James M. Denny (L’60)
James McCahill Denny was born in Minneapolis in 1932, the third child of Charles and Mary Eleanor McCahill Denny. He attended St. Thomas Military Academy in St. Paul for two years and received his high school diploma from the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut in 1950.
He attended Princeton University, was drafted in 1954 and served in the U.S. Army Korean Military Advisory Group in Taegu. He was awarded the Wharang Distinguished Military Service Medal by the Korean Government in 1956. Upon return to the U.S. he attended and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota in 1957, graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1960 where he was an editor/officer of the Law Review, and commenced his law career in New York at the firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer and Wood.
He married Catherine Florance of Minneapolis in 1961. They moved to Paris in 1965 where he opened the Dewey office, returning to the U.S. in 1968. He left Dewey to join the legal staff of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, subsequently changed his career from law to finance, ultimately serving as treasurer of the corporation.
He left Firestone in 1977 to become Chief Financial Officer of Chicago based G.D. Searle & Co. which was engaged in a restructuring under its new CEO Donald Rumsfeld who had served as Secretary of Defense under President Ford. In 1983, Denny also assumed oversight responsibility of Searle’s Pearle Vision Center business and served as chairman following the IPO of the business.
Following the successful sale of Searle in 1986, he joined Sears Roebuck & Co. as V.P. of Finance, became Chief Financial Officer and a director in 1988, and vice-chairman in 1992. He retired in 1995 after completion of a restructuring of the conglomerate involving sales, IPOs and spin offs of its financial services businesses, harvesting the success of the diversification strategy and returning the iconic company to its roots as a retail business.
Following his retirement from Sears, he joined the board of Gilead Sciences, Inc. He served as chairman from 2001 to 2008 and as lead independent director from 2009 to 2013 when he retired from the board. Other board memberships include Allstate Corporation, Astra A.B., Choice Point, Inc., GATX, Inc., General Binding Corporation, General Instrument Corporation and the Principal Financial Group.
Investment activities subsequent to his retirement from Sears included Senior Advisor to William Blair Capital Partners and Advisory Board Member of Evanston Capital Management and its Weatherlow fund of hedge funds.
His civic activities included being former Chairman and life trustee of Northwestern Memorial Healthcare and its hospital and foundation affiliates, former director and life trustee of DePaul University, former director of Georgetown University and St. Benedict College, a former vice chair of the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of Chicago, former vice chair of the Catholic Church Extension Society, and a pro bono consultant to the Pentagon and the World Bank.
He was made a Knight of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XVI and received an honorary degree from Lewis University in 2012. Together with his wife Cate, a graduate of Trinity College in Washington D.C. and the Harvard Radcliffe Program in business administration, they served on the board of the Catholic Theological Union from which they received a joint honorary degree in recognition of their support for the creation of a Catholic Muslim Study Program.
She also served on the Boards of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Chicago Jesuit Academy and the Children’s Home and Aide Society of Chicago. Both of them received the papal award, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, from Pope Francis in 2017.