John Thunen retires after 20 years of service to the Daniels College of Business
Even John Thunen himself thinks he’s mostly known to the faculty and staff at the Daniels College of Business as the guy who says, “No.” As the College’s assistant dean of financial and administration, Thunen often told colleagues that he couldn’t fund their projects. But, the man with a dry sense of humor and immense character might also be responsible for saving the College financially.
Thunen retired April 1, 2020, after 20 years of service to Daniels—almost to the day. He was hired March 31, 2000, in a budget officer position by then CFO Dorothy Joseph and Dean Jim Griesemer.
Joseph worked with Thunen at Columbia Savings in Denver, where Thunen was the head of financial analysis and planning and managed an investment portfolio of approximately $1.2 billion. Thunen held seven positions before coming to DU and after receiving his undergraduate degree in economics and his MBA in finance from the University of California-Berkeley.
His career started in California, where he was a financial analyst for the Pacific Stock Exchange and a monetary analyst for the Federal Reserve in San Francisco.
“The longest I had worked anywhere was five years, so I did not expect to be [at DU] this long,” Thunen said. “My kids were getting to an age that I needed and wanted to be around more.”
Just before Thunen was hired at Daniels, well, Daniels wasn’t Daniels yet. The Business School was housed in half of Sturm Hall and Jim Griesemer, who had been the CFO for the University, was named dean of the Business School.
“While it was clear that DU as a whole would be fine in the long run, the Business School was still struggling,” Griesemer said. “It had experienced a decade or more of decline in undergraduate enrollment and graduate enrollments were flat.”
Griesemer explained that while Joseph focused on human resources and other things, Thunen was instrumental in restructuring the College’s finances and implementing a new budgeting system. In a quiet, but effective way, Griesemer described, Thunen brought everyone—faculty and staff—into the budget development process.
“It’s no exaggeration that John played a key role in building the College,” Griesemer said. “He was unflappable during difficult times. He was absolutely committed and determined to see the Business School succeed, during difficult and positive times.”
Thunen has seen a tremendous amount during his time at the College. He’s been through five deans and three interim deans, as well as the following milestones:
- The first time Daniels was ranked by the Wall Street Journal
- The funding and building of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, which opened in 2005
- The funding and renovation of Margery Reed Hall in 2008
Despite the celebratory milestones, Thunen also had to face difficulties, including the financial crisis of 2007–08 that dropped the College’s endowments underwater and immediately caused the scholarship funding to go into a deficit position of over $1 million for the year. He navigated that and more recent challenges.
“John Thunen’s talents and work ethic enabled Daniels to survive and even to periodically thrive during a pernicious and sustained downward-sloping set of market conditions that have recently defined Daniels’ external environmental conditions,” said Brent Chrite, dean of Daniels from 2014–19. “I was honored to have him as my CFO; he is a man I trusted unconditionally.”
Given the recent pandemic, Thunen isn’t sure what he’s moving onto quite yet. The family’s plans to travel to Italy and the Greek Islands have been put on hold. But, he’s sure to spend extra time with his wife, Randy, their four children and four grandchildren.
“One of the things I have always admired while working here is the tremendous dedication that the faculty and staff have to providing a good educational experience for the students, even while I was saying ‘no’ to most of them,” Thunen said.
While those dedicated faculty and staff will miss Thunen, they know his retirement is well earned.
“John’s curmudgeon-like exterior often masked a wicked sense of humor and an innate generosity—of time, energy and insight,” Chrite said. “Perhaps most important for me is that I never, ever had any doubt that John was representing the College—or me—with anything other than the highest standards of transparency, professionalism and integrity. I wish him the very best.”