Driven to Succeed – Peter Aquino ’83

Peter Aquino ’83 has an entrepreneurial spirit and unflagging ambition, qualities that have served him well through the years. The 51-year-old chairman, president and CEO of Primus Telecommunications, was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey, where he beat the odds by graduating from John F. Kennedy High School in a class where more than half of the students did not.

“I always wanted to be successful through hard work,” says Aquino, who was both class president and a captain of the high school football team.

He took that ambition to Montclair State, where he majored in finance. “I focused on doing my best in school,” he says. “Montclair was a great place to get a good education and be around really smart people. Many of my finance professors were fantastic.”

His hard work paid off. In his senior year, Aquino received a scholarship from New Jersey Bell (now Verizon) and went to Harvard to assist in teaching a graduate course in international monetary economics and finance. Upon returning from Harvard, Aquino joined New Jersey Bell and eventually Bell Atlantic in Virginia, where he worked in rates and tariffs, finance, competition marketing, operations and regulatory and corporate development.  But after 13 years, Aquino says, he found the telephone company “a little boring.” He left Bell in 1995 to help build a telecommunications company in Venezuela from the ground up.

“It was very entrepreneurial,” he says. “We provided the leadership, planning and oversight of a telephone company from scratch.” The company, Veninfotel (now NetUno), became Latin America’s first fiber-based provider of “triple-play” telecommunications –– television, high-speed Internet access and telephone service combined.

When Aquino returned to the states in 2000, the telecom industry was in bad shape. “It was a horrible time,” he says, “but I was having very good career momentum.” He found that his experience overseas, combined with his years at Bell, positioned him to help struggling companies get back on their feet. For the next 10 years Aquino became a restructuring expert, helping several companies through bankruptcy and out toward a resurgence, including RCN Corp, where he served as president and CEO from 2004 to 2010.

Aquino’s advice to students is to get experience overseas. “To succeed at higher-level jobs that are global in nature, you must have some international experience that’s not just from reading a book or newspaper,” he says. “You need to go there and make it part of your repertoire.”