Vanderbilt Law School Background Image

2010 Distinguished Alumnus: Mark Dalton '75

Vanderbilt University trustee Mark Dalton discovered his interest in the intersection of law and finance at Vanderbilt.
by Grace Renshaw Mark Dalton '75

As a senior at Denison University in 1972, Mark Dalton received a phone call from John Beasley, then Vanderbilt Law School's associate dean, inviting him to interview for a prestigious Patrick Wilson Scholarship at Vanderbilt Law School. Dalton, who grew up in suburban Detroit, Michigan, and Dayton, Ohio, had planned to remain in the Midwest for law school. But he joined 14 other prospective students in Nashville for a weekend of interviews and activities out of curiosity about Vanderbilt and the unique scholarship, which was designed to attract students with strong leadership potential and included a formal mentoring program along with full tuition and a stipend for living expenses. After meeting Beasley, scholarship benefactor Pat Wilson, and Reber Boult, Matt Dobson and Charles Cornelius, members of the committee that selected Patrick Wilson Scholars, he recalled, "I came away thinking Vanderbilt was a special place."

When Dalton was offered one of the coveted scholarships, he accepted. Today, he remembers his years at Vanderbilt Law School as transformative, both in the classroom and because of the mentoring he received from Beasley, Dobson and others. "My three years at Vanderbilt exceeded my expectations because of the quality of people who make up this community," he told an audience at the Founders Circle Dinner at Vanderbilt's Student Life Center on April 16. "Here I found a great faculty of rigorous teachers and scholars, mentors who were established community leaders and eager to train the next generation, and friends I've kept for a lifetime."

During his 1L year, his foundational courses with professors Paul Hartman, John Wade and Dent Bostick "had a big impact on me," and Dalton credits classes from two corporate legal experts who taught on Vanderbilt's adjunct faculty, Tom Sherrard, a founding partner in Nashville's Sherrard & Roe, and Douglas Hawes, a nationally renowned practitioner, with sparking his interest in corporate finance and business law. As a summer associate at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York in 1974, Dalton recalled, "I quickly realized how well I had been prepared by my professors and courses at Vanderbilt to do the work I was being asked to do. Vanderbilt taught us to be rigorously analytical, and because I had faced some incredible Socratic inquisitors in the classroom, I could 'stand and deliver'—I'd developed confidence in my ability to think on my feet. Vanderbilt emphasized thoughtful writing that was spare and not over-engineered. I went into that summer wondering, 'Am I going to be able to perform with people from the Ivy League?' and emerged thinking 'Thank you, Vanderbilt!'"

Dalton has spent much of his career with Tudor Investment Corporation, a private investment firm headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut; he joined the firm as president in 1988, later served as its vice-chair, and was recently appointed CEO and co-chairman, along with the firm's founder, Paul Tudor Jones II. In addition to his legal education at Vanderbilt, Dalton credits the four years he spent practicing corporate law with Sullivan & Cromwell with preparing him for a successful career in corporate finance. "I would not have had the opportunities on the business side of the investment banking business if I hadn't been very well-prepared to practice law and spent time in practice," he said. "Vanderbilt taught me all the basics of being a good lawyer, in an environment of civility that emphasized teamwork. That certainly stood me in good stead as a lawyer, and doing a good job at that enabled me to put my hand in the air and say, 'I want to shift to the business side of investment banking' when the time came." Before joining Tudor in 1988, Dalton spent eight years as an executive with Kidder Peabody & Company. His positions there included chief financial officer, managing director and head of the Equity Group.

“The people make the institution, and the friends I made at Vanderbilt, the things I learned, the orientation toward achievement and accomplishment and doing an excellent job while doing it with civility—all had a very positive impact on my life.”

One aspect of being a Patrick Wilson Scholar that Dalton particularly appreciated was the program's emphasis on community involvement and support. Dalton's lengthy roster of volunteer leadership positions shows that he took the mentoring he received from Beasley, Wilson, Dobson and others to heart. He has served on Vanderbilt University's Board of Trust since 2002; he and other community leaders, including retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, have formed a community foundation to bolster services for low-income people and improve educational and cultural opportunities in Telluride, Colorado, where he and his wife Susan live for part of the year; and he also serves on the Board of Trustees of Denison University. "A true leader is someone who makes the lives of others better, and Mark has that quality," classmate Bill Aiken said. "Mark has used his unique abilities to make a positive difference in the world."

