When looking back on his career, Irv Dennis ’81 says none of it was imaginable when he was a student at Montclair State.
The first in his family to earn a college education, Dennis grew up in Belvidere, New Jersey, what he describes as a small town and farming community. “I started working on the farm at 12 years old, picking corn and potatoes,” he says.
He considers graduating from Montclair State as a defining moment in his life, seeing it as the foundation and the catalyst for his career trajectory. “I came to college scared and came out with confidence,” he says. “I loved my education here; it means everything to me.”
As a retired global client service partner with Ernst & Young LLP (EY) and former CFO of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Dennis has put his bachelor of science in Business Administration to good use.
“Don’t be confined by your past,” he suggests. “Use it to embellish your strengths.”
Dennis enjoyed a 37-year career with EY, and when he thought he would retire and perhaps start teaching, he instead found himself moving to Washington, DC in 2017 to serve as the CFO of HUD, a process where he was nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. At HUD, he served as the principal advisor to the Secretary on financial management and the senior departmental official responsible for establishing and implementing policies to govern all aspects of financial management in the Department. He led a financial and digital transformation, which resulted in the first unqualified audit opinion in eight years. For his transformational leadership, Dennis was the recipient of several awards including the 2020 Donald L. Scantlebury Memorial Award, the 2020 Federal 100 Award and the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) 2021 Accomplishment of the Year Award.
After HUD, Dennis became a board member of Cypress Mortgage Capital and a founding board member and treasurer of American Cornerstone Institute.
Describing a common theme in his life Dennis shares: “I was afraid to fail so I worked very hard not to.”
Dennis is committed to his alma mater, active as a donor and volunteer, and his generosity was recognized in the naming of the Irving Dennis, CPA Study Room in the Feliciano School of Business. He serves on the Feliciano School of Business Advisory Board and was the recipient of Montclair State University’s Feliciano School of Business Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019.
As a guest speaker for the School’s MBA Executive Series in October 2021, Dennis shared the insights and experiences of his career in public and private sectors. “One of my favorite things I enjoy doing is talking with the next generation,” he told students. “I love this generation, I think our future is in good hands…you are smart, tech savvy, and you are inclined to give back to the community.”
He credits Montclair State’s internship program with helping him get his start and encourages students to take advantage of all that Montclair State offers, from career counseling to networking and internship opportunities. “Whatever you think you can’t do, you probably can. And if you need more courage, find some mentors to help you.”
Among the words he lives by and recommends to all are to “get out of your comfort zone, be adaptable to change and never stop having a thirst for learning.”
Dennis’ latest venture in pushing himself past his comfort zone is writing a book. Exploring the lessons he learned in bringing private sector experience to the transformation of HUD’s financial systems, his book Transforming a Federal Agency: Management Lessons from HUD’s Financial Reconstruction, published by Wiley, is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“My sixth-grade English teacher would be shocked I wrote a book,” he says jokingly.
From humble beginnings to transforming a federal agency, Dennis brings his endless love of learning to everything he does, deeply rooted in and proud of his Montclair State experience.
“Don’t underestimate the value of your education… Nothing happens without a degree in your professional life.”