A Former Banker’s Cautionary Tale

Mark Franczyk ’00 gave a Cum Laude address on finding the courage to follow his heart
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

“Who loves cooking or even a good meal?” Mark Franczyk ’00 asked Williston Northampton School students and faculty on January 16. He nodded at the sea of raised hands in the Phillips Stevens Chapel.

“And who loves banking?” he asked. There was laughter from the crowd; a few hands appeared.

Mr. Franczyk smiled. “So why did it take me 10 years to determine that I should be working as a chef and not as an investment banker?” he said.

Mr. Franczyk was at the Cum Laude Induction Ceremony to provide what he described as a cautionary tale, particularly for those who are obsessed with being high achievers.

In a humorous and often self-deprecating keynote, Mr. Franczyk explored the twists and turns of his career, from majoring in economics—an area of study he didn’t love, but that seemed lucrative—to frantically pursuing a high-powered job to the point of collapse, and then finally changing courses altogether.

Read the full speech here.

But first Mr. Franczyk congratulated the 14 new members of Cum Laude, academically outstanding seniors who had been inducted into the society a few moments before.

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

“Let me say sincerely, congratulations to all the inductees today,” he said. “The hard work that brought you to this point is truly impressive.”

Then, taking a page from the book of master chef Jacques Torres, Mr. Franczyk lightheartedly threatened to pelt any inattentive members of his audience with eggs.

“Nothing quite like the threat of having an egg fly at your face if you’re not paying attention keeps you engaged,” Mr. Franczyk noted, holding up a small Tupperware container. “So just so you know, I’ve got three.”

Mr. Franczyk took his audience through what he described as his greatest mistakes: Mistake number one? That decision to major in economics. Mistake number two? Perfecting “learning for the grade,” which left him with no lasting memory of his actual classes. Mistake number three? Locking up a role as an analyst with J.P. Morgan in his senior year at Columbia University.

“I would spend the next eight years working upwards of 100 hours a week in the office, sleeping about four hours a night, usually with my Blackberry on my chest,” Mr. Franczyk said. “Even though I was performing at the top of my game at one of the top firms in the country, I was miserable doing it.”

What all of this work did, he explained, was land him in the ER three times, and cause him to be in a “state of constant panic.”

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh“So if I’m going to offer up anything as a direct piece of advice, it’s this,” he said. “If you find yourself on the wrong path, turn back.”

That’s exactly what Mr. Franczyk did just over a year ago. He quit his job as an investment banker, enrolled in culinary school, started a food blog (www.outsideofthebreadbox.com), and talked his way into some of the top kitchens in the country. He now works as a pastry cook for the Alta Marea Group, Chef Michael White’s Michelin Star winning group of restaurants, which include Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, and Costata.

“So here I am about a year later,” he said. “I’ve gone from curious foodie to the guy who is elbows deep in bread dough at 6:30 a.m. each morning…I no longer wake up dreading the day. I no longer find myself frozen in the center of a trading floor wondering, ‘How the hell did this happen to me?’”

Mr. Franczyk told the students to savor their achievements, and had this final piece of parting advice: It was far better to enjoy the failures, he said, than to hate every moment of success.

And when he returned to his seat, to loud applause, not a single egg had been thrown.

The following Williston students were inducted into the Cum Laude Society on January 16:

Lena Gandevia
Margaret Glick
Emily Grussing
Cameron Hill
Umi Keezing
Dong Ho Kim
Katelin Murray
Emily Peirent
Loren Po
Mackenzie Possee
Matthew Steinberg
Cade Zawacki
Yiting Zhang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *