic plans presidents have to be responsible for. In a lot of ways it’s the same as running a business."
Path to McQuaid
Since he was a child Salmon had known he wanted to become a Jesuit, but it took a little longer than he first intended. The Jesuits are an order of Roman Catholic priests founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1534 with a commitment to social justice and education.
Salmon attended a Jesuit high school in New Jersey, and after graduation he left to study to become a priest. From the New York province, where he started his studies, he went to study at a university in the Philippines. After a few years at Ateneo de Manila University, Salmon returned to the United States and continued his studies.
That is where he veered off his intended path. Just a half year away from completion he left the vows, joining the corporate world instead.
He became an arbitrator with Allied Maintenance, a power player in the realm of corporate negotiations.
"All of a sudden I was traveling all over the world, driving a Jaguar," Salmon recalls. "But the whole time, there was something in the back of my mind, itching."
It was his calling to be a Jesuit, and after spending 12 years in the corporate world Salmon gave in. In 1980 he asked if he could be readmitted to study as a Jesuit, and in 1985 he was ordained as a priest.
After spending time in various posts throughout the Jesuit world, including president of St. Peter’s Preparatory School in New Jersey, Salmon found his way to McQuaid in 2002. There he served as chairman of the board’s Ignatian Identity Committee and faculty chaplain, a position that helped instill Jesuit ideals into the then-largely secular faculty.
"That was an important position because there were fewer and fewer Jesuits to pass on the ideals and the basis of the Jesuit teachings," Salmon says.
It is also important for the school’s identity that the lessons be steeped in the Jesuit philosophy, he says.
"When this place was filled with Jesuits, it was clear to everyone that McQuaid was a Jesuit institution," Salmon says. "Now it’s been bubbling under the surface, and the chaplain position was formally created about 15 years ago to keep those ideals in the forefront of our teaching."
To disseminate these ideals, Salmon led the faculty members on retreats where they learned about the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, who started Jesuit teaching institutions. These retreats also gave teachers a chance to grow and pray together, Salmon says.
"To teach in a Jesuit school is more than just a job, it’s a mission," he says. "It’s about being someone who helps students become the best human beings they can become. That’s what St. Ignatius did."
In 2007 Salmon left McQuaid to become the superior of the Jesuit community of America magazine in New York City. His job was to provide food and bring the community together in prayer.
It was there that, in 2010, the board reached out to Salmon to fill in for then-president William Hobbs. He had accepted a position as vice president at the Jesuit Secondary Education Association and would be leaving at the end of the school year.
Salmon said yes immediately but then remembered he had to get approval first.
"I realized I couldn’t say yes right away, because I still had a boss, but I told him that McQuaid would always have a special place in my heart," Salmon says.
Salmon was given the approval to return to McQuaid and as president saw the good the school was able to do with students and the community as a whole. He realized the contributions he could bring, how his experience with the Jesuits and in the corporate world could help move the school forward, and began to see himself filling the position full time.
The school’s board saw the same thing. Chairman Peter Rodgers said as the search went on for a full-time leader, it became increasingly clear that Salmon was the best candidate.
"It was evident to the trustees that Father Salmon was an excellent president, and then we asked if he would remain on as president of McQuaid," Rodgers says.
As an arbitrator, Salmon’s job was to listen to and understand two often opposing sides, opening up a line of dialogue between them. At McQuaid, he saw a lack of that kind of communication.
"There was, for whatever reason, an atmosphere of not listening," Salmon says.
So he put his communication skills to work, instituting an open-door policy in his office and making it a point to ask faculty and staff members for their thoughts and concerns about the school. One of the most important tasks was to turn them into ambassadors of McQuaid and the good work going on there.
"We have a fine and competent group of faculty and staff, and I told them that though great things were happening here, I needed help getting that message out," Salmon says. "I said, ‘Let’s start talking about all the good things we’re doing.’"
The situation took Salmon back to his time at Allied Maintenance: When his company acquired a tire manufacturing plant, the workers were unaware of the change.
"That was where I started to learn the importance of spreading the good news about what you’re doing," Salmon says. "These employees didn’t even realize that they were working for us, so we had to let them know about us and the great things we were doing."
Salmon had a knack for transferring the interpersonal skills he developed in arbitration work to his academic duties, says the Rev. Philip Judge, former McQuaid principal and current president of Regis High School in New York City.
"He’s a terrifically thoughtful guy and a great listener," Judge says. "He did a lot of negotiations in his time and has got a great understanding of people, of interpersonal relationships, and an ability to step back and help people understand what it is they want."
Salmon’s introspection transcends his professional role. He enjoys cooking for himself and his friends and doing crossword puzzles-in pen, he says.
