Features

Bronc buddies

By Adam Grybowski | Spring 2019

Last October, Tom Lynch ’75 and Joseph Adler ’75, ’90 were once again sitting next to each other on the campus of Rider University. More than 40 years earlier, the pair had graduated together, earning accounting degrees in only three years. Before receiving their diplomas, Lynch and Adler had married their high school sweethearts and, at their respective weddings, served as each other’s best man.

Between then and now, their personal and professional lives had remained intertwined. But to ensure that Adler would be present at their alma mater on this particular day, Lynch had to lie to his best friend. Months before, he had called the Adlers and told them to set aside this day in October. Rider’s Board of Trustees, of which Lynch was a member, was requiring him to bring fellow alumni to a ceremony and dinner. The story, which was vague and not at all true, set the stage for a trap.

Now, with most of the Board of Trustees in attendance, as well as dozens of other students and members of the faculty and staff, Lynch and Adler sat in between their wives and next to each other, looking out upon North Hall. The academic building, Rider’s newest, was built in 2011, well after they graduated. As several speakers made introductions on a crisp autumn day, the clouds moved across the sky as if on pulleys while the wind whipped a brown tarp strung across a section of the building’s face. Adler couldn’t figure out what it was doing there. Was it covering some kind of leak?

Finally, Lynch was called to the podium to speak. He focused narrowly (and somewhat quizzically, from Adler’s perspective) on his long friendship with Adler, which was at this moment in its 52nd year. That friendship was the source, Lynch informed the audience, of many of his most important connections. With Adler, he had gone out on his first date with his wife to be and found his way to Rider, two cornerstones that he believes helped propel him to enormous success, first as an accountant and then as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Only seconds before being summoned to the podium himself, Adler leaned toward his wife, Wendy, and whispered, “I’m about to be ambushed.” The trap sprung, Lynch welcomed Adler to his side and then turned toward North Hall. With a gesture, the tarp fell, revealing a new name for the building: Lynch Adler Hall. The renaming accompanied Lynch’s $5.5 million gift to Rider, one of the largest individual gifts the University has ever received in its 153-year history. Lynch's unrestricted gift will be used to support some of the University's highest priorities, which include providing an affordable education and ensuring the financial stability of the University, in addition to enhancing facilities and providing visionary programs of study.

Adler, surprised but stone-faced, embraced his friend. “That’s about as emotional as he gets,” Lynch deadpanned.

On the way home following the ceremony, the two old friends, elated and satisfied, stopped to see Lynch’s parents, who are still living across the river from Rider in the old Bucks County, Pa., neighborhood where Lynch and Adler grew up.

 

Tom Lynch and Joe Adler were introduced by a nun.

Lynch was born in Virginia in 1954, and his family transplanted to several cities before landing in in Levittown, Pa., in 1964. By that time, Lynch was struggling academically, particularly in math and science. “My mom would never use this word, but I was an underachiever,” he says.

In seventh-grade at Queen of the Universe grammar school, a nun recommended he receive tutoring three days a week in lieu of recess. She turned to one of Tom’s peers, a bright student named Joe Adler, to provide instruction. The two hit it off immediately, and before long, Tom, a Baltimore Colts fan, and Joe, a Green Bay Packers fan, began playing sports together in their neighborhood that Adler recalls today as straight out of Leave it to Beaver.

Over time, Tom’s grades began to improve, and Joe influenced him in other important ways too. One day, the pair rode their bikes to the bank so Joe could deposit some cash he had earned from his paper route and odd jobs mowing lawns. Tom noticed that his friend had accumulated more than $800 in his account. It didn’t take much more for Tom to start mowing lawns and delivering papers on his own.

By the time it came to apply to college, Lynch had improved academically, but he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Adler had chosen to attend Rider, the alma mater of his father, Jerrold Adler ’49. Lynch, who credits much of his success to his college education, says, "When my best friend decided to go to Rider, it sounded good to me so I decided to go to Rider."

In his first semester, suffering from a broken shoulder, Lynch homed in on his studies. “Numbers are the language of business, and they have always told a story to me,” he says. “That has served me well in life and, at Rider, it simply registered. I discovered what I was good at and gained confidence. It opened the world of possibility to me.”

Soon, Lynch says, he was getting all A's, which didn’t escape the notice of his friend and one-time tutor. A friendly academic rivalry was born, kindling their ambition. “The education here was phenomenal,” Lynch says. “It was like an accounting boot camp. You had to know your stuff. That led us to challenge ourselves.”

