Commencement Address: James J. Maguire ’58


Father Gillespie, Trustees, Faculty and Parents, good afternoon… and to members of the Class of 2014, good afternoon and congratulations!

I’m honored to address each of you today, and share with you how my personal experiences here at SJU literally changed my life!

Like many of you, I too am a first generation college graduate, and what happened here at Saint Joseph’s over 56 years ago transformed my thinking, my values and my self-confidence. For these reasons and others that I’ll share with you in just afew moments, I’ve had a special bond with this University, but first, let me go back and tell you a little bit about my early years before SJU when I was a young person like you!

2014 Commencement
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My elementary and high school years were an academic disaster. Except for playing basketball in high school, they were embarrassing and completely frustrating years. I could barely read at a grade school level, when I graduated dead last in my high school class of over 200 students. I had absolutely no intention of attending college; in fact, I was actually advised against it by my high school counselor, who told me college would be over my head!

To my surprise however, shortly after graduation, Taps Gallagher, the legendary Coach of Niagara University, contacted me, and offered me, a 4 year basketball scholarship to Niagara… which I promptly accepted… only to flunk out 6 months after arriving at Niagara!

I was drafted shortly thereafter into the Korean War, which initially was a traumatic experience, but it actually turned out to be a “life changer” for several reasons.

First, the military for me at age 20, taught me the value of discipline, and it also gave me a sense of ownership and pride in America, and most importantly while in the military, I became starkly aware that I had to try again to get a college education.

Honorary Doctorate Citations

James J. ’58 Maguire
Frannie Maguire
After serving two years in the Korean War, I was entitled to enroll in College under the G.I. Bill which was a tuition program, provided by the government, for Korean Veterans; The G.I. Bill encouraged colleges and universities to accept returning Veterans… And frankly, without it, I probably never would have attended college… or SJU.

So I was enrolled at Saint Joseph’s University, under the G.I. Bill, and this was the beginning of a journey, that would change my life forever! Saint Joseph’s University turned out to be a magical experience, for two very special reasons, that I can only explain as “Devine providence.”

#1. Early on at St. Joe’s I met and befriended, a Jesuit Professor, Father Hunter Guthrie – He was the retired President of Georgetown University, and as it turned out, he was an early pioneer in the study of dyslexia; this was back in the 40’s & 50’s, when there was virtually nothing known or understood about Dyslexia or about people who learned differently! Father Guthrie realized almost immediately that I was dyslexic, and he personally, took it upon himself over time, to teach me not only how to manage my dyslexia… He actually taught me how to read and comprehend!

Interesting that today, students in the “Special Education Department” right here at Saint Joseph’s University, are being trained on the best practices for teaching students with dyslexia, and for those who learn differently. In 2013, this program was recognized and certified by the Independent Dyslexia Association… Saint Joseph’s University is the only University in Pennsylvania to receive such a certification.

And the 2nd reason… even more magical than learning how to manage my dyslexia… I met and married my wife Frannie, while at Saint Joseph’s University… Frannie has been the center of my life, and the inspiration and strength, for all my success!

I readily admit that I way over married!

We’ve been married 56 years – 9 children, all living in the Philadelphia area, and 4 of our children are Saint Joe grads. We also have 22 grandchildren, one is a Saint Joe grad, class of 2008, a 2nd, Patrick McKeon, will graduate today, (class of 2014);

And a 3rd grandson, Michael McKeon, Class of 2016!

I graduated from SJU in 1958 with a B.S. degree and with a new found academic confidence, thanks in large part to my mentor, tutor and dear friend, Fr. Guthrie! Despite my dyslexia, St. Joe’s helped me discover that I had a natural talent for math, actuarial statistics and accounting, all of which are key academic disciplines in the insurance industry… an industry which I immediately entered upon graduation.

I went to work for a large insurance company (after graduation), and after only two years, I decided to leave and start my own insurance business as a specialty underwriter in what was then a new industry, the automobile leasing industry…

My 1st office was in a 400 sq. ft., 2nd floor walkup, over a bakery and Frannie was my secretary!

After experiencing several years of success in and around the Philadelphia area, and recognizing that I had developed a superior insurance product and a competitive edge, I started expanding the company into additional cities around the U.S…. Chicago was 1st followed by Boston, Atlanta and other cities!

