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Kean University

‘Common-Sense Billionaire’ John Catsimatidis Shares Wisdom with Kean Students

Cover of John Catsimatidis book _ How Far do you Want to Go

John A. Catsimatidis, a billionaire owner of grocery store chains, a real estate and aviation company, and the New York radio station WABC, gave lessons in success to students at Kean’s College of Business and Public Management (CBPM) on February 7.

In a remote lecture to a capacity crowd at Kean’s Hynes Hall, Catsimatidis touted hard work, putting in long hours, getting a “great education” and learning from mentors.

“I worked 100 hours a week. When other grocery stores were open six days a week, I opened seven days a week. The payment is in sacrifice,” said the business mogul, who started his empire with one New York City grocery store, and grew it into the Gristedes and D’Agostinos supermarket chains.  

Catsimatidis also owns Red Apple Group, a real estate and aviation company with $2 billion in holdings; United Refining Company; and WABC, where he has a talk show. He released a book about his life, How Far Do You Want to Go? Lessons from a Common-Sense Billionaire, and donated 100 copies of the book to the college.

“There’s no substitute for hard work,” he told students.

CBPM, which last year was accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, offers innovative curriculum, strong faculty, research opportunities and experiential learning in marketing, management, accounting, entrepreneurship and other programs.

Dean Jin Wang, Ph.D., said events such as Catsimatidis’ lecture broaden students’ experiences. 

“It is an invaluable opportunity for our Kean students to learn from successful leaders like John Catsimatidis,” Wang said. “We are grateful to Mr. Catsimatidis for generously sharing his message with our Kean students. His stories, wisdom, advice, and willingness to help us in the future were greatly appreciated.”

The event was moderated by CBPM Assistant Professor Saran Nurse, Ph.D. She called Catsimatidis “a remarkable blend of business acumen and community service.”

“He is a testament to the American dream,” she said.

Catsimatidis’ family immigrated from the Greek island of Nisyros when he was an infant. He dropped out of New York University eight credits shy of earning an engineering degree. 

Catsimatidis started his career when he had the chance to buy into a supermarket where he worked. By age 25, he owned 10 Red Apple grocery stores, a number that expanded to almost 50. He also pursued a lifelong passion - learning to fly a plane - then launched an aviation company. 

Kean students, many of whom said they dream of starting businesses, were energized by the lecture.

“He’s very inspiring, especially as an immigrant himself,” said Yulieth Sanabria of Elizabeth, a human resources management major, who immigrated from Colombia.

Garrett Terlizzi of Brielle drove to the lecture from Kean Ocean so he could hear from Catsimatidis. 

“He talked about hard work, putting in 100 hours a week. I think that’s a message we need to hear in our generation,” the senior finance major said.

James Mele of Manasquan, a second year MBA student, valued it, too.

“I appreciate that he still preaches the classic way of building a business by working hard,” Mele said.