Generational perspectives

Alumni Close-Ups: Sheldon Lenahan, BS ’49, and Shelden Gibbs, CEL ’20

More than 70 years separate their time at the School of Management, but both got a jumpstart on their futures here at an early age — Lenahan in 1945 and Gibbs in 2019.

A wise investment

Sheldon Lenahan.

Lenahan visited campus in July en route to his summer cottage. Photo: Douglas Levere.

Sheldon Lenahan, BS ’49, was only 16 when he started college at what was then the University of Buffalo’s College of Business Administration. 

On the advice of his mother, he had taken an accelerated route through Lafayette High School in Buffalo and graduated in three years. 

“I noticed how young I was compared to some of my UB classmates,” says Lenahan. “A lot of guys were quite a bit older than me — 25, 26 or 27 years old — World War II vets.” 

According to Lenahan, back then, you either went to UB, Canisius or maybe Buffalo State Teachers College. 

“I never thought seriously about anyplace but UB,” he says. “My mother and my brother Edwin both graduated from UB Medical School.” 

Lenahan enjoyed his professors and graduated with a BS in business administration four years later. After graduation, he got a job at Liberty National Bank, and the bank sent him to the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University in New Jersey where he got his master’s in trust banking. 

“In 1950, a buddy suggested we enlist in the military before we got drafted, so we joined the U.S. Army’s 338th General Hospital Reserve Unit in Buffalo,” says Lenahan. “I only had about a year of active duty, but not combat, so nobody ever fired at me. I served from 1950 to 1975 and I still get a pension.”

Fearful of public speaking, Lenahan took a course at Studio Theatre (which later became Studio Arena) with founder Jane Keeler, his favorite teacher of all time. The class led him to what would become a most enjoyable pastime, acting. He was in more than 30 plays in Buffalo and Canada and later served as a director.

Lenahan says he had two mentors: his mother, “who always had time for all of us,” and his brother, John, who was also in business.

After 14 years with Liberty, primarily in the Trust and Investment Department, Lenahan moved to Albany for a job with the National Commercial Bank of Albany. He later returned to Buffalo where he enjoyed a successful career as a stockbroker with Hornblower, Weeks, Hemphill and Noyes (which over time became Shearson Lehman Bros., Shearson American Express, and eventually Morgan Stanley). In 1986, Lenahan was named one of the nation’s Top-10 Outstanding Brokers by Registered Representative magazine. He retired from the firm as a senior vice president more than 25 years later. 

To this day, Lenahan manages his own accounts, buying or selling stocks up to 30 times a month. 

“I always felt like I got a good education at UB,” he says. “I never felt that going to a school different than Harvard, Yale or Stanford has hurt me one iota in terms of getting a job, getting clients and providing for my family, but you’ve got to push yourself along as you go, too,” Lenahan says. 

Today, Lenahan and Kay, his wife of 55 years, have four daughters and split their time between West Palm Beach, Florida, and Crystal Beach, Canada. Active at 94, Lenahan still goes to the gym four days a week, plays bridge and calls himself a professional volunteer, serving on boards and community organizations, including his church, the Ibis Cultural Association, the Palm Beach Round Table, and previously, Roswell Park’s Spiritual Care Department.

His advice for current students: “Work hard, ask for what you want, and get a mentor if you can. It’s extremely important.”

— Jacqueline Ghosen

Bowties and business

Shelden Gibbs.

Gibbs shows off one of his bow ties in 2019. Photo: Douglas Levere.

Shelden Gibbs, CEL ’20, has always had a passion for fashion — bow ties, in particular. 

He loves them so much that when he went shopping, he got frustrated at the limited selection and started cutting up shirts to make his own. And when he wore these self-made ties out of the house, he would get so many compliments that he knew he was on to something.

So, seven years ago at just 10 years old, Gibbs founded Classic Knot to bring his bow ties to the world.

“A bow tie is like a piece of art,” he says. “It adds character.”

As Gibbs has grown, so has his business. Though he still hand crafts each bow tie, he’s scaled up production, invested in new equipment and expanded his product line to include such accessories as socks, neckties and shirts. 

“When I first started the business, I was a kid in an adult world,” he says. “There were some things I didn’t understand, and some adults just don’t take kids seriously. Now I’m at a point where I can grasp everything and run with it.”

Gibbs first connected with the School of Management in 2019 when he enrolled in the Ignite Buffalo Small Business Summer School, where — as a middle schooler — he joined more than 60 fellow entrepreneurs to create his business plan and master his pitch.

Then in 2020, he enrolled in the Core program at the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership to help him take his business to the next level. 

The flagship program of the CEL, Core empowers business owners to overcome challenges, create new opportunities and develop meaningful connections in the business community in a peer-based, mentor-driven program delivered over nine months.

“Core was great because I was able to network with other businesspeople and venture out with new ideas,” he says. “But the most important thing I learned was time management. They taught me how to prepare for my orders, or for when I have to do shows or speaking engagements. Balance is such a key.”

Balance is important through all aspects of Gibbs’ life, as he juggles his entrepreneurial responsibilities with the life of a highschooler. When he’s not running his business or studying, he also enjoys playing basketball and going to church with his family every Sunday. 

That family, Gibbs says, is his main support team. 

“It’s really a mental support because sometimes I may need a break and my mom will say, ‘maybe you just need to take a minute and come back to it,’” he says. “She also handles a lot of the statistics and logistics of the business, which helps a lot so I can focus on my product.”

As Gibbs looks ahead to grade 12 at Nichols School, he wants to participate in mock trial. After graduation, he plans to head to college and law school. 

He also wants to give back to the next generation of aspiring young business owners by establishing a youth entrepreneurial mentorship program. 

“When you’re a kid and you get into entrepreneurship you just have to keep pushing,” he says. “Don’t take no for an answer, because you never know when you’re going to get that ‘yes’ to spark your passion.” 

— Kevin Manne