When Pete Cangany ’80 reflects on the winding roads of his life’s journey, he finds they intersect at Franklin College. From his foundational undergraduate years to his long and distinguished accounting career with Ernst & Young (EY) and now as the board of trustees chair, Cangany’s story is one of hard work and the transformative power of the Franklin College experience.
Cangany was one of eight children, experiencing his parents’ divorce during his teenage years. Throughout his childhood, the family moved around, but he managed to start and finish high school at Indian Creek in Trafalgar, Indiana, serving as the senior class president and a football team starter. He made good grades and was excited to receive an acceptance letter from Tri-State University (now Trine), although he was not sure what to expect once he got there.
While Cangany was contemplating college, a challenge from his high school government teacher altered the course of his life. Alongside his best friend, Dean, he took on the audacious task of bicycling from Alaska back to Indiana the summer after graduating high school. The trip, filled with navigational errors and unexpected twists, ended up taking longer than anticipated. By the time they were halfway back from Alaska, they considered it too late to attend college, and they decided to take a gap year.
To save money, Cangany, as he had many times before, worked as a mechanic at his father’s Indianapolis repair shop. This time the toil and grime took a toll, and self-doubt about getting back on the right path to college was weighing on him. The day Cangany was trying to loosen a bolt under the hood of a delivery truck when his wrench slipped causing him to bust his knuckles and erupt in frustration was pivotal. Witnessing the scene, Cangany’s father, usually a stoic, reassured him it was time to pursue his college aspirations.
As a first-generation student from a financially strained background, Cangany’s decision-making was significantly influenced by three factors: his buddy, Dean, was enrolling at Franklin College, he had been to some “cool concerts” on campus, including REO Speedwagon, and academic scholarships and federal aid in the form of Pell Grants made Franklin affordable. Cangany was uncertain about choosing a career, but he recognized his aptitude for math and figured he could start by taking business classes. Ironically, Dean never made it to Franklin, taking a different college path.
During his first semester, Cangany lived in Bryan Hall, but he soon discovered a sense of belonging with the men of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and moved into the fraternity house. It was a defining period of self-discovery and growth, and involvement in SAE became a central part of his college experience. He held leadership roles within the fraternity, played intramural sports and forged lifelong friendships. Mike Deffner ’80 and John Dixon ’80, who were instrumental in his choice of a major in accounting, remain two of his good friends today.
Deffner’s father also made a lasting impression on Cangany who remembers him as a welcome presence at the SAE house and a career inspiration since he owned an accounting practice. “He was someone I wanted to emulate,” Cangany said. As Cangany was beginning to realize an accounting career was his calling, some academic bumps in the road put his scholarships in jeopardy
“It was pretty intimidating when John Chiarotti ’67 (then an instructor of business and economics and now deceased) called me into his office to discuss ‘my alternatives,’ but my conversation with John was anything but intimidating. Our discussion motivated me to buckle down, and my grades got much better.”
Cangany acknowledged that liberal arts courses were the most challenging for him, but now realizes the key role they played in his workforce preparation. He stressed that, even in a specialized field like accounting, soft skills are critical.
“People think of accounting as only black and white, but you also need to know how to actively listen, communicate effectively and write well.”
To this day, the senior seminar Cangany took with economics professor George Launey, Ph.D., remains memorable. “All the things I learned over the three previous years came together in that class. We had these case studies to examine, write papers about, present on and defend, and we had to critique each other . . . even our friends,” Cangany said. The most valuable lessons he learned from the seminar were the art of constructive criticism and respectful discord.
Another influential professor, Dave Neitzel, had taken leave from EY to work on furthering his professional tax certification. While pursuing a master’s degree in tax he taught accounting part time at Franklin College. By the midpoint of Cangany’s senior year, having already undertaken two internships, thoughts about post-graduation life were starting to occupy his mind. Serendipitously, Neitzel orchestrated interviews with EY recruiters for six Franklin College students. Out of the candidates, EY hired both the late Rob Ray ’80 and Cangany.
That was the start of a 37-year career, with Cangany retiring as a partner from EY in 2017. His consistent professional excellence led to a succession of promotions, opening up new career roles as the years progressed. In his remarkable tenure, he oversaw EY’s account with Amazon, engaging regularly with Jeff Bezos. The continued opportunities, coupled with his family’s readiness to relocate, propelled Cangany’s career forward. He even managed to earn his Master of Business Administration at the age of 51. Following leadership positions in Washington, Texas and New York, with their three children now grown, Cangany and his wife, Ann, relocated to Bermuda. There, he assumed the role of managing partner, overseeing the significant growth of EY’s local practice.
“Bermuda was a melting pot with many young, eager employees from around the world wanting to grow their resumes, and it was very challenging and rewarding work,” Cangany recalled.
Other notable moments in Bermuda included getting to know two Franklin students who visited the island. Laurin Holzinger ’17 came for a marine biology internship, while Anna (Murdock) Larson ’15, an NCAA DIII national champion in the 800m-run, came to assist in training a local athlete.
“As Grizzlies, we all had an immediate connection, and Ann and I enjoyed hosting them,” Cangany said. He also greatly enjoyed displaying a Franklin College flag at their Bermuda residence every Saturday, expressing solidarity with the Grizzlies’ football team competing back in Indiana.
His long and proud association with Franklin College has included serving on the Alumni Council and teaching finance courses for students over the Immersive Term. In 2008, he was appointed as a college trustee and held the position until October 2021, at which time he assumed the role of board chair. He acknowledges that he didn’t immediately agree to the opportunity.
“I took some time to think it over, get better acquainted with President (Kerry) Prather and consider how I could engage effectively in the role, and I realized my business background would help give me a voice in some of the important and timely conversations surrounding Franklin College’s future,” he said.
Moving forward as the board chair, Cangany would like to help reshape the College’s business model from one of primarily tuition-driven revenue to one that emphasizes more philanthropic-driven revenue, growing the endowment and increasing resources for student scholarships to help lower their cost of attending college. Philanthropy is a major part of his and Ann’s lives, and they have provided support for a variety of Franklin College needs over the years, including endowed student scholarships, athletics and the annual fund. The couple generously supported past capital campaigns and recently made a significant pledge toward the Fitness Center’s restoration. They also documented the College in their estate plans with a Horizon Society commitment. Beyond service and philanthropy, the couple’s connection to Franklin College is deepened by two nieces, Emily (Grant) Cangany ’11 and Casey Cangany ’23, both proud graduates.
Cangany is dedicated to ensuring that upcoming generations enjoy the same transformative experience that he, Emily and Casey had the opportunity to receive. Enthusiastically, he has issued a philanthropic challenge to alumni and friends.
As an alumnus continuing his journey, Cangany is humbled by the profound positive impact that choosing Franklin College has had on his life. Recalling the series of fortunate events and lasting connections throughout his journey, Cangany said, “All roads lead to Franklin College.” His story is a testament to persistence and a powerfully transformative college community.
Written by Amy (Kean) VerSteeg ’96
Republished from the Franklin College Magazine, Winter 2024
POSTED Jan 31, 2024