"Susan says I'm over-committed," Dalton admitted. But his ties to Vanderbilt were strengthened over the past decade, as his eldest son Erik earned his degree in economics from Vanderbilt in 2003, followed by his youngest son Christopher, who earned his degree in history in 2009. "As my connections to Vanderbilt have deepened," he said, "I've been drawn more and more into the life of the university."

Dalton acknowledges that his motivation to remain actively involved in supporting the Vanderbilt and Denison communities is directly linked to his positive experiences at both schools. "Vanderbilt changed the course of my life in some very good ways," he said. "If you have a really good experience—if you improve your footing—you may physically leave the university community when you graduate, but you never really leave. You're a member of these communities by choice for the rest of your life. The people make the institution, and the friends I made at Vanderbilt, the things I learned, the orientation toward achievement and accomplishment and doing an excellent job while doing it with civility—all had a very positive impact on my life."

Dalton and a group of former classmates, including Dick Aldrich, Mike Hammond and Conrad Roberts, have met for lunch in New York each year for the past 34 years. Early on, they encouraged each other in their careers; they now enjoy sharing memories of law school days and catching up on family milestones as well as sharing career developments. He has also remained close to his best friends in law school, fellow Patrick Wilson Scholars Aiken and Hobby Presley, who he describes as his "guides to Southern culture and tradition during my Vanderbilt days." Over the last several years, the three families have celebrated together the marriage of one son in each family. "Our friendship with Mark is special," Aiken said. "He is enormously successful by any measure, but has always been genuinely humble and devoted to all of us who were fortunate enough to be at Vanderbilt with him."

Motivated by his transformative experience as a law student, Dalton has invested heavily in Vanderbilt's Law and Business Program, endowing a chair held by the program's director, Randall Thomas, and funding the program itself. The program's impact is easy to quantify; 59 members of the graduating class of 2010 earned the Certificate in Law and Business. "Doug Hawes and Tom Sherrard opened a window on the business and corporate finance world for me," he said. "I wasn't alone; 10 or 12 Vanderbilt Law students went to New York after graduating with me in 1975, and many of them had taken Professor Hawes' and Sherrard's corporate finance course. Randall's program is the modern extension of that; he's built something much broader and more robust. It's exciting to see students take advantage of the program."

Dean Chris Guthrie was a seven-year veteran of the law school who served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs under deans Kent Syverud and Ed Rubin when he was named dean in 2009. "Mark Dalton was already a longstanding supporter of the law school when I joined the faculty," Guthrie said. "He worked closely with Kent to guide an expansion project that doubled the size of our building, and then helped start and build our Law and Business Program. When you know coming into a deanship that you have alumni with Mark's formidable leadership skills supporting your school and its programs, you're much more confident about your ability to continue building the institution."

When presenting Dalton with the law school's Distinguished Alumnus Award on April 19, Chancellor Nick Zeppos praised him as a "model trustee" with a remarkable ability to guide the "smart, high-powered people who have strong views" on Vanderbilt's Board of Trustees through a substantive discussion. "Mark is always able to lead the discussion and forge consensus," Zeppos said. "If anyone ever wonders why we give scholarships, Mark is Exhibit A, because an investment in a smart young person who is full of potential is one of the best investments you can make. I can imagine Pat Wilson looking down and saying, 'I guess I made a good investment in these young people.'"

A week after Dalton was honored as Vanderbilt Law School's 2010 Distinguished Alumnus, he was again in the news at Vanderbilt: He was unanimously elected to succeed long-time chair Martha Ingram as chair of Vanderbilt University's Board of Trust, having served as a board member since 2002. Dalton will be chair-elect during 2010-11, working with Ingram as she transfers the reins, and become chair in spring 2011.