SJ Magazine invited 11 prominent men to The Capital Grille in Cherry Hill for an evening of conversation and exchange with Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Marianne Aleardi. The accomplished leaders shared their unique experiences and hard-earned insights – giving us an up-close look at the men they truly are.


Marcus Allen
CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region

Jake Buganski
Executive Director, N.J. Division of Travel and Tourism

Pete Ciarrocchi
CEO, Chickie’s & Pete’s Crab House & Sports Bar 

Les Cohen
Executive Director, Katz JCC

Sidney Hargro
Executive Director, Community Foundation of South Jersey

Dr. Ali Houshmand
President, Rowan University

Gene Muller
Founder, Flying Fish Brewing Co.

Chris Rollins
Chief Development Officer, Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice

Seijaku Roshi
Zen Master, Pine Wind Zen Center

N.J. Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Robert Worley
Senior Vice President, Republic Bank




On measuring success…

At 17, I was playing football at Penn State and suffered a spinal cord injury that changed my life. I was paralyzed from the neck down. My goal was to be a professional football player. When that injury occurred and football was instantly taken away from me, my definition of success changed. Until then, I thought I had gotten everything in my life because of me. But I realized to be successful, you need other people. I’m no smarter than anybody else. I’m no better than anybody else, but I am fortunate to have been surrounded by many good people throughout my life who have gotten me to this place. I’m thankful for that.

Adam Taliaferro


When I hear about success from my father, who came out of the depression, it’s having money, having that security. But to me, success is directly tied to the meaning of my life. And the meaning of my life is to live my life authentically. The purpose of my life is to live my life as a benefit to others.

Seijaku Roshi


It’s really not about social economic status. The true measure of someone – the way you can tell if they have that fabric, that oomph to get up and go – is have they overcome something, and how did they overcome it? How did they reframe it to be fuel for them? That is what success is made from.

Marcus Allen



On what they’ve learned from their parents…

My mother couldn’t read or write. She couldn’t sign her own name. My father wasn’t a good businessman. We were always bankrupt, always hungry. The reason we survived was because of my mother, because of her leadership. I used to call my mom, and I’d seek advice from her. Every time I hit a wall, I could get the best advice from that uneducated woman. All she did was give me a few sentences, and that was enough.

– Ali Houshmand

My folks are 90 and 86, and they tell me their weekly schedule, and I’m exhausted. Their thing is it’s better to wear out than rust out. That’s my mantra moving forward.

– Gene Muller


My father owned a little store, and he worked six days a week for as long as I can remember. He had this remarkable work ethic. And everybody liked him. I’d say, “But dad, I don’t know if we’re making any money here.” And he would say, “It’s OK.” Then there would be people sitting in the store, and I’d say, “There’s some old guy sitting there who needs a shave.” And he’d say, “That’s OK. He needs a place to hang out.” Now I look back and see these were the lessons: work hard, have integrity, be nice to people.

– Les Cohen


My parents modeled volunteerism and philanthropy – you need to be involved and you need to give back. There was always this idea that much is expected. That’s been a real lesson for me.

– Chris Rollins



Never feeling good enough…

I never feel like I’m a success. People could tell me I am all day and night, but I always feel like I could still do better or I could go stronger. That’s why I don’t like to miss work, because I’m afraid guests will come in and I won’t be there to make sure they’re happy.

-Pete Ciarrocchi


I don’t think I’ve done enough. I don’t think I know enough. I constantly criticize myself. I’m never easy on myself. The people who have had a hard time in their childhood and end up successful typically feel that way.

-Ali Houshmand



On women…

I have a daughter and a son who are 12 and 14. My daughter was in a class where 80 percent of the students were boys. I watched her struggle to gain her voice at the table – at the math table and the science table. I knew she was capable, but I watched her struggle because it wasn’t set up for her in the way it was for the boys. That directly affects the way I parent – and not just my daughter, my son too.

– Sidney Hargro


The single best two things that happened to me were getting married and having three girls. My daughters changed everything: the way I see the world, the way I see popular culture – in almost an adversarial way – and the way I see myself. It changed the way I think and behave. I realized that if I was smart enough and patient enough and quiet enough – that’s the hardest one for me – I can learn so very much from them.

– Chris Rollins


Smart men understand that ultimately it is our relationships, particularly with women, that make us successful. All success, all happiness is about relationships. It is the women who help us, who nurture us, who enable us, who allow us to be successful in that way.

– Les Cohen


If you go to any higher-education institution in this country, there’s significantly more females than males. They graduate faster. They have a better GPA. But in the industries with the biggest salaries – science, technology, engineering, computer science – there are not enough female students, even though they are so capable and smart. It baffles me.

-Ali Houshmand



On mentors…

I had my Uncle George and, of course, my father. Uncle George was the one who knew the bar business. He was a Silver Star recipient in World War II, but we didn’t find out until he passed away. He’s the one who would say, “Peter, you’re doing a good job.”

And my father – everybody loved my father. My father passed away when I was only 30, and there was a line that went around the block for this guy, because he took care of people. That’s what I do for a living, I take care of people.

– Pete Ciarrocchi




I’ve had a lot of mentors, but I didn’t know it until years later. They pushed me at that fork in the road or through that door. Now I look for opportunities where I can say, “Hey, here’s my ideas. Here’s my opinions. Maybe you’ll get something out of that.”

– Gene Muller


In high school, there was one teacher who said to me, “You’re going to college.” I looked at him and said, “No, I’m not. My parents didn’t go to college. My siblings didn’t go to college. I’m not going.” He said, “Yes, you are.” He was believing in me until I could believe in myself.

-Sidney Hargro




June 2017
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