PETE AND MARY TENNYSON
Mary – BA 1968, French; MBA 1970, University of Southern California
CEO, StashAll, Fawnskin, CA
Pete – BA 1968, Political Science; JD 1975, University of Virginia
Partner, Paul Hastings Janofsky and Walker, Costa Mesa, CA
The number of potential “meet cute” scenarios at Purdue would fill volumes. But is there any first date more quintessentially Purdue in 1967 than a street dance to celebrate Senior Cord Day? Mary and Pete Tennyson began their relationship in just that way, and today make their home in Southern California. After 20 years of work in the software industry, Mary is now the CEO and founder of StashAll, LLC, a manufacturer of stylish accessories for the physically challenged. Pete is a partner in corporate law at Paul Hastings LLP. Both have built careers they love by facilitating the success of others.
The software systems Mary worked with helped companies manage their accounting, manufacturing, and distribution operations. “When I started, the programs often took over 24 hours to run even on a mainframe,” she recalls. “When I left the industry those same programs operated on a PC and ran in minutes or seconds. It was very exciting to work through that information age explosion, to see the benefits to so many companies, and to see the creation of so many new career options.”
One of Pete’s favorite career memories also celebrates helping others achieve their goals. “We were at a client’s Christmas party and the CEO and founder was celebrating 25 years in business,” notes Pete. “He told the group he still remembered me making him and his wife sit down and go through a ‘corporate 101’ session about what they needed to do to run the company properly—that put into perspective the role I enjoy as a facilitator of the dreams of so many.”
Mary: Dean Helen Schleman eliminated woman’s hours during my sophomore year, which was a huge change on campus. But it was a great lesson in making a college experience more like the real world. I think the Purdue administration has always tried to engage the students in dialogues, which was very visionary during the 1960s. Beverly Stone was the advisor to Old Masters. Serving on the steering committee my senior year, I learned so much from her and from the great leaders we brought to campus. They all had great curiosity, which I believe keeps you vital as you walk through your life. Being a French major, I also took Spanish and Russian. The structure of learning a language, I believe, helped me later when I started my career in software. Communication is a key component in designing and implementing a computer system that fits the needs of your customer. Those language classes gave me a great foundation for solving problems with systems later in my career.
Pete: Frederick Hovde and his sense of principle; Beverly Stone and Barbara Cook, and their dedication to openness; Marbury Ogle first dean of the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education], who put his teaching on par with or above his administrative duties. An economic history course made me look at a lot of traditional myths of how this country developed and changed my perspective on how decisions impact those around us. Russian language courses led to much more interesting assignments in the military and enriched travel. While such course work was informative and useful, particularly in discerning the motives and meanings beyond the surface of statements, the convocations and lectures series in the 1960s opened up myriad doors to new experiences and perspectives of life beyond the Midwest and started me on the road to lifelong learning
Mary: Senior cords were great fun. It is a tradition long gone, but in our day it was so interesting to see all the things fellow students would creatively place on their gold skirts or pants. We still have ours and it triggers many memories when we take a look at them—even if they no longer fit! Senior cords have another special meaning to me. The first time Pete asked me out was to go to a street dance on Senior Cord Day 1967.
Pete: “I Am an American” at the start of football games. The simple expression of pride and gratitude without advocating any causes or positions is something worth preserving.
Mary: I enjoy reading the Purdue Alumnus to learn about the amazing projects and programs both faculty and students are undertaking. I always felt that campus was a place to experiment and build on experiences so that you would be better prepared for the working world and life in general. I am full of Purdue pride when I read about the accomplishments of students, faculty, and alumni, and see how involved they are in every aspect of our society.
Pete: A dedication to solving problems and using knowledge to improve lives without, most of the time, trying to act “preachy” still seems to be a part of Purdue life. I really appreciate the concept that educators and students can perform at the very highest levels without becoming elitists or ceasing to relate to people. Every time I get to see examples of students and faculty collaborating on projects it reminds me that this is what universities should be all about.
Mary: Obviously our family. My mom instilled in me the importance of community involvement. I have been so blessed to be able to participate in our church and community, as well as my alma maters. I like to say that others helped you along the way and by serving your various circles of influence, you are “paying it forward” for the next generation.
Pete: After helping to raise four amazing but different kids, whose ideas continue to fill me with awe, I’d look to nurturing businesses and deals to growth and completion. I tell the folks who work for me that we are the janitors of the deal, who should not seek or claim the credit for helping clients navigate through the maze of our legal system to finish something. Confidentiality issues prevent the use of names, but if I had to pick one project it would be bringing a non-US company to Arizona to revive an abandoned facility and provide jobs, while saving that company a lot in costs. That project has led to long-term relationships that I hope will continue.
Living Person I Admire
Mary: I could name so many. But just last month I had a chance meeting with the Dalai Lama. He was staying in our hotel and I was in the lobby when he arrived. He had only one man with him—no entourage. He took the time to speak personally to each person in the lobby (probably about 20 of us). He had such a joyful smile and peaceful nature. It reminded me how your attitude overcomes much. He has truly suffered persecution, but you would never know from his actions. He is a great role model.
Pete: Nelson Mandela. He changed a country, managed to avoid hatred and vindictiveness, and knew when to step away.
Idea of Perfect Happiness
Pete: Silly question in this life. But a good book after a full day on the slopes with family and friends and stimulating conversation would come close.
Mary: Still waiting for heaven.
What I’m Reading
Pete: Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self; Ronald Schaffer’s Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II; Leo Babuta’s The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential; and a couple of thrillers to keep from getting too serious.
Mary: I’m also reading Immortal Diamond, as well as Debra Dean’s novel The Madonnas of Leningrad. We just returned from the Purdue Alumni trip “Waterways of Russia,” and this book covers World War II in St. Petersburg. Other books I’m reading include Dan Brown’s Inferno and Nik Wallenda’s Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line.
Profession I’d Like to Try
Mary: Currently, I am trying something new. Creating StashAll has been a journey of learning from small victories and big mistakes. I created the StashAll concept when my Mom broke her hip and needed a walker. There were no attractive bags that safely attached to her walker. So I spent two years researching and testing with seniors to arrive at my current product line, which includes patented designs. On this journey I have made new friends, faced the challenges of a small startup business, learned much about the problems of mobility and aging, and realized that style is ageless.
Pete: Teaching history with a focus on tying technological and business developments into “traditional” politics and arts. Economic history was a course that changed the way I think even today. I am always fascinated by how many do not notice that Napoleon and Beethoven were contemporaries, or that plumbing and the development of modern chemistry, medicine, and scientific agriculture changed the world while people weren’t looking.