EC Names 2017 Distinguished Achievement Awardee

January 12 2017
Category: Alumni

Barbara Riordan

“Be open to opportunities. You never know what will come your way,” advises alumna Barbara Munder Riordan ’67, recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award, which will be presented to Barbara at Reunion 2017. This award recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves and Elmira College by making a difference in society by improving the quality of life on local, national, and global levels, and achieved recognized success and leadership in their professional and community work. And Barbara has done just that. It was during her time at Elmira College that Barbara realized where life might lead.

As a high school graduate in the mid-60s, Barbara was unsure where her interests and skills might take her. Inspired by her grandmother, a bookkeeper and undeclared precursor to the women’s lib movement, who believed talent always prevailed. Barbara also was inspired by her father who believed hard work was equally critical, and her mother who taught her to treat others the way she would like to be treated. Barbara, the first in her extended family to go to college, chose Elmira College after her guidance counselor, an Elmira alumna, suggested she consider the College. While studying political science, Barbara credits her professors Dr. Ward and Dr. Kobayashi for encouraging her to remain politically aware. Courses in speech, art history, and contemporary civilization expanded her horizons, preparing her for life’s experiences. Barbara actively participated in student government, synchronized swimming, and as Anderson Hall’s dorm mother.

After Elmira, Barbara continued her education at New York University’s Stern School of Business, earning a master’s degree in finance, and traveling for a one-year internship with Unilever in London. Barbara’s career flourished with a position at Institutional Investor magazine followed closely by the first of many positions at The McGraw-Hill Companies. Over the next 23 years, Barbara continued with McGraw-Hill, holding positions such as Vice President of Business Development at BusinessWeek, Senior Vice President of the McGraw-Hill Foundation, and Senior Vice President Communications, Marketing and New Initiatives.  During her time with the global publishing, financial, and information giant, Barbara also testified before Congress on copyright protection.   

After leaving McGraw-Hill in 2000, Barbara ventured forward as a consultant and as executive director of the Institutional Investor Institute and The Hedge Fund Institutional Forum. She also served as committee chairman on several Board of Directors, including: Corporate Governance Committee with PetSmart, Inc.; Compensation Committee with Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; and the Development Committee for Lighthouse International, a non-profit organization for blind and visually impaired, for which she received the President’s Lifetime Service Award in 2012.  

In addition to her career, Barbara lists her 38-year marriage with husband John, and raising daughter Alexis as the highlights of her life.  She enjoys travel and her goal to hike every U.S. national park is two-thirds of the way done. With only Antarctica left, she has also almost accomplished her dream to visit every continent multiple times. In addition, Barbara co-authored the biography, “Joe Louis: 50 Years An American Hero,” with Louis’s son, Joe Louis Barrow. The biography is currently in screenplay production.

The 50 years since Commencement has taken Barbara around the world, but never far from the alma mater she loves.  Even as a corporate executive and busy mom, she made time for the College, serving as a Trustee from 1997 until 2000, and providing significant assistance in the planning and publication of the history of Elmira College in celebration of the Sesquicentennial in 2005.  She continues to be actively involved, attending alumni events and even hosting an event in her home in South Carolina.

Elmira College remains near and dear to Barbara’s heart, and she recalls fond memories of Mountain Day, the purple and gold freshman beanies, and the selection of blazer colors.  However, one of her favorite memories includes entering Elmira College as a freshman in a year the College had more students than it had residence hall capacity. As a result, 20 students, including Barbara, lived in two homes adjacent to campus. Barbara credits that experience in creating a bonding experience between her, her housemates and the College, a bond that remains strong to this day.