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Breaking glass ceilings

“The better communicator will be the one who gets noticed—and will be seen as a leader,” says Rosanne O’Brien ’78 at her keynote speech at the 2004 School of Business commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Tina Vince)

Rosanne O’Brien ’78 began her career as a secretary at Tiger International/Flying Tigers. While her supervisors continued to assign her special projects, she realized she could not advance further without a college degree. So, she enrolled in U of R’s Whitehead College (now School of Business), where she earned a B.S. in business administration. Twenty-six years later, O’Brien walked across the Alumni Greek Theatre stage once again—this time, as the 2004 commencement speaker for the School of Business.

Tina Vince, O’Brien’s older sister, remembers how proud O’Brien was to be a Redlands alumna. “Rosanne’s undergraduate studies at Redlands played an integral part in her success in the corporate world. It allowed her to break the glass ceiling, and she owed much to Redlands.” 

Having earned her U of R degree, O’Brien completed an executive program at Stanford University and embarked on a remarkable career. She spent almost a decade at Glendale Federal Bank, where she rose to senior vice president and director of corporate relations. She then became vice president of corporate communications at industrial conglomerate Teledyne Inc. O’Brien retired in May 2008 after nine years at global defense company Northrop Grumman Corporation, where she served as corporate vice president of communications.

During her 2004 commencement speech, O’Brien imparted the knowledge she had gained from her career as a female executive: Businesses, she said, look for employees who are creative, solve problems, think critically, and pursue opportunities. Companies also value the ability to communicate clearly and concisely. “The better communicator will be the one who gets noticed—and will be seen as a leader.” 

Just before her passing from ovarian cancer in February 2018, O’Brien worked with the University’s Development Office to establish an endowment that will provide School of Business students with study-abroad grants. While O’Brien did not study abroad as a Redlands student, Vince knows her sister valued the international business programs. “Rosanne believed that travel was one of the most impactful forms of education.”

As the executor of O’Brien’s estate, Vince partnered with the Development Office and Nicole Joko, principal at financial services firm Cerity Partners, to establish another endowment at Redlands, this time a scholarship in her sister’s name that supports women studying business. “She was so gracious,” says Joko, “and was very intentional about choosing where her wealth would go.”

Bob Shier was a longtime friend of O’Brien’s and a partner at Cerity. “She saw herself as a trailblazer in more ways than one. … She thought women could do anything, and if she put her mind to it, she was going to do it.” To that end, Vince jokingly recalls after one of O’Brien’s many promotions, the company offered her a special parking space. “What she really wanted were stock options, and she got them!”

Vince also remembers when her sister delivered the keynote address at Northrop Grumman’s first-ever women’s conference in 2006: O’Brien described her career as having had “ups and downs, challenges, surprises—and even a few shocks.” These challenges taught O’Brien to “harness and channel ambition to achieve excellence, and take advantage of opportunities.”

Vince says mentoring women was a priority for O’ Brien. “She was mentored and in turn wanted to continue that legacy with others in the corporate world. … Now this scholarship at her alma mater will help do that.”

For information on how you can establish an endowment in your estate plans like Rosanne O’Brien did, please contact Sonia Gomez, philanthropic advisor, at 909-748-8355 or sonia_gomez@redlands.edu.

Read O'Brien's 2004 commencement address and learn more about the U of R School of Business.