Heidi (Verrill) Pickett ’91 and Joan Waters ’83 will receive their Alumni Achievement Awards on Friday, June 2 on Bryant’s campus at a special banquet. Other award winners include Paul Kelly '88, Hal Horvat '91MBA, Nirbhay Kumar ’97, Norell Bassett Zable ’11, ’12MBA, and Quentin “Q” Williams ’05. The Alumni Achievement Awards are part of Reunion and Alumni Weekend, when all alumni will be welcomed back to campus, including those with class years ending in 3 and 8, who will be celebrating Reunions.
Heidi (Verrill) Pickett ’91
“Your career is a marathon, not a sprint”
Coming from a small high school in Maine, Heidi (Verrill) Pickett ’91 says enrolling at Bryant helped her to gain a new perspective and get out of her comfort zone. “It has helped me tremendously when I’m going into new situations,” she says. “Developing the business acumen and leadership skills has really helped me, both professionally and personally.”
Pickett began her career with State Street, a leading Boston-based asset management firm, ultimately landing in the company’s global markets arm in sales and trading, which she describes as an “eye-opening” experience for what it taught her about different cultures, embracing opportunities, and appreciating that finance is truly global.
After leaving State Street in 2008, Pickett spent a decade as Assistant Dean of the Master of Finance program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “It was a natural step,” says Pickett, “even though higher education was extremely different. It was all about leveraging my finance knowledge and industry relationships.”
After 10 years at MIT, Pickett jumped into the world of blockchain in 2021, which led her to her current role as the Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Initiatives at The Tie, the leading provider of information services for digital assets like cryptocurrency. “It’s certainly been a rollercoaster,” she says, referencing the tumultuous past few years in blockchain and crypto, but she says she is optimistic about the industry’s future. “The blockchain technology has proven itself, and it’s not going away,” she says. “There are tons of use cases that will transform financial services.”
“Trust that all those little experiences and opportunities along the way will get you where you need to be.”
Pickett says she has honed her skills in management and leadership in her decades of experience in financial services, higher education, and now blockchain. “Your career is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Pickett. “You’re in it for the long run. Trust that all those little experiences and opportunities along the way will get you where you need to be.”
Outside of her professional life, Pickett is deeply devoted to philanthropic causes, especially in mentorship, financial inclusion, and financial education, particularly with girls and women. Whether they were students in her program at MIT or high school students looking to hone their resumes for their first job, Pickett says she wants to be a role model to other women in business. “My philosophy is that it’s not just giving, but serving as well,” she says. “It’s having a meaningful impact. I’ve been lucky and grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and I just wish that everyone could have the same mentorship and be able to attend great universities like Bryant.”
Joan Waters ’83
“I am very proud of the fact that I am a female CEO”
Success was not a given for Joan Waters ’83. When she arrived at Bryant, she was struggling with a reading disability and the rigor of college-level courses nearly stopped her pursuit of higher education in its tracks. “I got a 1.7 GPA my first semester,” she remembers.
But Waters is not one to give up easily.
She worked with her Bryant professors to find new ways to engage in the classroom, learn the material, and demonstrate her knowledge. “Ultimately I graduated on the Dean’s List,” she says. “Bryant taught me how to learn.”
Outside of academics, Waters built connections with the community on campus, playing on the women’s basketball team. In short, the time she spent at Bryant was pivotal. “Bryant is such an important part of my success,” she says.
After graduating, she landed in New York and began her career in sales. Though she proved her talent in her job, earning a series of promotions, she says she soon grew tired of living in the Big Apple. “I was in New York City for 18 months, and it was the longest five years of my life,” she jokes. During an “exceptionally bad New York day” in 1988, Waters met with Alan Einstein and his father David, owners of COFCO, an office furniture retailer based in Philadelphia. She was looking for a way out of the city; Einstein had recently purchased the small furniture dealership and needed someone to run it. That six-hour Saturday morning chat changed the course of her life: He offered her a job on the spot.
In her 35 years with COFCO, including nine as CEO, Waters has driven tremendous growth in the company. When she became the company’s majority shareholder in 2016, COFCO earned designation as a Woman Business Enterprise. For her extraordinary career success and leadership, Waters won the 2023 Paradigm Award, presented annually by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia to businesswomen whose outstanding professional and personal achievements serve as a model for success.
“As women CEOs, we have an incredible responsibility to help other women succeed.”
“I am very proud of the fact that I am a female CEO in a very male-dominated world,” she says. “There have been a lot of doors closed to me,” she says. “As women CEOs, we have an incredible responsibility to help other women succeed. It is our responsibility to make it easier for the next group of women.”
Without the support Waters received as an undergraduate student, she might not be in the position to give back and pay it forward that she is today. She says the impact Bryant had on her life makes her Distinguished Alumna Award all the more meaningful. “To have Bryant recognize me as a success and as a distinguished alum is an amazing honor.”