Ben Colandreo M.B.A. '02: A Real Life Action Hero

ben colandreoBiagio "Ben" Colandreo MBA '02 is shedding his flight suit for one with three pieces. The former Marine helicopter pilot is entering the world of finance and business after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he credits his William and Mary experience for helping him get there.

Tell us what you did for the Marines. You were a pilot, but perhaps you can describe your particular helicopter and your mission
I was a Cobra pilot up until last week. That's an attack helicopter that flies in support of ground forces on a multitude of missions, which consisted of mostly escort of air or ground assets, close air support and reconnaissance.

I was commander of a mixed Cobra and Huey squadron comprised of 350 Marines and sailors. Our squadron went to Iraq in 2006 and flew nearly 8,000 hours mostly protecting Marines and soldiers and escorting many wounded. Al Anbar province was a dramatically different place in 2006.

I also served in Afghanistan in 2004 with another squadron and we went toe-to-toe with the Taliban for four months. My last day was the 27th of December, and I flew for a few hours and shot a bunch of rockets and fired the 20 mm caliber cannons. That was a perfect and highly unusual last day.

Tell us what you're doing in your post-military life for Oldcastle Glass Group
I joined Oldcastle Glass as director of business development and I'll work to integrate recent acquisitions and improve our financial performance of current architectural glass and engineered products locations. I will also participate in negotiation and approvals for future acquisitions and large capital projects.

Why did you come to William and Mary?
I had an undergraduate degree in Finance from Towson, but was stationed in Norfolk, Va. running a school that trained pilots to control close air support missions for the infantry. I visited the school with family while on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and learned about the incredible history. I already knew about the academic reputation from a few friends who had attended. I told my wife right then and there that I had to go to this school.

Did new doors open up in your career since you earned the MBA here?
Everything that led to where I work today started at W&M. The Marine Corps started a new program in 2001 that selected 10 Majors to work within a civilian corporation for one year. There was one company most of the 10 wanted because it was a very dynamic hedge fund on Wall Street working for a famous mergers and acquisitions investor. I won that position as an analyst because I was completing my M.B.A. at William and Mary. The recruiter who picked my resume among many said that the main reason he selected mine among so many was because of the mergers and acquisitions guru I worked for on Wall Street.

Tell us how the W&M experience was for you
I'm not exaggerating when I say it was the best educational experience of my life. I got up to Wall Street and was kind of an oddity as an active duty Marine working with a bunch of suits. Within weeks, I was no longer only, "the Marine." I was soloing as the only analyst on high stress investments worth millions. I was prepared to jump in because of what I learned at the College. That kind of challenge right out of the gate from graduation doesn't come around too often so I knew where to give credit that I at least was able to hold my own.

Do you return to the College for football games or any other activities?
I used to but have been deployed or on the West Coast most of the time since 2002. I stay in touch with some professors and Dean Pulley as well. I stay in the know on what's going on and plan to get back this year.

What book are you reading now?
I'm reading the Complete Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions, by Timothy J. Galpin and Mark Herndon. It's relatively easy to buy companies, but the real work starts during integration. Most companies are not all that great after the exhilaration of the buy is over.

What sorts of things do you like to do in your free time?
I exercise and play music. My wife and I have three children so that is my passion. We are pretty inseparable on weekends and bogged down with homework during the week. We live in San Clemente, Calif.

Tell us about your family
I have seven brothers and sisters mostly located in Maryland. I have spoken to all of them in the last few weeks as an indicator of how close we are. My wife Cheryl and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary next week. We met in flight school and she has been putting up with this crazy lifestyle ever since. We have 11-year-old twin girls Aubrey and Sarah and a 9-year-old son, Maxwell. My parents still live in the house we grew up in back in Rockville, Md. They have been there about 50 years now.