Dick Charlton '65
Engineer to investment consultant
An enterprising engineer by education, Richard (Dick) Charlton ’65 has ridden the crest of the country’s economic growth in a career that has spanned nearly five decades. He graduated from University of Detroit’s Mechanical Engineering program, and then worked at Michigan Bell, AT&T and Merrill Lynch before starting his own institutional investment consulting firm.
A generous contributor to UDM, Charlton is grateful for the assistance he received from G.M.’s sponsorship to U of D’s Engineering co-op program. “It was the only way I could have gone to college,” Charlton said. “I learned how to compete with the best and excel.”
As graduation neared, Charlton realized that he preferred management in a technical environment to a concentrated engineering career. He learned of a “high risk, high reward” management program at Michigan Bell, previously pursued by U of D alumni Bill Ebben ’58 and Bill Schlageter ’64, who became senior executives at the Bell System.
“My position at the phone company tested not only my management ability but also my interpersonal skill sets,” he recalled. “The first week on the job, I was placed in an Equipment Engineering District supervising 18 project engineers and technicians, responsible for the switching equipment and transmission specifications for a large geographic area in a booming economy.
“It was a period of growth and stress,” Charlton recalled. “Management figured if it could get seasoned professionals to work under new graduates, such as me, we could become candidates for senior management.”
In subsequent management roles at Michigan Bell, he introduced time-share computing in the Engineering Operations Group and headed up space planning in the Building Engineering division.
The productivity gains from time-share computing were amazing—compressing the timeline for projects and tasks from years, in some cases, to a matter of days.
When Charlton moved to Human Resources, he teamed with a colleague to recruit a large, talented and exceptionally diverse group of management hires to Michigan Bell. He was subsequently promoted into the Business Research division, where he headed up the Operations Research district, using time sharing and advanced statistical techniques to improve operational efficiencies and support regulatory testimony for the company.
Those successes led to a new position starting up the firm’s Pension Oversight district in anticipation of the regulatory requirements of ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act). The collapse of the “Nifty Fifty” in early 1972 prompted Charlton to restructure the firm’s pension funds, which performed strongly in subsequent years. That financial feat led Charlton to an officer’s role, with oversight over all of the Business Research districts and preparation of regulatory testimony on the financial aspects of Michigan Bell’s rate cases.
After 17 years in positions that involved rapid and major changes, including an assignment at AT&T, Charlton left the company to follow his passion: investment consulting. In 1981, he joined Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, serving customers in several states, including New England, overseeing relationships having more than $25 billion in assets.
An offer to relocate to New England soon followed, and Charlton and his family moved to Wayland, Ma., from New Jersey. Despite early misgivings by his four children, then teenagers, it turned out to be a great move for them and his late wife, Beverly.
Charlton doubled Merrill’s business in New England for four consecutive years and, in January 1986 when Merrill exited the business, Charlton followed his entrepreneurial instincts and founded New England Pension Consultants (now NEPC, LLC). The company has since grown to become one of the largest consultancies in the industry.
As chairman, Charlton continues to oversee the firm, its six offices, 190 professionals, 300 clients and $550 billion in assets. Reflecting Charlton’s Detroit roots and commitment to the city, NEPC’s largest outlying office is located in the old Stroh Brewing Co.’s headquarters in downtown Detroit. There, two partners and 12 professionals service more than $20 billion in corporate, public, endowment and foundation assets.
Reflecting on his years at U of D, Charlton also has fond memories of the St. Francis Club, a fraternal eating cooperative for out-of-town students. “The Club was our home away from home, and the social and interpersonal skills we developed there complemented the academic discipline of the Engineering program,” he said. “The academic and ‘on the job’ skills offered by the co-op program, combined with the social enrichment of the Club were gifts. Collectively, these platforms enabled us (U of D alumni) to become well-rounded, extraordinary competitors after graduation.”
Charlton and his wife Maxine currently live in Boston.