Growing up just four blocks from the University of Maryland, Cary Thomas ’70, MBA ’74, lived close to campus but saw higher education as something far out of reach. Most of his family had jobs at UMD but did not understand his desire to go to college.
Despite the skepticism, he took a leap of faith that led to two UMD degrees and a pioneering role in technology systems used at universities around the nation.
“It was just serendipity that I happened to be at the right place, just as computer technology was really beginning to take off and complex problems were beginning to be solved,” he says.
Working with several UMD professors in the afternoons, he helped develop the first computerized budget model used by any state agency in Maryland. After finishing an undergraduate degree in information systems, he worked full-time at UMD while earning his MBA.
His first big venture in the private sector was cofounding Paciolan, a software company that revolutionized the sports ticketing market by eliminating paper inventories and opening the way for electronic distribution. Today most NCAA Division I-A school use this technology.
The customizable system allows universities to assign values to different customers for preferred seating. Notre Dame rewards donors, for example, while West Point places value on the graduating year of alumni.
Thomas also worked at the University of Southern California, where he helped develop beacons for U.S. Army tanks in the first Gulf War. The signals were visible through night vision goggles, allowing soldiers to identify friendly tanks.
Thomas then transitioned to several leadership and management positions in the medical field, such as chief operating officer at a cancer institute, senior associate dean of finance and administration at a medical school, and most recently senior vice president at The Scripps Research Institute.
“The technology is moving so fast,” Thomas says. “It’s just an exciting field to be in.” /EB/