…But let me stop here and…

Fast forward 33 years to 1993; I had expanded the company to 20 offices across the U.S., with approximately 500 employees, and by this time I had a dozen specialty insurance products. It was then, in 1993, that I decided to take the company public.

I went to Wall Street to do an I.P.O (initial public offering), and I raised $50MM of capital, so I could continue growing “Philadelphia Insurance Companies.”

I returned to Wall Street 2 more times after the I.P.O., and raised an additional $350M of capital, to continue growing the Company.

By 2008, 15 years after taking the Company public, we had realized dramatic growth!
  • Grew to1,600 employees
  • 49 offices nationwide
  • $2.5 Billion in revenue
  • $9 Billion in assets
  • Marketing over 100 specialty products.
  • No Debt!
  • Our stock, trading on the NASDAQ, had grown from $1.58, to $38.00 per share… a 2500% gain! (in stock value)
  • And Forbes Magazine that year… 2008, ranked our Company as one of the Top 400 Companies in America.
It was in mid-2008, right after being named to the Forbes 400 list, that I was approached by an International conglomerate with a substantial offer to merge our company and become their insurance platform in the U.S.

After much soul searching, and after six months of intense negotiations, I decided to do the merger… and in December 2008, I pulled the trigger on the transaction and received a cash settlement of $5 Billion.

Shortly after the merger, Frannie and I decided to deposit a substantial portion of the settlement proceeds, into our Maguire Foundation, which is focused primarily on scholarship education for students of “financial need.” Our Foundation is grounded in the belief as taught by St. Ignatius, that we are called “to be men and women for others.”

So… that’s the story on my connection and love for this University and a little bit about my business and personal history…

It’s a history that I memorialized after the merger of our Company, by publishing a book titled Just Show Up Every Day, (It’s available on, and I wrote the book for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to tell the story of the Company’s remarkable success, because it is truly an American success story… From the halls of Saint Joseph’s University to Wall St., to one of Forbes Magazine’s Top 400 Companies in America!

  2. I wanted to identify the company’s culture, which propelled our success, which I believe is embodied in the Company’s “Six Steps to Success,” which are posted on every single desk in all 49 offices across the country!

Let me enumerate them for you, because this is really my graduation message to each of you today:

Step 1: As I say in the title of my book… You have to show up every day, with specific goals… and you have to dream big dreams! We all know, Success is a marathon However, I believe… “The will to win is attainable, if you have the will to prepare!”

Step 2: Be passionate and positive about what you’re doing. If you don’t believe, and love what you’re doing – you’ll never be successful. At PHLY for 50 years, I loved what I was doing!

Step 3: Strive to be a high achiever – And to be a high achiever you must become a consummate professional… you have to give a full measure of your effort, every single day!

Step 4: To be successful you have to Stay Fit; physically and mentally. Mental fitness is achieved by striving to be a leader in your profession.

Step 5: And probably most important … It’s the choices you make…!

You have to surround yourself with winners; in your personal life, professional life, and in your extra-curricular life.

You’ve got to hang out with winners, because, if you hang out with dogs (as I like to say), you’ll wake up with fleas!

My success, both personal and business, is directly correlated to the winners I’ve surrounded myself with! Starting with my very first choice – when I married my wife Frannie!

No. 6: Sustained success comes from a balanced life… You have to give an equal measure of time, and attention, to each of these 4 areas of your life…
  • Family
  • Profession
  • Exercise and Fitness (physical & Mental)
  • Spiritual Life
In business and in life… I believe a balanced life will keep you motivated! And it’s well known that motivated men and women is what make America great!

So… That’s the six principles that have been the keys to my success, and to the success of Philadelphia Insurance Companies, for the past 50 years!

In closing… I can tell you from experience…“If you believe what you are, you can become what you believe!” This is the message from SJU and the message of my book.

A complimentary copy of my book, will be my graduation gift to each of you today.

Thank you again for recognizing Frannie and me, with Honorary Degrees, but more importantly, thank you for allowing me this incredible opportunity, to share with you the blessings and experiences that I’ve had in my life!

Remember, “The race in life is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.” Good Luck, God bless you and keep on running!

Thank you!