Alumnus pays it forward with BGSU students
By Robin Stanton Gerrow
Geoffrey Radbill '68 found his experience at BGSU life changing and believes his time at the university helped set the stage for his future success. He retired in 2003 as senior vice president and chief operating officer of retail distribution at AXA-Equitable after 36 years with the company.
Radbill has been named a national trustee of Bowling Green State University. The BGSU Board of Trustees voted at its Feb. 23 meeting to approve his three-year term, effective May 6, 2018. National trustees are alumni or friends of BGSU who do not live in Ohio but who can advocate for higher education and are nationally prominent in their fields.
Radbill grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia – a long way from Bowling Green, Ohio.
"My parents thought it would be a good idea to go away for college," Radbill said. "A friend of the family was a professor and spoke highly of BGSU. So, off I went!
"I was younger than most of my classmates, and I was pretty immature," he said. "I really struggled the first year, and it was tough until my fourth semester. But then I really engaged with some of my professors, university administrators, fraternity advisors, fraternity brothers and fellow students. Once I started getting involved, everything turned around for me."
Before his retirement, Radbill was approached to make a gift to secure naming rights for a four-person office in the future Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Shortly thereafter, Radbill began a 12-year process of endowing scholarships in Finance, Accounting, Management and Insurance. Today, these scholarships are awarded to as many as 13 students per year. Radbill's estate plan also includes a major bequest to BGSU for scholarships and College of Business infrastructure.
Getting involved has changed a lot of things for Radbill, and for those around him. But philanthropy was something that did not come naturally to him. It was a mentor at one of his jobs that stressed the importance of giving back.
"I was so fortunate to work for an extraordinary individual, who saw community engagement as part of the job," Radbill said. "My late wife had multiple sclerosis, so it was an easy decision to get involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I volunteered and was almost immediately invited to take a seat on the board."
It was that experience that really made Radbill open to the idea of getting involved with the University when he was approached.
"I'm involved for a reason," he said. "I feel the University was so important to me in regard to my success and who I am today. I decided I wanted to do something in a big way, with a focus on the students through scholarships and the like."
His long record of service to BGSU also included having served on the BGSU Foundation Board from 2005-2011, as development committee chair and on the executive committee. In 2006, Radbill received the Accomplished Graduate Award (College of Business). Next, in 2010, Radbill was recognized as one of 100 of the most prominent alumni and received the Centennial Alumni Award. Additionally, in 2015, Radbill became a founding member of the Insurance and Risk Management Institute , a program within the Department of Finance that offers students a curriculum that specializes in insurance.
His most recent contribution to the University, reflecting his career in finance, was a gift to name the Geoffrey and Linda Radbill Trading/Simulation Lab in the new Robert W. and Patricia A. Maurer Center in the College of Business. The lab will be a state-of-the-art, mock Wall Street trading floor setting, allowing students to buy and sell stock in real time.
Radbill's idea of philanthropy with the University doesn't stop with financial contributions. Rather, he sees his engagement with students as one of the more important and rewarding things he does, including visiting with as many of his scholarship recipients as time permits.
"About 15 years ago, I began coming back to BGSU once or twice a year," he said. "I make myself available to speak to classes and try to do six to 10 during each visit. My favorites are finance, insurance, accounting and management – the first time, I didn't know what to expect, and I spent 70 hours just preparing!
"I've learned that my 'value-add' is not in sharing academic stuff; it is in sharing life experiences. Now, I try to be more strategic – what can I discuss that the professors aren't talking about? I talk about knowing yourself, personality profiles, forming teams, how do you motivate your team and why diverse teams are important."
While Radbill's commitment to philanthropy may not have started until 20 years into his professional life, his passion about diversity started much sooner, while he was at BGSU.
"I was treasurer and then president of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, and back then, 'diversity' was not a word in our vocabulary," he said. "But by the time I left, we were the most diversified group on campus. We went from a mediocre fraternity to one of the best houses on campus because of our diverse membership."
And when he meets with his scholarship recipients there are a few key things he always addresses.
"I like to ask a couple of questions," he said. " 'What do you love about BGSU?' and 'What would you suggest the University do to become even better?' But, equally important, I point out that they should remember that someone helped them through scholarships, so when they graduate, it is time to give back for the next person in need. It is why I do what I do – to help someone get an education they may not have been able to afford without that support."