Wall Street Investor Offers Life Lessons to School of Business Students

RWU Board of Trustees member and donor Mario J. Gabelli shares his wisdom on intellectual curiosity, how to make a difference, and professional success during a Fireside Chat at the business school last week

By Triniti Brown ’26
Mario J. Gabelli and Michael Melton sit in chairs in the GHH atrium in front of a crowd of students, faculty, and staff
Mario J. Gabelli (right), Chairman and CEO of GAMCO Investors, Inc. and a member of RWU’s Board of Trustees, joined RWU Professor of Finance Michael Melton (left) for a Fireside Chat event for business students on Feb. 28.

BRISTOL, R.I. – Philanthropist and investor Mario J. Gabelli visited the Bristol campus on Feb. 28 to impart his wisdom gleaned from decades in the business world to Roger Williams University Gabelli School of Business students looking to further their academic and professional pursuits – and he delivered it with a touch of humor that had faculty and students laughing throughout the event. 

As part of the Fireside Chat held in the Global Heritage Hall Atrium, Gabelli was joined in conversation with RWU Professor of Finance Michael Melton, founder of the Center for Advanced Financial Education (CAFE) program and the recipient of the Yeaton Professor of Finance, Director, Center for Advanced Financial Education Endowed Faculty Professorship – a new endowed professorship program for business faculty launched by a $3 million matching gift challenge from Gabelli. 

Addressing a standing-room-only audience on Wednesday, Gabelli, Chairman and CEO of GAMCO Investors, Inc. and a member of RWU’s Board of Trustees, discussed past and current crises, how to make a difference as a person in business, and how to become a millionaire – while sharing great pieces of advice that students from all majors would benefit from hearing. 

Mario J. Gabelli is joined by RWU students, faculty, and administrators in the GHH atrium
Mario J. Gabelli is joined by RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis; Diya Das, Dean of the Gabelli School of Business; Michael Melton, Professor of Finance and Founder of the CAFE program; and students from the School of Business.

A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Gabelli said he was the first in his family to graduate college. He started his investment career at the age of 13 after working at a golf course, where he stayed late to listen to conversations from successful specialists from the New York Stock Exchange. His advice to RWU business students: “Start listening to companies’ conference calls right now,” he said. He also emphasized learning anything you can from peers, professionals, and research. Gabelli said he wakes up every morning to read The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and several trade magazines, staying up to date on what's going on in the finance and business industry. 

Gabelli’s main objective in his presentation was to encourage students to make a difference, while also getting a return on their investment of time and life. While we all have such little time and plenty to get done, he told students, no matter what discipline they are in, there is still a way for them to change the world. “How can you impact the future of the country and world? If you're doing finance, you're doing marketing, learning how to figure out how your business works, how our country works, how the endowment of this university works, how the city and the State of Rhode Island work, take that information and provide a baseline for judgment,” he said. 

During his presentation, Gabelli showed students how to look at a crisis from a business perspective, using plastic and lead as examples. In the 20th century, both materials were widely used, but today we’re working to eliminate them. Some questions that need to be asked: “Which companies are going to help do that? How are they going to pay for it?” he said. “These are the things that you think about.” 

A student asks Mario Gabelli a question during the fireside chat event
Senior Finance major Raffaella Brunetti asks Mario J. Gabelli about the biggest challenges he's had to overcome in his career during a Q&A session on Feb. 28.

In addition to making a difference in their communities and the world, Gabelli said he wants students to achieve financial success. To become a millionaire, it’s necessary to eliminate spending on non-essential items, he said, showing a photo of a Starbucks coffee cup as an example and sharing Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Students also had the opportunity to ask questions and seek advice. Senior Raffaella Brunetti, a Finance major from North Providence, R.I., asked Gabelli what one of the biggest challenges he encountered was over the years and how he overcame it. He responded that he’s made many mistakes: “You learn to go through it and solve issues one at a time,” he said. 

When senior Arron Serrano, an Accounting major from New York, asked Gabelli to elaborate on how he perseveres through his mistakes, Gabelli said, “You're going to make mistakes, so what? The dogs will bark, and the caravan will move on.” 

First-year student Sam Carter shakes hands with Mario Gabelli in GHH
Sam Carter, a first-year student double majoring in Finance and Business Management, shakes hands with Mario J. Gabelli. Carter is the first recipient of the Gabelli School of Business Scholars Program.

As Diya Das, Dean of the Gabelli School of Business, wrapped up the event, she called forth Sam Carter, a first-year student from Cumberland, Maine, double majoring in Finance and Business Management, who is the first recipient of the Gabelli School of Business Scholars Program. The scholarship, funded by Mario J. Gabelli, covers full tuition for four years and is awarded to a student based on their academic merit, passion for working in fields of business, and leadership potential. 

“I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to the Gabelli scholarship program. The scholarship not only provides financial support but also opens doors for countless opportunities for students like myself, who are very grateful for your commitment to fostering academic excellence and leadership,” Carter said to Gabelli.

Gabelli’s last piece of advice for students? “Do not worry about failing,” he said. “Worry about not attempting to succeed.”