John Overbeck, '75
John Overbeck's life seems guided by fate. The Class of 1975 alumnus has returned to his alma mater as a visiting professor in the College of Business Administration, a role that will enable him to share what he has learned over a 32-year career in business management with Niagara students. The position, created for him, was exactly what he had been looking for.
"I read what Father Levesque had written about what it means to be Vincentian, and that kind of resonated with me," Overbeck explains. Recognizing that he could bring a real-world view of the business world into the classroom, he contacted Niagara to discuss the possibility of teaching a few business courses. The visiting professorship was offered, and Overbeck eagerly accepted, because it would give him the "chance to be with young people and share some of my experience."
This kind of serendipity has occurred more than once in Overbeck's life. As a senior at Brooklyn Prep, a high school founded by the Jesuit order, he planned to attend Marquette University, another Jesuit school, after graduation. However, his Regents scholarship required him to attend a school in New York state. He considered Canisius, but wanted a more suburban location. When his high school advisers told him about Niagara, he decided to enroll, although he was not familiar with the school and had never seen the campus.
Niagara turned out to be a wonderful experience for the young business major. He developed a number of lifelong friends, among them Brother Augustine Towey, C.M., Brother Martin Schneider, C.M., '78, Dr. Sharon Watkinson, '66, and the Rev. John Maher, C.M. '76; met his future wife (the late Kathy Reid) here, with whom he had three children: Jen, Kate and John Jr.; and discovered a new interest in theater. That discovery was made by chance, as well.
"I was photo editor of the Index at the time," Overbeck recalls. He had been assigned to cover the auditions for the Niagara Players' upcoming production of "Our Town." "I honestly went over just to snap a few shots."
While he was watching the try-outs, Brother Augustine, founder of the university's theater program , asked him if he'd help out by reading for some of the male roles. He agreed, and by the end of that day's audition, he was invited to join the cast.
"It was really fun," he says. So much so that he continued to participate with the Players, acting in such productions as "Dames at Sea," "Fiddler on the Roof," "You Can't Take it With You," and "That Championship Season" with former NU basketball coach Frank Layden. In 2004, Overbeck joined his original castmates in a special 30th anniversary readers' theater production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Overbeck's post-NU life was touched by destiny as well. After his graduation in 1975, Overbeck attended the State University of New York at Binghamton to earn his MBA. He returned to the Niagara area in 1977 to take a job at Artpark, a position that allowed him to combine his interests in business and theater. Two years later, with the encouragement of his colleagues, he decided pursue a career with a larger corporation. Again fate stepped in.
"I got the Manhattan phone book," Overbeck says," and began calling every company I recognized." As luck would have it, the local office of IBM had an opening, and Overbeck was hired. This was the start of a more than 30-year career with the organization. While his initial connection with IBM may have happened by chance, it was hard work and a strong business acumen that led to his professional success. He was hired as a marketing representative, and held several sales and sales management positions throughout following decade. In 1992 he was promoted to general manager of the Alliance Trading Area, where he was responsible for IBM's operations in a number of states. After holding a number of executive positions with the company, he was appointed in 2007 to his current role as managing director, Ford Motor Company, with responsibility for IBM's global relationship with Ford.
Overbeck's career with IBM gave him substantial experience that he wanted to share with aspiring business professionals. He had done some teaching in the past, at the invitation of former NU economics professor George Neimanis, and enjoyed it so much that he knew he wanted to go back into the classroom one day.
"I thought someday, when the first phase of my business career was over, I'd try it again," he says.
That time is now. Overbeck is currently a visiting professor in the business college. While he's not sure what he will do after that, it is likely that his path will be a fateful one.