Coming Full Circle: A Story of Giving Back

Ted Beneski ’78, P’08 (fifth from right), his wife, Laurie (sixth from right), and their families celebrated the dedication of the Beneski Earth Sciences Building and Beneski Museum of Natural History on April 1. Until now the couple wished to remain anonymous about their $15 million pledge made in 2008. 

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, soccer is competitive. Premier soccer clubs require 11-year-old kids to sign contracts that forbid them to play other sports and require them to attend three practices and two games weekly and to pay exorbitant fees. Ted Beneski ’78, P’08 thought these policies limited and short-changed young people and formed his own club with quite different expectations: that kids would play multiple sports, achieve academically, learn about teamwork and have fun—all at no cost. At first, the team won few games. But over the years, the club attracted exceptional, multi-sport athletes. Eventually, Colley­ville United won the entire area championship and along the way sent a strong message to the community about what is really important about sports—and life.  

This story characterizes Ted Beneski and his family, who spent a snowy April 1 at Amherst College at the dedication of the Beneski Earth Sciences Building and Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Humble Beginnings

Ted grew up in West Suffield, Conn., a town of 8,000 people situated between Springfield, Mass., and Hartford, Conn. His dad, Chancey, was a tobacco farmer who died when Ted was just 4 years old. With four children to care for, Ted’s mom, Alfreda, often worked three jobs as a housekeeper, baker and caterer, barely making ends meet. Despite the long hours, Alfreda always made sure she picked up Ted from school.

Ted’s siblings—Bernice, Frank and Janie—were 18, 17 and 15 years old, respectively, when their father died, and all helped care for Ted over the years, financially supporting the family and attending his many sports games, teaching young Ted a lesson he would never forget: to give back to the people who supported you along the way.

His senior year at Suffield High School, Ted was accepted at three schools: Amherst, Williams and the University of Connecticut. For Ted, Amherst was by far the best choice, in part “because the college offered a lot of scholarship based on need,” covering most of the $5,000 in annual tuition and affording him the opportunity to attend. 

Life, Learning and Love at Amherst

At Amherst, Ted was a conscientious student who graduated with honors in economics. A member of the baseball and soccer teams, he served as soccer captain his senior year under longtime coach and athletic director Peter Gooding.
According to Gooding, “Ted was a pleasure to have on the team—there was a distinctive and special way about him for a person his age. While he took things seriously, he always kept things in perspective. You always knew you’d get a smile from him.”

Although Ted was busy studying and playing sports at Amherst, he found time for social mixers at Mount Holyoke and Smith, where he got to know Laurie Martin, a Mount Holyoke student he had first met in an Amherst statistics class. Their first formal date was during his graduation weekend. Today they have been married for 30 years. 

Successful Career

Ted launched his career in banking, but found the commercial training programs unchallenging. Instead, he identified Bain & Co., a leading global business and strategy firm, as his ideal employer. When insiders told Ted that Bain & Co. only hired the top graduates from top business schools, Ted pursued his MBA at Harvard and then spent 15 years at the Boston-based consulting firm, eventually becoming a partner and co-founding its Dallas office.

Early in his career at Bain & Co., Ted witnessed a big layoff. It was April 11, 1988. While many lost their jobs, the 32-year-old father was promoted. Ted remembers company leadership basing the decision on two criteria: fire in the belly and “coachability”—traits Ted first learned in sports.

Ted relied on fire in the belly when he first moved to Dallas with no clients and no contacts. He and his partner built the business into the largest and most profitable of Bain & Co.’s 26 regional offices, solidifying Ted’s professional goal: to start his own firm.

In 2002, Ted founded Insight Equity, a private equity firm that now manages approximately $800 million of capital.

The couple at the dedication. Their daughter, Kristin ’08, has said that her father “taught me his most important lessons—about respect, love, achievement and following your bliss—by example.”
Giving Back

Ted and Laurie Beneski focus their volunteerism and philanthropy on educational opportunities for young people. This focus stems in part from their involvement in the lives of their own children, Kristin ’08, 24, a current student at Georgetown Law, and Jeff, 21, and David, 19, both students at Trinity University in San Antonio. Over the years, the Beneskis have constructed field houses and athletic fields, developed after-school programs, coached Little League and started soccer clubs. But their most notable gift to date is a $15 million pledge to the Beneski Earth Sciences Building and the Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Of their extraordinary donation, the Beneskis have said, “This is an investment in Amherst College and the liberal arts education that exposes students to myriad academic disciplines and trains them how to think, analyze and solve problems across a broad array of subjects. We believe investments in this type of education will help us find the next generation of solutions in science, medicine, law and business and therefore serve to positively advance our global society.”

Photos by Jessica Mestre '10