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THE PROFILE
Brendan J. “B.J.” Cassin ’55

By Michael Reardon

In 1969, B.J. Cassin ’55 co-founded the technology firm Xidex Corporation, which became a Fortune 500 company in 1987, with $752 million in sales and 7,000 employees around the globe. After leaving active management of Xidex in 1979, he embarked on a successful career as a Silicon Valley venture capital investor.

As a venture capitalist, Cassin is a financial founder of numerous technology companies, including Advanced Fibre Communications, Laserscope, Maxtor, PDF Solutions, Symphonix Devices and Cerus Corporation, where he is chairman of the board.

But, his most significant accomplishment—the one for which he will most likely be fondly remembered—is the founding of the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation (CEIF). Cassin and his wife, Bebe, launched the foundation in 2000 with a $22 million gift. It was formed after he had visited two innovative Catholic schools in Chicago that serve low-income students, the San Miguel Middle School – Back of the Yards Campus, and the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.

The educational models and high retention rates at the schools were extraordinary. Fewer than one percent of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School students drop out in a neighborhood where 65 percent of public high school students quit school.

Cassin has said that a “light bulb went on over my head” that day in Chicago. He realized that the Cristo Rey and San Miguel models could be brought to other communities to revitalize Catholic education and provide high quality learning in some of the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

“I felt those models had all the ingredients they needed to be successfully replicated,” Cassin says. “I felt strongly that these two models would bring Catholic education back to an economically disadvantaged population.”

Now, based on the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and the Nativity Prep/San Miguel middle schools models, the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation helps to establish private, faith-based college-preparatory middle schools and high schools in urban, economically challenged areas across the United States. CEIF has helped establish 59 middle schools and 11 high schools around the country, with three more planned for 2006 and four more in 2007.

One of the most unique aspects of the Cristo Rey schools is the fact that all students are required to work entry-level office positions, which pays for 70 percent of their tuition. The extraordinary success of the Christo Rey model has attracted media attention, including an October 2004 segment on 60 Minutes II.

Cassin’s generosity has also helped Holy Cross in recruiting minority students. Four years ago, he awarded the school a $1 million grant to further minority recruitment and retention on campus. Cassin was a recipient, in 2003, of the College’s Sanctae Crucis Award, which recognizes the distinguished achievements of alumni.

“Holy Cross is a first-class college, but I was concerned that minority students who do not have the opportunity to attend the school should be given the opportunity to do so,” Cassin says. “I think Holy Cross has made tremendous progress. I’m very proud of the school.”

Education has always been an important part of Cassin’s life, with the experience of his parents having a profound influence on him. His father had to quit school after the sixth grade, and his mother was the only one in her family to graduate from high school.

Attending Holy Cross was a tremendous growing experience for the self-described “fuzzy-faced kid out of Lowell, Massachusetts.”

“My parents wanted me to attend either Boston College or Holy Cross,” Cassin says. “But in my family, getting into Holy Cross was the epitome.”

Q & A

Who was your best friend at Holy Cross, and do you still keep in touch with him?

Joe Reilly, who was my roommate. We were best men at each other’s weddings and are godfathers to each other’s kids. For the last five or six years he has worked on campus heading up the Bishop Healy Committee.

How did Holy Cross shape you as a person?

You can’t leave Holy Cross without a strong ethical guidepost. When issues come up in life or in business, the ethics I learned at Holy Cross spring up. The school also strengthened my religious beliefs.

What place does Holy Cross hold in your life now?

I recently attended my 50th class reunion. It was a renewal to see a lot of people again. A couple of my classmates are out here in California, and we see each other occasionally.

What lessons did you learn in the Marine Corps?

I was in the Marines for five years. I thought it would be a career. I was 27-28 years old when I finally figured out what I wanted to do. From the Marines I learned leadership, how to prioritize things and how to work with people. It was very challenging and very rewarding.

Stats

Birth Date: Nov. 25, 1933, in Lowell, Mass.

Current Home: Los Altos Hills, Calif.

Family: wife, Bebe; children, Joseph, Robert, Kelley, Jonathan and Catherine, and five grandchildren

Profession: Private venture capital investor

 

B.J. Cassin ’55 was photographed at his office by Patrick O’Connor on Oct. 24, 2005.

 

 

 

Brendan J. “B.J.” Cassin ’55
Brendan J. “B.J.” Cassin ’55

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