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
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
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,
“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.
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.