The proud Baruch alumnus talks about his humble beginnings, providing scholarship support, and dedicating a lecture hall to help future students
Jack Sobel (’59) was always something of a workaholic – and while he enjoyed a lengthy career in the pension and defined benefits industry, he still fondly remembers his very first job: shining shoes.
“It was rewarding because you’d meet people, and I was a shy kid,” recalls Sobel, who was born at the tail end of the Great Depression and earned 40 cents an hour shining shoes in Manhattan in front of Ratner’s, the famed dairy restaurant on Delancey Street. “That whole experience helped me push myself and taught me how rewarding it is to work hard.”
That philosophy would serve Sobel well in the decades that followed. He went on to attend Baruch College mostly at night to earn his college degree, while simultaneously running a wholesale business by day. After graduation, he became a leader in the pension industry and remained at the top of his field until he retired in his mid 70s.
“My career was rewarding – it was actually fun,” Sobel laughs. “I enjoyed my clients and even enjoyed dealing with the IRS and the Department of Labor.”
Sobel credits much of his success to his clients, who he says always acted ethically and wanted to provided good benefits to its employees.
“One of my clients said to me once, ‘My employees are more important to me than my customers,’” Sobels says. “We really had a special group of clients.”
He also credits his wife, Barbara, for doing the lion’s share of work in raising their children while he remained laser focused on his profession, often traveling for clients and putting in six-day work weeks. “She brought up our children, and brought them up well,” he says.
“Barbara was probably too nice to me,” he adds with a laugh. “Let me get away with too much!”
After decades as a respected leader in his industry, Sobel retired and began to focus on giving back. He provides scholarship support to Baruch and recently dedicated a lecture hall, Room 3-160 of the Newman Vertical Campus.
“I feel like I was the recipient of charity, effectively,” says Sobel, emphasizing how important Baruch’s affordable and flexible education was to his career. “I owe it to the next generation of students. I want them to have a chance, just as I did when I was their age.”
At the lecture hall dedication, students who have benefitted from Sobel’s generosity shared their stories.
“Words cannot express my deepest gratitude,” said Francesca Pratesi, a clinical psychology student who just graduated with honors from Baruch and who is a recipient of the Jack and Barbara Sobel Scholarship. Originally from Italy, Pratesi moved to New York City seven years ago, and the financial support of Sobel’s scholarship helped her focus on transitioning to a new country and learning a new language. She plans on pursuing graduate studies in the fall.
Finance major Julia Kaneko, originally from Japan, also thanked Sobel for his support.
“You didn’t just change one person’s life,” she said. “I’m going to pay it forward and influence as many people as I can.”
Baruch College Fund (BCF) President Helen Mills and BCF trustee Jay Berman (’59) shared their thanks at the dedication, paying particular attention to the plaque inside the lecture hall which details Sobel’s life story.
“All faculty, staff, and visitors who enter this lecture hall will appreciate your story,” said Mills.
At the entrance of his dedicated lecture hall, Sobel selected a quote from late entrepreneur Steve Jobs to be inscribed: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Stay eager to learn, take risks, and keep trying to do what others say can’t be done.”
Sobel said that he hopes that this philosophy, as well as his own personal story and philanthropy, will inspire other current and future alumni also to give back to Baruch.
And his top advice for the next generation of students?
“Follow your passion,” he says. “Try to find something you love, work hard, and don’t look for shortcuts – because there are none.”