It was Andy Cortese's first week living in Milan, Italy. He was 25 years old and had never been overseas before, although he had grown up hearing stories about Italy from his immigrant grandparents. It was the mid-1970s, and Italy was experiencing a severe shortage of coins.
“I walked into a store and bought a newspaper or something like that, and I paid with a lira bill,” Cortese recalls.
“The cashier returned a telephone token, a tram token, and a piece of candy as change.”
Nonplussed, Cortese walked out of the store. Back at the office, he asked a colleague to explain. His coworker told him that the tram token was worth 50 lira, the telephone token 25, and the piece of candy 5. These could be used in lieu of coins at other merchants — except for the candy.
Going overseas for the first time, Cortese says, “was the most exciting thing that had happened in my lifetime — apart from marrying my wife [Natalie Migliaro '92]. … I haven't stopped traveling since.”
Cortese now lives in London, where he's spent a total of about 12 years in different stints, during a career that has taken him from JP Morgan Chase to Goldman Sachs and, since 2007, to the international insurance giant AIG. He has also lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and now he is the head of AIG's information technology operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
He didn't go to college thinking he would work in international business — although he does highly recommend that any student interested in business take courses in his major, which was accounting. “It's such a good foundation for investment banking. It has helped me immensely in my job over the last 35 years,” he says.
However, Cortese did have a desire to travel abroad, inspired by his grandparents' stories. He started out in the internal financial audit division, which gave him some exposure to all parts of the business. Learning about overseas locations piqued his interest. When he heard about an opportunity to apply for the foreign exchange business, he went for it — and ended up in Milan, using tram tokens for coins.
Since then, he has thoroughly covered Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Far East. He has stood on the Great Wall of China and Red Square in Moscow, and recently attended the London Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee.
His advice for young graduates: “If you have an opportunity in your business career to take an assignment overseas, take it.” He also highly recommends studying abroad. “We're in a global business and we're in a global economy. It will only help you.”
- A history buff, he recommends taking in sights like the Houses of Parliament. “The roots of our government and society come from here.”
- His favorite park is Hyde Park, and he's always impressed with Buckingham Palace.
- A sports fan, he recommends the Lord's Cricket Ground, although he admits he prefers to follow the Chelsea Football Club.
- His favorite restaurant: La Famiglia, where he's been going since 1983.
READ MORE about the evolution of study abroad programs at Wagner College in our feature story, "Expanded Horizons."