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Lee Howley, MBA ’72

Director, Lorain National Bank and Owner, Howley Bread Group Ltd.

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“The most productive educational experience I have had,” is how Lee Howley characterizes the 12 months he spent at NYU Stern earning his MBA degree. Building on a solid academic foundation that included receiving an undergraduate degree in accounting from Georgetown University, Howley craved “real-life, hands-on experience” and chose to pursue graduate studies at Stern due to its proximity to Wall Street – both geographically and in terms of the professional backgrounds of its faculty. He explains that the School, “connected the dots for me and demonstrated how to apply an academic foundation to the real world.”

For Howley, the “real world” that he speaks of is a reality where many find themselves today: on a nontraditional and varied career path. Although he spent six months working at an accounting consulting firm before enrolling at Stern, upon graduation Howley was hired to head the venture capital department at Eaton Corporation, a major industrial company based in his native Cleveland. After some time, he realized that the corporate culture was not entirely what he imagined it would be and that his passions would be best served by going into business for himself and becoming his own boss. While running a real estate development company devoted to medical spaces, he grew fascinated by telecommunications. 

Noting that his education “came in very handy” for his next venture, Howley formed a franchised cable system for Cleveland that became the only major urban cable provider to be financed 100 percent through a leveraged financing deal – and of which he and his partners were able to maintain total control. He then went on to build similar cable systems in Europe before turning his attention to the restaurant business. In 2000, he founded Howley Bread Group, Ltd., which owns and operates 27 Panera Bread bakery-cafés in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Howley Bread currently employs more than 1,200 associates and its affiliate manages various corporate functions for other Panera Bread franchisees in five states.

Another distinction of Howley’s somewhat unusual career is that he became involved in civic organizations relatively early in his life, finding that “people with basic, common-sense business experience can make a tremendous difference to government and nonprofits” and that “we in the business community need to reach out and lend a helping hand.” Just a few of the institutions that Howley has lent his helping hand to include the Ohio Wildlife Council, which he chaired; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum; Arthritis Foundation; and the United Nations, where he acted as the US’s Public Delegate from 1994 to 1995. Drawing on his experiences, Howley’s advice to friends and family, as well as to the Stern alumni community, is to “find what you to love to do; what makes you excited, even if it means less money or success in the traditional sense. Don’t wait – go for it now.”