There are two types of people in the world: optimists and pessimists. For 77-year-old Hodges student Nic Neumann, life has presented its share of unique circumstances, both good and bad. From escaping Romania during World War II at the age of five to becoming an entrepreneur with an associate degree, Neumann’s strong faith, positive attitude and willingness to embrace opportunity has created a man who always sees the glass half-full.
Born in 1939 in Becicherecu Mic, Banat, Romania, Neumann was raised by his mother, aunt and maternal grandparents. With the war in Europe spreading, by 1944, the family was forced to make a difficult decision, which meant leaving their home and friends behind. “The German soldiers came through our city and told us to leave because the Russians were moving closer and there would be a battle in nearby Timisoara,” he said.
Deciding to leave, the family loaded their few belongings onto a covered wagon, pulled by two horses and a cow tied to the wagon. Over the next six and a half weeks, the family traveled on gravel back roads, more than 600 miles to Austria. Beginning first grade in Eberschwang, Austria, he used slates and chalk to learn writing and arithmetic. In 1947, with the help of the Red Cross, he met his father for the first time. Once reunited with his father, they moved to Hohenzell where Neumann attended school through the fourth grade. It was prior to fifth grade that his parents sent him to the city to attend Hauptschule, an “advanced” school.
Considered by the U.S. as “Displaced Persons,” Neumann’s parents spent years working to establish a sponsor to gain entry into the U.S. “My father’s first cousin lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and agreed to sponsor us,” said Neumann. In 1951, at 12 years old, the family left Austria by train before sailing to New York on a WWII troop ship, the SS Stewart and arriving through Ellis Island. Only a few weeks after arriving in New Jersey, another cousin found work opportunities for his parents in Chicago, so the family moved once again.
He learned English and attended school in Chicago. At the age of 18, after graduating high school, Neumann decided to enter the U.S. Marine Corps in June 1958, saying, “When I told my dad I was going to enter the military, he wasn’t happy at first, but ultimately, my parents supported my decision.” Spending several months in basic training in San Diego, he attended basic electronics schools in Jacksonville, Florida, and Millington, Tennessee. Throughout his time in the Marine Corps, Neumann was stationed most of his time in Cherry Point, North Carolina, and spent time as a guard at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO), as well as serving on the USS Independence.
Honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in March 1962, he considered his time pure luck, saying, “Had I stayed in the military until June, I would have automatically been renewed for two years and sent to Vietnam.”
Moving back to Chicago, he began working for Allstate Insurance Company and spent four months in technical school learning how to repair and maintain first generation computers. With his military electronics background, he became an integral figure, holding supervisory and management positions at Allstate’s branch office in New Jersey, after being transferred.
During the next eight years, Neumann served as manager and director for Prudential Property and Casualty Company, working in software development, computer operations and line management. After leaving Prudential, he joined Lambda Technologies, Inc. and was promoted to the position of vice president and New Jersey regional director.
Prior to joining Prudential Property and Casualty Company, Neumann realized his desire to earn a degree. Attending classes at Middlesex County College in New Jersey, with the help of the GI Bill, he earned an associate degree in accounting in 1974 before enrolling as a BSBA candidate at Thomas Edison State University.
“I ended up with 111 credits when I left my bachelor’s program,” he said.
It was in 1980 when Neumann became a true entrepreneur. Believing he was an “intrapreneur” already, Sycomm Systems Corporation gave him a taste of his future. “I became a serial entrepreneur,” he said. Continuing his work in information technology, he served as the co-founder, president and CEO of the IT supplemental services consulting company, which was based in New Jersey with offices in Florida, Chicago and Georgia. From 1980-86, the company grew to 400 employees with seven office locations.
Selling the company to Cap Gemini America (CGA) in 1987, he took on the role of executive vice president and COO of the southern division. “Keep in mind, I was doing all of this with only an associate degree,” he said.
Neumann’s passion for building businesses did not stop with the selling of Sycomm to CGA. Over the years, he co-founded Bishop Management Corp and Bishop Capital II, L.P., both of which were small business investment companies; Brenner Technologies, Inc. and Compaid Consulting Services, Inc., which were IT supplemental services consulting companies; Reed Technologies, LLC, Neubon Technologies, Inc., Perreyclear & Associates, LLC; and MindTrust Consulting Services Inc.
While many of his companies were sold to or merged with other corporations, Neumann continued to pursue his entrepreneurial spirit. However, in 2005, he and his wife, Ann, decided to move their family away from the cold winters in the north to the sunny and warm weather of Florida. This did not stop his involvement in business as he continued to serve as the co-founder of MindTrust Consulting Services, Inc., a company he built with his oldest son, Nick, until 2014. Neumann is the father of two sons, one daughter and grandfather to five grandsons.
In 2015, he and Ann began to discuss the idea of Neumann returning to school. “I felt like I was missing something not having a bachelor’s degree,” he explained. “I witnessed my mother succumb to Alzheimer’s and I figured if I can push it off for a while, why not exercise my mind and finish my degree.”
After contacting his previous school and learning of the various changes to the curriculum, he discovered many of his credits were not transferrable. Not letting it stop him, he visited Hodges University and spoke to the staff in admissions to determine his needs.
“I knew I either wanted my degree in management or accounting, so when they told me all I needed was 121 credits to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in management, and I could participate in the wheel program beginning in January 2016, I decided it was the option for me,” he said.
Therefore, at 76 years old, Neumann reentered the classroom as an undergraduate student with a goal of earning a degree. “I find it so enjoyable to be back in the classroom,” he said. “If I am asked, I take the opportunity to share my experiences with those in my class.” During one of his classes at the beginning of the program, he told his professor, Dr. Dolores Batiato, of some of the troubles he was having. “She told me to just keep trying. She is a true inspiration to me,” he remarked.
“Work and life experiences are some of the most valuable activities, and Nic had many to share with his classmates. He is a true example of a lifelong learning commitment. Classmates treated him with respect and were very happy and willing when they could teach him something, especially with technology and Blackboard. I am a better person and teacher for having the opportunity to learn with him,” said Batiato.
Attending classes in the evenings and studying on the weekends, he finds it is a great time for he and his son, John, who is in high school, to encourage one another. Often studying at the table together, he appreciates the opportunity to be an example of motivation to his son; however, he enjoys the support and encouragement he receives in return.
As a part-time licensed real estate associate for the state of Florida, Neumann does not foresee his bachelor’s degree as a tool to start a new career. However, he does admit, “the option is there,” and with an expected graduation date of December 2016, he has not let go of the idea of possibly developing a new company with his eldest son.
“To finish your degree, you need to have the self-drive, perseverance and realization that it may not be easy; however, you also have to want it more than anything else. For me, this is another step in my life, and my plan is to make sure I don’t run too fast to the end.”