By Steve Flamisch
photo by Steve Hockstein
William Dwyer, SMLR Alumnus
It all started with a bad boss.
It was the early 1980s and Bill Dwyer was working for PSE&G, reading electric and gas meters. He loved the job—going into homes, getting to know the customers—but his supervisor was a tyrant with a short temper. One day, during an all-hands meeting, the boss publicly humiliated one of Dwyer’s co-workers for making a mistake.
“He laced into this employee on a tirade,” Dwyer said, taking a deep breath as he recalled the moment. “This employee started to cry. This is a grown man, and he actually started to cry. He was so humiliated.”
Dwyer decided on the spot that he had to change the way his colleagues were treated. His dad had a suggestion: instead of fighting management, become management. Dwyer enrolled in the labor and employment relations program at Rutgers while still working full-time at PSE&G.
Over the course of his 37-year career at PSE&G, Dwyer ascended from meter reader to supervisor, to labor relations representative, to district manager, to manager of labor relations and employee relations for PSE&G’s entire workforce.
It was a perfect fit.
“I’d come here at night and I’d learn about new approaches to collective bargaining and new ways in which labor and management could work together, and then apply that the next day at work,” he said.
Dwyer earned a bachelor’s degree in labor studies in 1993 and a master’s degree in labor and industrial relations in 1997. Equipped with the skills he learned at SMLR, Dwyer ascended from meter reader to supervisor, to labor relations representative, to district manager, to manager of labor relations and employee relations for PSE&G’s entire 12,000-person workforce.
Striving to be the antithesis of the bad boss, Dwyer treated his employees with respect and saw the improvements in customer service and efficiency that resulted from it. He retired from the company in 2013 after 37 years of distinguished service.
Eager to share his experiences with the next generation of labor professionals, Dwyer joined the SMLR faculty as a teaching instructor later that year.
“I look around in faculty meetings, I have to pinch myself,” he said. “It’s like, ‘How did I get here?’ I’m surrounded by some of the people who taught me.”
Dwyer, a Middlesex native who now lives in Bridgewater, estimates he’s taught more than 2,400 students in six years. Along the way, he founded the world’s first student chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), served as president of the SMLR Alumni Association, and spoke at several convocations.
“He’s the best professor I’ve ever had,” said Thomas Costello IV, who is graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in human resource management and labor studies and employment relations. “He’s always there when I need advice, even if it has nothing to do with his class. I wouldn’t have gotten my first internship or my first job without his guidance.”
Dwyer has no plans to leave the classroom anytime soon, but he wants to keep helping students long after he’s taught his last course. So when he and his wife, Lois, a retired lab technician, began to plan their legacy, it wasn’t a difficult choice.
“No other factor has had as much of an influence on my career and my success as the School of Management and Labor Relations,” Dwyer said. “So we’re going to give something back that is pretty substantial so that others can experience what I was fortunate enough to experience.”
Many children groan at the thought of hearing their parents’ work stories.
Not Bill Dwyer.
Growing up in Middlesex Borough, New Jersey in the 1960s, he was riveted by the tales his parents shared at the dinner table. Mom was a seamstress in a factory. Dad read electric and gas meters for PSE&G.
“It was like a soap opera every day,” Dwyer said. “They would talk about these different characters that they worked with. These people were really colorful, with rich backgrounds, funny stories, tragic stories. It was so different from my world of going to school.”
From these stories, Dwyer developed a fascination with the world of work that still resonates in his teaching today.
A bad boss inspired Dwyer to change his career path.
A good boss can leave a lasting impact, too.
When Dwyer was 10 years old, he needed emergency surgery for a burst appendix. After his parents spent the night at his hospital bedside, Dwyer’s dad called PSE&G supervisor Louis Rizzi to say he would be late for work in the morning.
“Your place today is with your son,” Rizzi replied. “I don’t want you to come to work.”
Dwyer eventually followed in dad’s footsteps and went to work for PSE&G. At Rizzi’s retirement party, Dwyer reminded him about the appendectomy and the phone call.
“I told him that story and he never realized that it touched me the way that it did,” he said. “I think it meant something to him to hear that."
The Dwyers are gifting $50,000 to establish a certificate program on negotiation and conflict resolution—skills Bill honed at PSE&G—and they will leave a large portion of their estate to the School: an estimated bequest of $3 million.
It’s the largest gift in the history of SMLR, which is celebrating its 25th year as a degree-granting school in 2019.
“Bill and Lois Dwyer’s gift will have a tremendous impact on our school, today and in the future,” SMLR Dean Adrienne Eaton said. “The certificate program will provide students with life skills that are critically important in nearly any profession, while the legacy gift will enable SMLR to award scholarships to students in need and support faculty and programs centered on conflict resolution and negotiation.”
Nevin Kessler, president of Rutgers University Foundation, noted, “The tremendous support Bill and Lois have shown through their philanthropy really reflects the extraordinary engagement Bill has had with Rutgers over many years. It’s inspiring to see the Dwyers taking yet another step to prepare the next generation of leaders in his field.”
And while Dwyer is paying it forward, he’s never stopped looking back.
The bad boss from his youth passed away many years ago, but Dwyer remembers him as an inspirational figure. Instead of holding a grudge, he feels a sense of gratitude. Dwyer keeps a picture of the man in his office.
“Every night when I leave work, I look at that picture and I say, ‘Thanks,’” Dwyer said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.” ■