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From Tennis and Trappists to the Cloud: Dan Healey's Mount Journey

Healey feature

In the rapidly changing field he works in, P. Daniel Healey, C’94, sometimes pauses to wonder “How did I get here?” Healey’s undergraduate years on Mary’s Mountain represented the first step of a reflective journey that has taken him around the world but is supported and sustained by his experience at Mount St. Mary’s. Healey serves as senior vice president and head of human resources for SAP North America, a 95,000-person global German-based software company. “It’s been a fun and at times a frenetic experience to lead SAP’s people strategy across 22,500 employees in the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “Certainly, the ability to learn, reflect, unlearn and synthesize concepts is as critical in today’s period of digitization as it was when I studied at the Mount 25 years ago.” It’s clear that the Mount fostered a process of deliberative inquiry and ethical exploration that has allowed Healey to adapt to new circumstances and to respond with empathy to the many people he serves. Healey, a philosophy major and four-year member of the Mount’s tennis team, more modestly says he strives to “hit singles” every day.

A Conversation between Dean Peter A. Dorsey, Ph.D., and P. Daniel Healey, C'94

Dorsey: How did you find the Mount?

Healey: I’m the ninth of ten children in a family from Rhode Island. My siblings went to large Catholic universities, but when my sister’s future father-in-law, Dan Monagle, C’58, passed along an application, I applied to the Mount. I thought I was going South, but I remember calling home on fall break from a pay phone in Sheridan Hall and telling my mom, “It’s wicked cold down here!” She sent my warm clothes down.

Dorsey: Tell us about professors who inspired you.

Healey: I connected with professors who inspired me with their wisdom and learning. The Philosophy Department’s chair, Dr. John Drummond, had “laser beam” focus, and my academic advisor, Dr. John Donovan, was intellectually inspiring. Kind yet demanding, he was always present, curious and prepared to guide (ok, nudge) me through courses. His insightful and relevant lectures integrated themes of religion, politics, culture, history, philosophy and change. I also cherish the classes I took with Dr. Trudy Conway, especially the Hermeneutics course that introduced me to the importance of cross-cultural and religious dialogue and planted seeds important in my professional life.

I also fondly remember theology professor Dr. William Collinge’s courses on Christianity and Mysticism East and West. Dr. Collinge was brilliant and inclusive. As a Red Sox fan, I enjoyed discussing the “spirituality of baseball” with him. Philosophy professor Father Paul Redmond introduced me to the Grand Inquisitor scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov and urged me to reread it every year. Psychology professor Father Thomas Byrd stimulated my interest in the Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the Benedictine tradition of work and prayer. Father Byrd told me that the monks who simply tried to be their ordinary selves in the image of God were the ones who flourished. Those who competed in being the “the smartest, most holy or the most pious,” Father Byrd said, “would eventually go out of their heads.”  Other professors who shaped my academic journey included Drs. William Portier, Sue Goliber, Emilio Rodriguez and Steven White. I am grateful, not just for the teaching and counsel offered by these faculty members, but also for their example. I’ll never forget seeing these great professors sitting near me in the chapel, humbly participating in the worship experience at Mass.

I realize my professors were leadership coaches. They set the high bar and wanted me to do and be my best. They provided honest, open feedback when I came up short. This coincides with the continuous performance management techniques the best companies are now using. The core of CPM is leadership care, candor and coaching on stretch experiences.  I certainly received this during my four years at the Mount.

Dorsey: What did you do immediately after college?

Healey: After graduating, I entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and served for two years as a lay-volunteer English teacher in Chuuk, Micronesia, a 7 square-mile island north east of Papua New Guinea. Inspired by St. Ignatius’s virtue of the “magis” or doing more, I greatly enjoyed working with the people in my village and learning their Chuukese dialect. My cinder block, corrugated-tin roof apartment had no running water or electricity, but I grew to love village life. I also brought the Mount with me. Because juggling academics, activities, and athletics was so challenging, I couldn’t finish all the reading my high school and university instructors assigned. As a result, I took over 100 books to Micronesia and read and journaled about all of them. I owed it to the Mount to true up.

As my mission ended, I went through a reflective period of discernment, wondering, “How do I reenter? What place do I go back to?” I grappled with the idea of going to business school and reached an inflection point when I realized I could work to improve every situation I found myself in. I began to work at Villanova University, where I also earned my MS in human resources development and soon commenced a career in that field. During my early years with SAP, I also earned an MBA in technology and e-commerce from West Chester University. Over the past 20 years, I worked in a variety of HR roles and served as a consultant on projects in Mexico, Columbia, Argentina and Brazil, and I studied in language school in Mexico. I have also worked on HR technology and innovation projects in India and Germany.

Dorsey: How does operating at the forefront of global technology influence your views on human resources?

Healey: I appreciate how artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, big data, cloud computing, and the “Internet of Things”--the interconnectedness of millions of devices—are changing the world rapidly. Data is the new oil, and we’re on the cusp of entering fully into a new category, the experience economy, where customer sentiment and experience management will shape a company’s brand, products, culture and market cap.

I foresee enhanced human capabilities, but also unprecedented ethical dilemmas, and thus the need for responsible decision making. While AI/ML/AR will “augment humanity,” these technologies won’t replace human creativity, collaboration and empathy. For these reasons, I remain grateful for the liberal arts education I received at the Mount and continue to see its value in today’s high-tech world. I’ll take a liberal arts major any day because of their ability to think, read, write and apply a high emotional quotient. Literature teaches me even now, in the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

I am concerned about the growing “digital divide,” or the inequitable access to electronic resources. Talent is ubiquitous but opportunity is not. SAP has developed numerous programs with the aim of educating, attracting, and mentoring a diverse workforce, beginning with high school and college students. SAP understands that increasing diversity promotes innovation and thus creates management teams that can outperform those at other organizations.

Dorsey: Tell us about your family life.

Healey: My wife, Jennifer, who is a Mount graduate from the class of 1993, and I are active in our Philadelphia-area parish. We love our parish and appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Mass and receive the sacraments with our three children - Nora, Maeve and Sean. After graduation, Jennifer lived and served on a Navajo reservation through the Mercy Corps program. She earned a master’s degree in special education from Loyola University, and then began her teaching career in Annapolis. Jen has been teaching first grade for the past 20 years outside of Philadelphia. I can’t imagine not having my faith – it is the connecting thread from my Rhode Island family of ten, to Emmitsburg, to the JVC in Micronesia, to grad school, marriage, kids and enterprise and cloud software.