My First-Gen Story: Ralph ‘Buz’ McDonald ’80
My father worked for an oil company in Vermont, and I spent my summers working with him. I had always thought about a career in business. My uncle had a degree in electrical engineering and a long career at IBM. He became an early role model for me.
I started college at the University of Vermont, but only stayed a semester. The classes were huge, about 300 to 400 people; also, I was 17 and probably not ready to bear down. Then I went to Champlain College, a two-year school in Burlington. One of my accounting professors, Champ Soncrant, suggested I consider his alma mater: “You know, Buz, you should take a look at Bentley.”
One of my friends happened to attend Bentley, so I visited him a few times to get a feel for what it was like. The small class sizes were attractive to me, and the rest is history. To make college work, I had to get some money together. I applied for grants, had a campus job in the gym, and worked during the summers. I knew I had the ability and desire to succeed, but not necessarily the reassurance. Bentley gave me that confidence. I learned to manage time, manage money and be strategic. These are great assets for a graduate to take out into the world.
I spent my career in the petroleum industry. First, 16 years at Koch Industries; then I worked for Chevron Corporation and moved to the West Coast. I was asked to relocate again, but thinking about it, I decided to take a chance. I thought, “If I could be successful for someone else, I could be successful on my own.” Now I’m a trader/broker in petroleum; it’s not particularly sexy, but it has allowed me to have a successful career.
I’m the oldest of four siblings, so I was able to lead by example. They all went to college — my mother was particularly proud of that — and they all have done very well in life. Sadly, my father died when I was 25 so he never got to see our professional success. I don’t think I could have imagined 40 years ago I’d have the successes I’ve had. It’s been part hard work, part luck and part timing. I wouldn’t want anything to change.
Buz was featured as a “Trailblazer of the First Degree” in the spring 2019 issue of Bentley Magazine. Read the full story.