Taking many of the same classes, Lynch and Adler commuted together and studied together. In the afternoon, they played street hockey and at night, they worked at Sears. “We’re not brilliant people, but we’re pretty intelligent and we’re both extremely competitive,” Adler says. “Once Tom started getting A's, I had to get A's.”

Recalling their college years in separate interviews, Adler and Lynch tell many of the same stories. The time they smoldered after an economics professor gave them B's despite expressing that he thought they probably deserved A's. Or when it became clear, after a certified public accountant visited one of their night classes, what accountants actually do. Or how they discovered their career ambitions to become partners in one of the Big 8 (now Big 4) accounting firms. As their professional futures were coming into focus, so too were their personal lives.

Back in high school, Tom and Joe worked at the same ice cream parlor, O-Boyle’s, in Bristol, Pa., where Tom had his eye on an employee named Patty. When Joe informed Tom that he had a pair of extra tickets to a Phillies game, Tom arranged to go with Patty — the couple’s first date. Not long after, Joe began dating another young woman from the neighborhood, Wendy.

Today, Tom and Patty have been married for 44 years and have four children. Joe and Wendy have also been married for 44 years and have five children. The two couples were wed before Lynch and Adler graduated from Rider. Neither was yet 21 years old, and for the first time since becoming attached at the hip after meeting almost a decade earlier, with a lifetime ahead of them, Lynch and Adler’s parallel paths finally began to diverge.

 

While awaiting the results of a CPA exam in the late 1970s, you did not want to find a fat envelope in your mailbox. A nice, fat envelope contained your application to retake the exam, or a section of it — the one you didn't pass on the original test. A skinny envelope meant you passed.

After taking the exam post-graduation, Adler received a skinny envelope, Lynch a fat one. Lynch had passed three of the exam's four parts, and even though he had to retake one, it was still quite an accomplishment. Within a year of graduating, Lynch and Adler were both working for two of the largest CPA firms in the world, with newborn children at their homes. Both would eventually become CPAs.

After Lynch moved up into a management position, first at Motorola and finally at the Fortune 500 company TE Connectivity, where he served as CEO, he realized how far a solid educational foundation could take a person in the world of business. “When people think of accounting, they think of keeping track of numbers,” he says. “That’s the baseline, but there’s a second and a third level of understanding. If you really learn this stuff, it will tell you exactly what’s going on in a business and it will almost tell you why.”

Meanwhile, Adler had found secure footing in the food industry, where he worked for more than three decades before retiring in 2018 as the VP Corporate Controller for Pinnacle Foods, the maker of branded foods such as Birds Eye vegetables and Duncan Hines baking mixes. Although for a time he and Lynch lived in separate places, the two friends remained close. When possible, they played basketball on the weekends. After Adler’s father passed away, Lynch delayed a business trip to Germany to attend the funeral. “My family is his family and vice versa,” Lynch says.

While working for Motorola, Lynch received an invitation from Bart Luedeke, who at the time was Rider’s president, to attend an alumni event in Chicago. “It reminded me what Rider meant to me,” he says. “I had forgotten how important this place was to me.”

He steadily became more involved with the University and joined the Board of Trustees. Later, as he became closer with Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Rider's current president, and Vice President for University Advancement Karin Klim, he became persuaded that his philanthropy could make a real difference in supporting the vision outlined in Rider’s strategic plan and campus master plan.

“I feel more confident every day that places like Rider University really do change people’s lives,” Lynch says. “Education is so important, it really does make a massive difference.”

In 2013, Patty and Tom established the Danaher Lynch Family Foundation with the purpose to help unleash the potential of people in their community, primarily through the support of education. “Our lives have been so lucky,” Lynch says. “We have no confusion about that. When you look at people who have been dealt a lousy hand in life and realize that you have had more breaks than the average person, you realize you have to give back somehow.”

Seeing how the mission of their foundation aligned with Rider’s, Tom and Patty decided they wanted to make a transformative gift to the University. There was only one catch: Neither of them wanted much, if any, recognition for it. Naming a building was out of the question. “You don’t want people to think it’s an ego thing,” says Lynch, a self-described introvert.

When the idea was floated over a joint naming, it immediately struck Lynch as the right answer. “If there wasn’t a Joe Adler,” he says, “there wouldn’t be a Tom Lynch standing here.”

Since the unveiling, members of the Adler family have made the trip to campus to see Lynch Adler Hall. “I know we’re great friends, but to have someone do that, I was totally shocked and I’m immensely grateful,” Adler says. “I was speechless at the ceremony and didn’t know what to say. So I simply said thank you, and that's all I needed to say.”

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