When Salmon joined McQuaid, he put those skills to work when the school pulled together a task force to find ways to better communicate with students’ families. The task force created a requirement that, in order for students to be eligible for athletics, at least one of their parents had to attend a meeting about the school’s athletic philosophy.
Parents were taught about McQuaid’s view of athletics as a co-curricular, rather than extracurricular, activity. Athletics is seen as a chance to teach students how to win and lose gracefully as well as learn the values of discipline and teamwork, Salmon says.
The communication effort also extended to alumni, with whom Salmon hoped to foster closer relationships among the school’s disparate stakeholders. In the last year he has visited with alumni groups in cities across the country, including Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C.
"We have alumni in many parts of the world, and we want to do a better job bringing them the story of what’s happening at McQuaid," Salmon says. "We want to have a personal connection with all of them. You can send all the letters and mailers you want, but there’s nothing like that personal touch."
The outreach is also meant to build up the school’s development efforts, Salmon says. A more engaged alumni base will lead to both more giving to McQuaid’s annual campaign and a higher level of involvement in general as alumni visit the school and speak to students, he adds.
From the window of his office, in a wing of the school that once served as a residence for Jesuits, Salmon can literally see McQuaid growing.
The school is expanding its academic space, growing in anticipation of adding sixth grade in the next academic year. Salmon sees this move as a chance to extend the school’s enrollment and instill Jesuit values in a younger population.
"As we set up the curriculum we want to focus on making them intellectually competent," Salmon says. "We want them to know what they know and to be on top of their game. We also want them to be open to growth, so they don’t close themselves off to anything."
The school is working on raising funds for a new academic building that will house new facilities with upgraded equipment. Salmon has plans for an upgrade to McQuaid’s science facilities. Much of the equipment students use in the science curriculum is the very same as when the facilities were built in the 1950s.
Plans are in the early stages, with McQuaid reaching out to the Rochester Museum & Science Center and the University of Rochester Medical Center to develop a science curriculum, but Salmon has high hopes for the science expansion.
"We need to be able to provide the best possible facilities and education for the students that we can, so this is a priority," he says.
McQuaid is making other academic improvements, like a shift in the schedule to allow longer class periods.
"We want to make sure learning is not just rote memorization but gives students time to question and reflect and explain the concepts," Salmon says.
There are challenges to the school’s expansion plans, Salmon admits. One is demographics-there is a projected drop in the number of high-school-age students over the next decade.
The other challenge is the school’s tuition, which Salmon and the school’s administration have worked hard to make more accessible. For the 2012-13 school year, tuition for sixth-grade students will be $8,500 and for grades seven through 11 it will be $11,150. Students in grade 12 pay $11,350.
Salmon’s vision is to expand the school beyond the stereotype of "rich white boys from the east side," to include a wider demographic.
McQuaid has an endowment of close to $9 million, which contributes to the more than $1.6 million given each year in financial aid. As the school increases the amount of aid, it also looks for new places to recruit students.
"We’re reaching out more and more to areas of the city where students never looked at us as an option," Salmon says.
To do this McQuaid relies on its relationship with Nativity Preparatory Academy, established in 2005 by McQuaid’s board of directors to expand opportunities for economically disadvantaged students in the city of Rochester. It has also called on alumni-like one who gave $12,000 each year for a student to attend the school who otherwise could not have afforded it-for support.
"When St. Francis Xavier opened the first Jesuit school in 1548, he hoped they would be training the leaders of society," Salmon says. "If you look at McQuaid you’ll see the number of judges and lawyers and other leaders who have come through here, but that leadership is also tremendously important for areas of the city where we hadn’t traditionally been."
Salmon says he hopes to create an atmosphere where successes build upon each other, where the conversation naturally turns to the good things McQuaid is accomplishing. But as he focuses on these accomplishments, Salmon is also careful to keep track of the small successes that happen in the classroom and on athletic fields each day.
"I find it so delightful and satisfying to see the light in a young person’s eyes when they get it," he says.
A big part of those successes come from Salmon himself and his ability to inspire those he works with, Judge says.
"Ed has a way of livening up anything he’s a part of," Judge says. "If you put Ed in charge of people, he’s going to get the best out of them."
The Rev. Edward Salmon
Position: President, McQuaid Jesuit High School
Education: B.A.,1960, and M.A. in philosophy,1962, Berchmans College, Cebu City, Philippines; M.Div., Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass., 1986
Family: Brothers William, Christopher, Robert Joseph; sister Margaret Ann Eickhorst
Activities: Cooking, crossword puzzles
Quote: "I find it so delightful and satisfying to see the light in a young person’s eyes when they get it."
4/20/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.