Mentor Leaves a Legacy of Selfless Service and Lasting Friendship

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In Memoriam: James Robert (Jim) Friedberg 1932-2017

James (Jim) Friedberg at the Jindal School in 2015

The Naveen Jindal School of Management is fortunate to have vital mentors. The time business leaders, alumni, community supporters and corporate friends devote to students at the school help them build a bridge from their education into their futures.

James (Jim) Friedberg, 84, who died Monday, March 6, at his home in Dallas after a yearlong battle with polymyositis, numbered among an elite group of JSOM mentors who went far beyond expectations in service to students and the school.

“From day one…, he was always asking what more he could do,” accounting senior lecturer Mary Beth Goodrich, says. “He was particularly sensitive to the challenges international students can face and wanted to do everything he could to help them be more comfortable and confident.”

This most famously took the form of the “Starbucks Challenge.” Friedberg, who had been an executive vice president at NCH Corporation, would tell students to go to a Starbucks. introduce themselves to a patron, explain that they were an international student and ask if the patron would spend a few minutes talking with them so their English could improve.

“The stories that would come back were priceless,” Goodrich says. “They’d tell you how someone would end up talking to them for hours. Or how they now had a great new friend. …Jim did everything from help a shy student gain confidence to become a leader in Toastmasters to checking in on students every day if they needed.”

Friedberg started working with the school through the MS in Accounting program in 2012. In 2015, students voted to present him one of the inaugural Owlies, awards given annually to recognize leaders in the JSOM community.

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Jim Friedberg (far left) and Career Management Center Assistant Director Neil Johnson celebrating in May 2015 with international students enrolled in the Jindal School's Institute of Business Language and Culture

Friedberg earned the “Selfless Heart” honor, a tribute to “an individual connected with JSOM who has won hearts through his/her selfless acts of service.”

Goodrich says that the “Selfless Heart” is a perfect way to describe Friedberg.

“It’s going to be tough for me to tell students,” Goodrich says. “There will definitely be some tears. They knew with Jim that they had someone who was behind them completely…who was there for them in every way.”

Neil Johnson, assistant director of the JSOM Career Management Center, echoed those sentiments. “Jim was a tremendous supporter,” Johnson says. He “selected students to personally mentor with several securing internships and full-time positions. His ability to connect, encourage and motivate students within professional development will be missed.”

Goodrich offers that Friedberg’s mentorship actually went beyond students. “He was even a great mentor to me,” she says. “He would give me ideas to expand my work and much more. He would send encouraging messages — his enthusiasm was contagious and I’ll take a little bit of that with me. Many people will.”

To honor Friedberg, the Jindal School has established the Jim Friedberg ProConnect Opportunity Fund. The fund will support the ProConnect initiative, which provides MS in Accounting students opportunities to hone their skill sets as they do pro bono work in the community.

Friedberg’s survivors include his wife, Sherry, children Jimmy and wife, Jean; Julie Friedberg Kuntz and husband, Mike; Stephanie Friedberg Bowden; Stephen Friedberg; stepchildren Micah Levin and wife, Julie; Brendan Levin and wife, Tonya; and Erin Levin, six grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

 — Eric Butterman

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