Steve Gorham ’85, P’17, the president-elect of the Brooks School board of trustees, has worked hard his entire life. Hard work is all he knows: Gorham grew up behind the counter of the North Andover hardware store his parents ran; he became determined to find firm footing among his wealthier peers at Brooks; and he followed his intelligence and dogged resourcefulness to career success at MFS Investment Management, a firm with global reach.
Now, Gorham is turning his energy toward Brooks, the institution that he says transformed his life. That hard work, that unending attention, that keen sense of responsibility; it’s all coming back to Great Pond Road. Gorham’s presidency will revolve around what he calls “active engagement.” He promises to re-energize the Brooks community in large and small ways, with one goal: To ensure that, when his presidency concludes, Brooks remains poised to meet its mission and the challenges of its future.
A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIMENT
Gorham comes from humble beginnings. He’s the sixth of seven children, a local kid. His parents ran the local hardware store in North Andover, Gorham Hardware. According to Gorham, the family business was not an extraordinarily successful one.
“My parents didn’t have two nickels to scrape together,” he says. “It was paycheck to paycheck. My parents packed seven kids into a 1,600-square foot house. My bedroom was in the basement with my two brothers, so, tight quarters. But, we had a lot of love and the right values.”
Those values included a persistent work ethic. Gorham explains that his parents recruited Gorham and his siblings as employees early on. Gorham recalls that during almost every waking hour when he wasn’t in school, he was working at the hardware store or passing out advertising leaflets. Those habits have stuck: Today, Gorham is quick to call himself a workaholic. “Seeing my parents work six days a week, and then start to work seven days a week, really ingrained that sort of mentality in me,” he says. “So when it comes to working on the board,” Gorham continues, “I certainly admit that while I might not have all the skills that are necessary for grand visions, strategic executions, however you might describe it, I certainly feel that one thing I can bring is a whole lot of energy and a dedication to making sure the job gets done.”
Gorham had no plans to attend anything other than the local public high school, but his life took a fortuitous turn. Gorham’s mother thought that Gorham’s youngest brother — the seventh of seven children — had an intelligence that deserved a private high school education. The cost of Brooks tuition was out of reach for Gorham’s family, but during a chance meeting with a Brooks parent, Gorham’s mother learned that Brooks offered financial aid. So, Gorham’s mother decided, Gorham would serve as guinea pig and navigate the Brooks admission process first, clearing the path for his younger brother.
“My mother readily admits that she experimented with me, and that she sent me through the process first to see what would happen,” Gorham says. “She had me apply just to Brooks, nowhere else. I was totally ambivalent about going to Brooks. I had no perception of what independent schools were like. Zero clue. But, I knew to be excited when I was accepted, and then again when I received financial aid.”
Gorham’s experimentation with the school admission process paid off for him. He enrolled at Brooks and began classes as a day student in 1981. It appears it also paid off for his younger brother. Rich Gorham went on to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and still works there as a house counselor and the wrestling coach.
A NEW WORLD AT BROOKS
Gorham had succeeded at his first challenge: Getting accepted to Brooks and receiving the financial aid he needed to be able to attend. A second challenge awaited, though: Gorham still had to get through Brooks, and hit his stride at a school that he described as being like a different world from his middle-income childhood.
Gorham’s father had some words of advice for his son when he dropped Gorham off for his first day of third-form classes at Brooks. The elder Gorham was nervous that his self-described “messy kid” would stand out at a school full of “rich kids,” and he lobbed a last-minute plea at his son.
“He reminded me as I stepped out of the car, he said, whatever you do, if they ask you if you’re hungry, just say no. Don’t eat,” Gorham remembers. Gorham soon realized his father’s worst fears: While staying on campus for dinner that night and, of course, sitting at Headmaster H. Peter Aitken’s table, Gorham was asked to serve his tablemates dessert — ice cream — from a large bowl. “So I get this big spoon, this big glass bowl and this big frozen block of ice cream, and of course it all just comes down in my lap,” Gorham laughs. “I did not listen to my father’s advice, and it was an inauspicious start to my Brooks School experience.”
Ice cream debacles aside, Gorham says that he stood out at Brooks for another reason: He was very aware of the socioeconomic differences between him and most of his classmates. For Gorham, back-to-school shopping consisted of “going down to the local department store and getting five pairs of corduroys—one in every color, which you rotated every day of the week—and one jacket, and that was it. It was reasonably evident that others had more than I had, and I was very self-conscious about it.”
Gorham gravitated toward the other day students. He says his friendships with other local day students were strong, and have lasted to this day. He still counts some of those other day students as his best friends, and says that their network was as strong as any in the school. Gorham also found his place at Brooks through athletics. He played football, basketball (“very poorly,” he says) and baseball during his time at Brooks. He speaks most fondly of his time on the football team, which was hugely successful during Gorham’s tenure at Brooks. Although he was never a star player, he revered his coaches, who he says were mentors to him: Bill Poirot P’86, P’90, Dan Rorke P’84, P’85, P’89, Gorham’s advisor Skip Perkins ’56, P’81, P’83, and Nick Evangelos P’74.
Gorham’s moment in the spotlight came at the perfect time: during the football game against St. Paul’s School his sixth-form year to decide the league championship. Gorham, who played defensive end on defense and tight end on offense, scored a touchdown early in the game and then intercepted a pass late in the game to seal the win for Brooks. “The elation of that moment,” Gorham remembers. “It was a high stakes game, and again, not being the greatest athlete but being involved in a lot of the teams for a long time, to actually feel like I could have contributed a reasonable amount to that victory was a personal success.”
