Allen Zaring III is no stranger to success. He started his own home-building company in 1964, took it public and grew it to one of the 50 largest companies of its kind in the nation. He also holds degrees from Babson College and the Harvard Graduate School of Business.
All of which makes his latest venture a bit unusual. Four years ago, Zaring decided to enroll in the University in search of a bachelor’s degree. His major: art. The man who had made enough money to afford almost any painting in the world joined 18-year-old students taking introductory drawing classes.
Consider, though, that Zaring built his business career on the strength of his imagination. Studying art, he says, was a natural extension of a life built around creative thought. And indeed, his eyes light up with the same enthusiasm whether he’s talking about his latest painting in progress or explaining the land-use drawing for a 300-acre development.
“Going to Xavier was a rejuvenation for me,” he says. “When an entrepreneur sells his company, there’s sort of a post-partum depression. I thought it was a good time to find out if I had any latent talent in art. I used to try to paint on my own and felt that I wasn’t getting any better at it. I thought the way to get better was to come back to school.”
That doesn’t mean, however, he didn’t have a few initial underclassman jitters. “I can handle the work, but hadn’t been in college for 20-some years,” he says.
Being in familiar territory certainly helped ease his trepidation—Zaring is an adjunct business professor for the Williams’ College of Business, and his wife, Ann, served for a decade on the University’s board of trustees. But he says the real clincher was getting good grades on his first round of tests. And it wasn’t just art classes. Like all students, Zaring took the core curriculum classes and other requirements necessary to complete his degree.
With the experiential cunning of any worthy senior, Zaring put off his toughest class until his last semester, in 2003, and when finals were over, he graduated summa cum laude with a 3.89 GPA. “I got one B, ironically, in art,” he says. “My kids told me I could have done better had I applied myself.”
These days, Zaring works about three weeks per month on business interests. But whenever possible, he finds himself behind his easel for some quality painting time.
A huge fan of the French Impressionist painters and their American counterparts, Zaring says he’s still discovering his personal style. But his strong compositions and fearless use of color have already won gallery interest. “I have a gallery where I take my paintings to have them framed,” he says with a smile. “A lady there finally got out of me that I actually painted them. She said, ‘We have people looking for pieces like these.’ I told her, ‘Once I get enough walls filled up in family houses, then we can talk.’”