Bob Whalen '92
When current HB Global, LLC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Whalen '92 won the third-place match at 158 pounds at the 1991 EIWA tournament, he was elated. A ticket to the NCAA tournament had to be around the corner after his 24-4 season.
"Honestly, I thought I'd qualified for nationals," Whalen said. "I beat a guy who had qualified the year before and for a couple of hours I had the exhilaration of a big win." Unfortunately for Whalen, 9 of the 10 bronze medalists at that EIWA tournament got tickets to Nationals. He was the one that didn't, despite having the best record of all of them. "That was a really big deal for me in my career," he said. "If the right things fell for me, I felt I could have been an All-American. It was a really painful event." In his two years with the Big Red after transferring in from the University of Virginia, Whalen amassed a stellar 40-13 mark. Several years ago, former head coach Rob Koll called Whalen's omission from NCAAs "literally tragic", adding "I have never coached a wrestler that was more deserving that didn't qualify -- he was robbed." However, Whalen credits that experience with teaching him crucial lessons that have helped him time and time again during his successful professional career, where he was in leadership positions in the benefits business for 15 years, including with Mercer Consulting, before taking the reins at HB McClure. "I let that event poison how I viewed wrestling," he said. [He would've qualified for Nationals in both his junior and senior seasons using today's system]. "I actually graduated from Cornell with a year of eligibility left and I never got that back. It took me a lot of time to get over it. Those are the kinds of experiences that make you better, although you don't want to hear that when you're going through them. It's how we respond to our experiences that's most important. We all get thrown curveballs in life. There's never a time I don’t get a curveball and say I've learned from the NCAA experience and I'm going to control what I can control and use any disappointment as a positive motivator to push me." Whalen believes that other critical takeaways from his Cornell years have been essential in his and his company's success. "Most people outside of wrestling think it's a very individual sport, but the team aspect was always most fun for me," he said. "One of the core values for my business is that great teams perform better than teams that are loaded with really skilled individuals who aren't the best team players. It's about the team. I've worked on focusing my time and energy on the things I do well and surrounding myself with people that do other things well. Our company is owned by all of our employees, so it's important that everyone shares in what we create and reaps the rewards. I'm trying to maximize value for our employee owners and do great work for our customers." In 2011, when this author wrote a "Where Are They Now?" article about Whalen for a Big Red newsletter, the company earned about $25 million in revenue with just under 200 employees in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Fast forward to today: $550 million in annual revenue, 2200 employees, and nine operating divisions from Boston down to the Caribbean plus Phoenix. That growth has largely come from a number of acquisitions, particularly in the construction area. Since the last interview, Whalen also earned a Masters in Finance from Notre Dame to go along with his Cornell MBA (2004). But one thing hasn't changed - his link to Cornell. The first comment he made when the interview for this article began was, "What a weekend for Cornell wrestling!" He was referring to the World Championships in Belgrade which had just taken place, during which 2013 alum Kyle Dake took home his fourth gold medal and senior Yianni Diakomihalis grabbed silver at 65 kg. "I still follow the program and go to Nationals when I can," he said. "I stay close with my teammates. Cornell wrestling and Cornell in general have had huge impacts on my life and I can't be more thankful for what the program has done for me."
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