by Nina M. Riccio, M.A.’09
Steve Francis ’63 was feeling a bit shorthanded. As controller for Bridgeport’s Schwerdtle Stamp Company, a family-owned tool and dye manufacturer that’s been a fixture in the city for 134 years, he wasn’t sure that fulltime help was warranted. Instead, he turned to the Dolan School of Business for help in finding accounting majors in need of an internship.
That was in 2009, and accounting majors from Fairfield have been cycling through Schwerdtle ever since.
“It’s great to have these young people come in, with their fresh outlooks and that youthful impatience for getting things done,” Francis laughed, acknowledging that he’s been delighted at how smart and competent the interns have been.
“The first was Bryan Smith ’11, an accounting and finance major, who turned out to be a tremendous asset,” said Francis. “That fall he brought in his classmate, Meaghan Byrnes ’11, and together they took ownership of the job. They set up a system to track receipts coming in for a new line of business, for example. They immersed themselves in detail, and started to see things that could be done better. That’s what really set them apart.”
At the time, Schwerdtle’s operations were split between two facilities within the city. “We had been thinking of moving, but it was Bryan who worked out the numbers to justify the move, and the two of them actually scouted out real estate.” Once the company did consolidate into the space they have now, “all the savings they predicted came to pass,” added Francis.
The two interns also got the staff to use iPads to take orders and accept credit cards, thus revitalizing how the company handled customer deposits while improving cash flow.
The admiration goes both ways. “Steve has a wonderful management style. He’s passionate about what he does, and makes you really want to do good work for him,” said Byrnes. “He created an open environment that allowed Bryan and I to feel comfortable suggesting changes.”
And Smith agreed, adding, “Meaghan and I would sit in Steve’s office and tell him what we thought, and he’d listen and tell us where we needed to put in more work. He enabled us to see new perspectives. And I think Meaghan and I were able to be strategic because at Fairfield the curriculum includes all aspects of business, from management to IT to marketing.”
Both he and Byrnes are now working at Ernst and Young. “Everything I learned at Schwerdtle, I’m able to apply now. My major account is a manufacturing company, and I look at the schedules and understand them because Steve had taken the time to walk me through them,” Byrnes said.
Francis, a certified management accountant, was a sociology major at Fairfield. He went on to study business, financial management, and taxation, but “it’s the liberal arts courses — the ethics, the philosophy — that really had the biggest impact on me,” he said.
“Fr. John Clancy, S.J., probably had the greatest influence on me. He was very tough, very demanding, and an excellent teacher,” he recalled, noting that the class would debate whether there was such a thing as a justified war, or whether the death penalty could ever be right. “He not only made ethics come alive, he taught us how to apply it to everyday situations,” he said.
Francis and his wife Meg have lived in Fairfield for the past 44 years, and for all that time he’s stayed connected with his alma mater. So when he was asked to serve on the 50th Reunion Committee, it was no surprise to anyone that he eagerly agreed, participating in the weekend planning and calling classmates to encourage them to come to the festivities.
“I’ve found talking to them all so enjoyable. The years just melt away, and we do a lot of reminiscing,” he said. He warns those who haven’t been to campus much in the last 50 years that they’ll be shocked to see how the campus has grown and changed.
“Back then, we all wore shirts and ties, and had mandatory Mass twice a week,” Francis explained. For minor infractions, students would “get campused,” which meant staying on the grounds all weekend and checking in with the dean of men on an hourly basis.
And the typical infractions? “Well, once it was for hitting the assistant dean with a rotten banana,” he recalled, adding that he was aiming for someone else. They also remember that the Fieldhouse was considered state-ofthe- art when it opened in their freshman year, and the big opening game pitted Fairfield against powerhouse Holy Cross.
Francis and his most recent intern, Cori Lantz ’13, share a special bond: When Francis processes into Commencement this year as a Golden Stag, Cori will be among the graduates. “She’s a very special young lady with a tremendous work ethic, and we’ve talked about how much we look forward to being on campus together.”