Alumni

A Differentiator for Defense

Frank Finelli, SM ’86, a veteran of the U.S. Army and the financial industry, has established a fund to support military veterans attending the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“I think it’s a very important cause, given the critical role that MIT plays in the research and development community for national security,” says Finelli of the new MIT Sloan Veterans Fund.

Finelli is a managing director at the Carlyle Group, a global private equity firm, where he focuses on investments in the defense and aerospace sector.

The Ohio native’s journey to the national security world began in the water. Finelli was a competitive swimmer and water polo player in high school. Although he now says his skills were “mediocre,” Finelli was good enough to be recruited by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he competed as a varsity letterman in both sports.

Other than the fact that his father served in World War II as a radar operator on a landing ship in the Pacific, Finelli says, “I didn’t know anything about the military” going into college. “But the opportunity that West Point provided dwarfed what I had anticipated.”

After graduation in 1979, Finelli served for four years as a Field Artillery Commander in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then he came to MIT Sloan where he earned a master’s degree in management with dual concentrations in finance and operations research. 

“MIT Sloan was a real differentiator,” Finelli says. “Not only did they teach us world-class analytical tools, but we also learned how to think about complex problems and use a decision calculus model to sort through next steps.”

Finelli brought those skills back to West Point, where he taught econometrics and conducted studies for the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis. “We did a lot of work on the Army’s combat requirements and the acquisition programs that supported it.”

After serving in a series of field assignments in Germany and supporting the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon where he played a key role in the first Quadrennial Defense Review, Finelli worked as a legislative assistant to Dan Coats, then a U.S. Senator on the Armed Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. (Coats later served as the Director of National Intelligence for the Trump administration.) 

“Up to that point,” Finelli explains, “the Department of Defense really only focused its simulations on two scenarios—a major war in Europe or a major war in Korea. I was asked to expand the set of analytical processes that we required to incorporate into the development of a more complex national security strategy.”

The result took into account “not only major theater wars but also what we needed to do to support the engagement of U.S. military forces all around the world,” Finelli says. “And that had never been done before.”

“Having gone through this program at MIT Sloan prepared me much, much better for providing those recommendations and designing that analytical architecture,” he adds.

Finelli retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel and joined the Carlyle Group in 1998. He and his wife, Kathy, have donated their time and resources to various veterans organizations over the years, inspired not only by Frank’s experience and Kathy’s military family but also by their son, Paul, who served in Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer.

“I saw, unfortunately, through some of his fellow soldiers, the trials and tribulations of those who have served and not come back whole,” says Finelli, who among other activities serves as chairman of the Veterans Services Foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

It was only natural that Finelli would expend some of that generosity on veterans who want to attend MIT Sloan. In his work in finance, he says, “I run into executives who are MIT graduates, and their technical capabilities are generally unmatched. And they just bring a discipline. It’s almost an engineering approach to general management that translates into more effective performance.”

The national security sector needs that kind of analytical talent, Finelli says. “MIT plays a huge role in the innovation for advanced capabilities that will help secure the peace going forward. And this fund is a tremendous opportunity for our veterans to study at MIT Sloan and gain an unparalleled, hands-on experience that sets graduates apart.” 

As to the type of students he hopes to attract to MIT Sloan with the Sloan Veterans Fund, Finelli says, “First of all, you have to have the academic credentials and capability, because this is a tremendously grueling program. But aside from that, we need people who understand service, are demonstrated leaders, and also have a sense of professional humility—who recognize that a lot of people have to work together in a high-performing team in order to make a difference.”

The Finellis are honored for others to join them in this pursuit. To learn more about the Sloan Veterans Fund, please email Wendy Connors at wec@mit.edu.