Work, not wanderlust, has taken Jay Nichols ’82, P’11, to new places, opening his eyes to different cultures and perceptions. Last year alone he traveled to 23 states and 17 countries, seeing the world “from the inside of an airplane,” he adds with a laugh. Nichols is CEO of AXIS Re, a global reinsurer, which provides insurance to insurance companies, managing the complex risk of disasters and catastrophic damage.
Work inspired Nichols’ first adventurous trips as a youth, too. Growing up in western Massachusetts, he barely traveled outside his hometown. But to earn money for college, he spent summers working on a tugboat at the mouth of the Mississippi River and later on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, jobs he acquired with the help of his father. “Those were highpaying jobs,” says Nichols, “and in the fall I was able to put a big check on the bursar’s desk.”
Nichols’ interest in accounting and business brought him to Babson, where he also was on the soccer and ski teams. After graduating, he found a job at an accounting firm that “liked to hire Babson alums,” and he worked for clients in the insurance industry. This led to an opportunity in Bermuda, where he lived with his family for 15 years and was introduced to people from countries all around the world. “For a small island,” he notes, “it’s a true global community.”
When he wasn’t in Bermuda, Nichols’ job was taking him to one of the more than 30 countries he has visited, where along with memorable experiences he also often saw wide disparity in infrastructure, resources, and access to educational opportunities. So when President Kerry Healey created the Global Scholars Program, he was inspired to expand his philanthropic support to scholarships for international students. “I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to afford college,” he says. “It worked out OK for me. I was fortunate then, and I’ve been fortunate since. I’ve been able to give away more money than I ever thought I’d make. There were many people along the way who supported me. It’s time to give other people a chance to benefit from that.”
Nichols currently supports scholarships for two students from Rwanda and Kenya. “These are really smart kids who without the Global Scholars program would not have access to the education they can get at Babson, or be able to meet the people they can meet at Babson,” he says. “They’re from countries that because of the nature of their economies can really benefit from new thinkers in the entrepreneurial business space.”
Nichols hopes the Global Scholars program will continue to grow. “There are plenty of other curious, motivated kids who have the mindset to create,” he says, “and who have an interest in taking what they learned back home with them to create better opportunities for people in their home countries, so the philanthropy becomes exponential.”
Babson’s community benefits tremendously from a diverse culture as well, says Nichols. People around the world face similar problems, he says, but they may approach solving those problems differently based on their backgrounds. Bringing students from various countries together into the same classrooms exposes everyone to new ideas. “It’s nice to be a small part of supporting this mission.”
Hosting a luncheon at his home for incoming first-year students, Nichols advised them to reach out to classmates from other regions and countries. “Get a little bit outside your comfort zone,” he told them. “We all choose the threads that will create the fabric of our experience. The more diverse the threads, the richer the fabric.”—Jeff Stupakevich, manager, advancement communications