Why I Give Back: Stephen Degnan, ’87

degnan_steve_km8147(s)While Steve Degnan, ’87, was eager to talk about why he supports La Salle, he wasn’t as keen about the title of this article.

“I don’t like the term ‘giving back.’ There’s something implied in that phrase, almost like you took something to begin with,” he said. “I think the better way to put it is that you’re living up to your values or being Lasallian.

“I don’t view it as choosing to give—I view it as an obligation. At a certain point, you have to think about what your own obligations are, and supporting the institution that gave you a good start is part of that.”

Degnan has come a long way, professionally and geographically, since his start at La Salle. A business major and a member of the ROTC program, he served for four years in the Army, three of them in Germany. He left the Army in 1991 and landed a job with Nestlé, a company he’s stayed with for more than two decades. After moving several times for various jobs within Nestlé, he has been settled in St. Louis, Mo., for the past 11 years.

Today, Degnan is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Nestlé Purina North America, which runs the pet food business for North and South America. He oversees talent management, recruiting, and labor relations.

As his career took off, Degnan said he found himself returning to the lessons about service that he learned at La Salle.

“The message is hardwired into you at La Salle, that you should be of service,’” he said. “In my case, that call to serve took hold mid-career and drove me back toward those values.”Degnan currently serves on two nonprofit boards in St. Louis, for the Guardian Angel Settlement Association, which is dedicated to assisting those living in poverty, and for the Starkloff Disability Institute, which helps people with disabilities find employment.

“This place is unique, and that goes back to the Brothers and their emphasis on teaching and teaching well, and the bond between the students that creates.” —Steve Degnan, ’87

His dedication to La Salle also compelled him to accept a seat on the University’s Board of Trustees in 2014. In this new role, he’s particularly interested in supporting campus expansion and improvement efforts, including the new School of Business facility, and working to raise La Salle’s profile on the national stage by focusing on its Lasallian heritage and commitment to excellence in teaching, as well as by building up the University’s athletics programs.

Knowing that so many high-achieving young professionals are graduating from La Salle, Degnan is also interested in recruiting more alumni to work at Nestlé Purina.

“It’s a special place,” he said of his alma mater. “I remember being in classes as small as eight to 15 people, and you really got to know the teachers and it would draw you in. That builds really strong bonds and connections.

“I got a dialogue every time I went into a classroom. They were too small to hide in. You were going to be called on, and you were going to be expected to be a part of whatever we were going to talk about.”

Degnan has kept in touch with many of his professors, including President Emeritus Brother Michael J. McGinniss, F.S.C., Ph.D., ’70. Part of La Salle’s story that needs to be told, he said, is about the mentoring relationships between students and professors that endure long after graduation.

“This place is unique, and that goes back to the Brothers and their emphasis on teaching and teaching well, and the bond between the students that creates,” Degnan said. “I’m not aware of any other place that does it that well.”