Gorham says he was never a star member of the campus community. “I step back and look at it, and I say that I did my part and I was part of the equation,” he says. “I was extremely pleased to be there. I was being dropped into a school that I perceived as a different world and a different socioeconomic class in which I was never going to be able to compete, never going to be able to stand out; I fought to be in the middle of the pack, and that was extraordinarily rewarding for me, so I was very pleased with that.”
What Gorham remembers vividly, what he seems to really treasure of his Brooks experience, is the time spent with faculty, especially Skip Perkins, his advisor.
“I remember spending time with him at his kitchen table in PBA,” Gorham says. “He was such a relatable character because he was also a day student on financial aid when he went to Brooks, and he took me under his wing and gave such valuable advice to someone who could have gotten completely lost in a school like that. For him to take the time to know me and know my story and guide me through was fantastic.”
“Obviously education is one of the most important factors in driving success in anyone’s life in the grand scheme of things,” Gorham says, “but I think the beauty of Brooks is that nobody can get lost. Everybody is known and given that level of individual attention. The Brooks Community has the ability to take students, wherever they are in their lives, move them forward in dramatic ways in such a transformative period of their lives, and give them all the character traits that transcend what you learn in the classroom. That capability to connect with great faculty on the field, in the classroom, in the dorm, to be known across multiple levels, is such a special level of education that few institutions have the opportunity to provide. We have a legacy of doing that for 90 years now; I view it as our responsibility to ensure that continues for another 90 years.”
A PURPOSEFUL PATH FORWARD
Gorham left Brooks for the University of New Hampshire, where he took an interest in stocks and investing. Gorham immersed himself in accounting and investing courses, and completed an internship with a brokerage firm during college. He then took a post-graduation job answering telephone calls from clients in the service center at MFS’s headquarters in Boston, the firm he still works at today.
“I knew right away when I took the service center job that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but I focused on being the best I could be at the job I had, all the while looking to do something else,” Gorham explains. He was determined to find success. He met another challenge: Attending night classes to receive his MBA from Boston College and then receiving his CFA designation. He also managed to set up a series of informational interviews with senior members of the firm, through which he learned about a highly sought-after job with a one-year term in the firm’s equity department.
Gorham’s hard work paid off again. He landed the one-year role, and when it ended, MFS offered Gorham a job as an analyst. He’s taken several significant leaps up the ladder from there: Now, Gorham is a senior vice president and portfolio manager. Gorham manages a U.S. large cap value portfolio and a global large cap value portfolio, which together hold, he says, somewhere north of $60 billion of assets under management. He serves on MFS’s equity management committee, a group that oversees the firm’s equity department. And, Gorham spent a number of years living in London when he helped set up MFS’s office there. Today, the London office of MFS is the firm’s second-largest, trailing only Boston.
Gorham speaks passionately about his work. He says he enjoys the constant learning and processing of data that’s needed to make wise investments in different companies. “It’s the kind of job where you can show up to work any day and there’s an infinite amount of information to learn and people to talk to,” he says. “The beauty is the information, and if you love it and you get the passion of working on it, it’s fantastic.”
While he was living in faraway London, Gorham found himself missing his connection to Brooks. He wanted to re-engage with and give back to the school. On his return to North Andover, he joined the alumni board, and then joined the board of trustees in 2008. “I am very much of the belief that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he says. “It’s very fulfilling for me to give back, not only financially but also in terms of resources. I’m happy to contribute in any way I can.”
A HISTORIC GIFT
The Campaign for Brooks marks a turning point for Brooks. The $60 million capital campaign is the largest in the school’s history. It promises to honor the fundamental traditions and values that Brooks rests on, while also advancing Brooks and positioning the school for the challenges and innovation of the future. The campaign’s needs are great, and support is crucial.
Steve Gorham will be a leader for Brooks and a stalwart advocate of The Campaign for Brooks. He leads by example: Gorham made a historic $5 million leadership gift to the campaign. This matches the amount given to the campaign in 2014 by Nick Booth ’67, P’05, the current board president. Gorham’s and Booth’s gifts to The Campaign for Brooks are the largest gifts given in the history of the school.
Gorham made his gift, he says, “because we need to raise the horizon of what giving means from a Brooks perspective. Beyond the number, what is important is that these gifts raise other’s expectations of their own giving aspirations.”
Gorham points out that the amount given to The Campaign for Brooks has already surpassed the levels of giving in any previous campaign in the history of the school. “It’s going well,” Gorham reports. “To date, we’ve had tremendous follow through. But, we need to raise the bar of expectations and of caring for the school.”
“Brooks is one of those places
that people say they love, and
that people say is great. And that’s
important,” Gorham continues.
“But, we also need people to love
the school by caring for the school;
and that’s the critical part, because
schools like Brooks don’t exist out
of some natural-born right. They’re
a product of people who care for
them and ensure that they are
maintained and grown for the future
in greater ways. If we want Brooks to be in a better place, that requires
people to care for it, and that requires people to translate the great
experience they had at Brooks and the great love they have for Brooks
to great care for Brooks. Hopefully, these leadership gifts will inspire
Leadership gifts are necessary, says Gorham, but they won’t be sufficient.
The Campaign for Brooks has to be a team effort to succeed. “Everybody
factors into this,” Gorham says. “Smaller gifts are a big part of
this. Participation is a big part of this. My first gift to Brooks was probably
25 bucks, because my first job was answering telephones and that’s
what I could afford. More important than the individual dollar amounts
are that those amounts add up and go a long way. Also, those smaller
gifts speak to the passion of individuals to give back to the school,
and that passion is contagious. We want people to get into the regular
habit of giving. The reality is that Brooks will only be as successful as its
alumni base wants it to be, and we need to ensure that the alumni are
inspired to make Brooks the best version of itself it can be.”