A Legacy in the Making
By Kathleen Poe Ross | Photo by Meg Buscema
As the third generation to helm his family's business, Jay Bernath (M.B.A. '92) knows a thing or two about keeping up ties. This July, he will assume the presidency of the GSU Alumni Association, a position that will capitalize on this particular strength to the benefit of his alma mater.
"I had a really great experience at Georgia State, and I really enjoy telling people about it," Bernath says. "Seeing where the university is moving now, it's only getting better."
Given his great enthusiasm for the school, it's remarkable that Bernath only became involved in alumni activities on an official level about three years ago. The university learned through its fundraising efforts that they had a strong advocate in Bernath and quickly recruited him to the board of the Alumni Association.
An Atlanta native (also third-generation - his paternal grandmother was born here), Bernath grew up around the family business that began as Bernath's Market, a grocery opened by his grandfather in 1942 in the Summerhill neighborhood. His father took the reins in the late '50s. With the advent of processing equipment, the company started working with foodservice customers and became C & SWholesale Grocery Co. In subsequent years they narrowed their focus and rebranded themselves as C & S Wholesale Meat Co. Today, the meatpacking operation is housed in Grant Park.
Looking to beef up his business acumen while still working a full schedule for the company, Bernath enrolled in GSU's Robinson College of Business, where he took advantage of the school's evening classes and focused on courses that would help him run the business more effectively.
"The school provided me a way to look at problems differently, to think more critically," he says. "The professors I had were so smart - I was in awe of them. The experience at Georgia State was something I really enjoyed because of the level of the professors. I had high expectations of myself because they fostered that in me."
Once Bernath finished his M.B.A., he took over for his father as president. Withno more classes to take, he began to volunteer in his free time. He has since served on the boards of Samaritan House of Atlanta, Vox Teen Communications, Hillels ofGeorgia, Hands On Atlanta, Leadership Atlanta and now the GSU Alumni Association.
During his term as Alumni Association president, Bernath expects to make sure the organization operates with the most benefit to the university. The group is working with the new Student Alumni Association to cultivate support early among soon-to-be alums, and a strategic plan for reaching out to graduates of all ages is in the works.
"We're a group of people that really have a passion for the university and want to share that and encourage people to become involved with the university," Bernath says. "With 165,000 alumni, the opportunities are huge."