Class of 1976 Profile: Tom Clark
May 21, 2021
W. Thomas Clark spent over 20 years at Morgan Stanley, Co. after graduating from business school. He served in various leadership positions including Managing Director of the U.S. Equity Derivatives, Structured Products and Program Trading Department. He was also global product manager for Portfolio Trading and Listed Securities. In addition, he held the position as the Senior Registered Options Principal, served as a Board member of the Morgan Stanley Trust Company, managed Latin America for the Equity Division and was Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Firm.
Clark was a Founder of The Westchester Bank, a de novo which opened in June 2008. He developed the business plan, raised $21 million in capital, hired the management team, and served as chairman of the Board for over ten years and saw assets grow to $1 billion. In addition, he has started or consulted for approximately a dozen successful startup or early-stage ventures in various industries including asset management, asset backed lending and other service and manufacturing businesses. He currently serves as a senior advisor for Capital Research Partners, an investment bank focused on the financial industry. He was a trustee of the Virginia Tech Foundation, serving as head of the investment committee and as its President. He also was President of the Pi Kappa Alpha Foundation and currently serves on its investment committee. Clark has been married 36 years and has four children. He graduated with a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and an MBA from Harvard University.
Why did you choose to attend Virginia Tech?
I was the first in my immediate family to have the opportunity to attend college. I originally came to play baseball, which I did for a year.
My father was a farmer who ended up buying a fast-food restaurant when I was 13 years old. He always prided himself on having never received a paycheck from anyone. He always made it on his own. I took it as a challenge to keep that tradition going. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and build businesses, and I felt finance was the right way to go.
Once I began studying finance, I thought I wanted to be an investment banker, putting deals together. That became my dream, and I was able to live my dream.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Virginia Tech?
I was the president of my class, which allowed me to speak at commencement and the inauguration of incoming President William Lavery. The opportunity to serve the university as president of my class gave me several rewarding experiences.
I was also a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. I now have long-lasting friendships from those days at Virginia Tech – they are still some of my best friends.
How has Virginia Tech helped lead or influence your career?
Virginia Tech provided a nurturing, supportive environment for someone like me, who came from a very small town to a very large campus. There was an adjustment period for me, but I found the university was there to support me and allow me to get involved in different organizations. Being at Virginia Tech helped me mature and take on more responsibilities and achieve different things.
It helped me build confidence in knowing that I could succeed.
What in your career are you the most proud of?
I have been very fortunate to hold several responsible positions, but making it to partner level at Morgan Stanley and running the US Equity Derivatives business is what I’m most proud of. We were a $2 billion department with about two thousand people that worked for us or supported us.
I’m also proud of the start-up businesses I’ve been a part of. I’ve been involved in at least a dozen start-ups over time. I enjoy being able to take a piece of paper and a pencil and start thinking about what the strategy and approach should be to build a successful business.
This ranch, Rancho San Miguel, I’ve owned for 20 years. We are the leading breeder in California and we started it from scratch. We have 25 employees and 400 horses.
Honestly though, I’ve done a lot of different and crazy stuff. I don’t know how to retire.
Regarding your career, you did something most people would never think of doing – you founded a bank. What inspired you to do so?
First, you have to pretty much be insane to think about it. People ask, ‘Why’d you climb that mountain?’ and the answer is, ‘Because it was there.’ That’s how I feel. I thought starting a bank was a really interesting challenge, that it was something new and different.
I really enjoy the start-up process. To think about the vision, the purpose of an organization, and to try and build a culture that will be sustainable over a long period of time. It’s very rewarding when you start out with a piece of paper and a pencil, and then a few years later you see 100-plus employees and eight branches. It’s very rewarding.
The process took almost four years and $4 million to get it open. It was quite an ordeal; a tremendous amount of work trying to get all regulatory approvals, building a very intricate business plan, hiring professionals who will be approved by regulators, and raising enough capital. We were in the midst of a financial crisis when we opened, yet it remains a successful, profitable bank today.
Overall, it was a good experience.
You’ve been very engaged with Virginia Tech since graduating. What are your engagement highlights?
I’ve served on the Alumni Board of Directors and served on Foundation Board as head of the investment committee. I’m still an active participant with my fraternity at a national level and am involved with the local Virginia Tech chapter.
Some of the fondest memories I ever had were at Virginia Tech, and it had so much to do with my growth and development and nurturing. I think we all feel some obligation to give back to those who are going through a similar experience as we did, and hopefully find ways that we can help duplicate our experience for them.
What is your advice for graduating students? For current students?
For those who are leaving Virginia Tech and looking for their first job, try and find something you really enjoy and something you are really good at. Don’t just go with the crowd. Give yourself a critical self-assessment and think about what you could be good at doing. If you are good at something, you’ll tend to enjoy it, and you will thrive and succeed.
I’ll give you an example – when I got out of business school in 1980, the price of oil was at $50 a barrel. The top guys at my school, Harvard Business, went to work for oil companies in Texas. Everyone wanted to work in oil. Within three years, the price of oil had gone back down to $10 a barrel, and everyone was out of a job. You want to gravitate to something you’re going to enjoy and that you think you can build upon over a long time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Some of the best decisions you make are the ones you don’t make.
As for the students at Virginia Tech, find something you like. Don’t be so focused on what your job is going to be and how much money you’re going to make. Focus on something in school you really want to spend some time doing, and learn as much about that as you can. The career will take care of itself.
Live with your heart, so to speak.
You have funded a merit scholarship and an excellence fund in the Finance Department. Why is that giving important to you?
I am trying to provide young people who have shown achievement in high school and are of good character, but may not have the financial resources, the opportunity to receive a great education from Virginia Tech. That way they can pursue their dreams just like I was able to do and hopefully grow in character and knowledge so they can, in turn, make a positive contribution to society.
What does Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) mean to you?
I think of myself as serving Virginia Tech and serving the student body with what I do. I try to live that on a day-to-day basis, and not just with Virginia Tech.