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Raymond James COO Shares Advice with Students

Tampa, FL (November 15, 2012) — When Raymond James Chief Operating Officer Dennis Zank told his father that he wanted to go to college, the response wasn't one most young people would hope for.

Dennis Zank talking with students

"That's a good idea," his father said. "Good luck."

That response shaped Zank's entire life philosophy -- one he now shares with students of his alma mater, USF.

"There is nothing that is going to substitute for how dedicated you are to whatever you are doing," Zank told students at a Q&A session last week. "You make out of your life whatever you put into it."

He and Raymond James Financial Inc. exemplify the type of relationship the Muma College of Business strives to cultivate with alumni and local companies. Zank himself is an active alumnus, serving as a mentor to first-generation students in the Corporate Mentor Program, who like Zank are the first in their families to go to college. In addition, Raymond James is one of the top companies to hire Muma College of Business graduates, with 230 alumni currently working at the company.

"He is the perfect alumnus," said Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem in his introduction of Zank. "He stayed involved, and he is helping the college tremendously."

Through Zank's leadership, Raymond James employees have raised more than $180,000 to establish and endow a scholarship for business students. Since 2003, this fund has provided almost $60,000 in scholarships to 30 students in the Muma College of Business.

Zank graduated with an accounting degree in another tough economy, back in 1976. He got a job right out of college, one he says he was lucky to get, but which was at an "ethically challenged" company. Two years later, he went to work for Raymond James, negotiating a salary of $1,000 monthly.

When Zank went to work for Raymond James, its total revenues were $15 million. Now, 34 years later, its total revenues are $4.5 billion, and the company is 300 times the size it was then.

Dennis Zank speaking to students and the dean

Zank uses his experience to educate students about what they should expect in the business world, and he hopes his experience adds to their education in the classroom -- he has been involved with the Corporate Mentor Program for 17 years, the longest-serving mentor in the program.

Having a mentor can help students identify what about themselves they can improve, Zank said. He told students to seek mentors out not only in college, but when they enter the professional world. It's also as important for them to learn social skills as it is to gain academic knowledge, Zank said.

"I think it's much easier to take a very good manager and give them technical skills than it is to take a good technical person and make them a good leader," he said.

Zank also told students to make time for people no matter how high they rise in the corporate chain. As the COO of a major financial services firm, that's a belief he embodies when he comes back to USF to speak with students. Zank said he thinks executives should be able to return their own emails and turn their phones off once in a while.

"Don't take yourself too seriously," he said. "No one is that important."