Every so often, a classic made-for-the-movies American success story unfolds in real life. Someone takes a chance on a spirited kid who hasn’t had a lot of breaks. The hunch proves correct, as hard work and talent open doors to previously unimagined opportunity. That’s the story of Bentley University and BNY Mellon senior executive Lawrence Hughes ’80.
Hughes’s story began in Somerville, Mass. His mother was a waitress. His father, a truck driver, died when Hughes was 15.
“I had to grow up kind of fast,” he says. “I‘ve had a job since I was 10 years old.”
That first job – tossing copies of the Somerville Journal onto doorsteps every week – set Hughes on a lifelong pursuit of opportunity. Even in grade school, he was curious about what makes organizations tick.
“We’d go to McDonald’s and I would wonder what went on behind the counter to make it all work. I even started to read The Wall Street Journal.”
At Somerville High, he set his sights on a career in business.
“I thought of it in a very practical way: A business education would help me get me a good job,” explains Hughes, who, along with two older brothers, would be among the first in his family to attend college. “I just needed to find a college that would be the right fit. That school was Bentley.”
Business in Sight
The Boston-area native knew about Bentley, but wasn’t sure he would qualify for admission. So he was thrilled when the acceptance letter arrived.
“Bentley took a chance on a city kid who didn’t have a lot of money or any particular advantage,” says Hughes, who, along with two older brothers, was among the first in his family to attend college.
The demands of life would leave Hughes little time to enjoy dorm life and other aspects of a traditional college experience.
“I worked full time to pay for school, so I would schedule my classes as early as I could, go immediately from there to work, and then go home to do my homework,” he remembers. “It was a challenge, but one that I embraced.”
Like many Bentley students of his generation, Hughes was an Accounting major. “Dick Cross and Ralph McQuade were folks that I admired and learned a lot from. I also enjoyed the non-business courses. Bentley exposed me to the humanities and literature. It was very broadening, especially for someone who hadn’t been many places and wasn’t very worldly.”
That grounding in both business and the humanities paid off. Working with the Office of Career Services, Hughes graduated into a tough economy with four job offers. After a stint at an engineering firm, he moved on to Wang Labs, rising to audit manager for the company’s international subsidiaries. A year spent in Europe would also take him to Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and elsewhere.
“It was just a great experience,” he says, “and Bentley prepared me for that.”
Long interested in investments, Hughes entered the banking amid the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. He landed at Eastern Bank, becoming corporate controller. In 1991, he joined the predecessor to BNY Mellon, where over 19 years he has had seven different roles.
His latest appointment came in May, when Hughes was named CEO of the bank’s Wealth Management business. He and his colleagues in the division have worked over many years to craft a winning strategy in wealth management, which recently posted a 17th consecutive quarter of positive growth in long-term assets.
“Bentley has a very special place for me,” says Hughes, married for 29 years with a 24-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son. “Bentley saw something in me, and I’ll always be grateful they did.”
He speaks these words on a sunny spring day, gazing out from a Boston office that overlooks Beacon Hill and the Charles River basin. Not a bad view for an ex-paperboy from Somerville.