From the Fast Track to the High Seas

In 1965, a Ford Motor Company executive invited Fred Brodsky, DMSB’66, to pilot a rare Shelby Cobra 427 roadster—when the Northeastern University co-op student was just 20 years old. Key in hand, Brodsky slipped behind the wheel, sparked the muscle car’s V8 engine, and burned rubber. 

That day remains a highlight of Brodsky’s three co-ops with Ford, which included visiting the pit of the Indianapolis 500, and auditing expenses for a journey that sent Mercury Comet coupes on a 16,000-mile trek from Argentina to Alaska to prove their reliability.

One of Ford’s first Northeastern co-op students, Brodsky was mentored by the “extremely demanding” Lincoln-Mercury Division marketing services manager, Joe Cappy, who later became president of American Motors. “I once rewrote a report for him 18 times,” remembers Brodsky. “He was looking for clarity, which wasn’t my forte then, but I learned quickly.”

Brodsky’s lifelong affinity for international business had been ignited a few years earlier, when—after a stint as a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike—he moved to Paris to work for his uncle, who was, at that time, France’s largest importer of furs from China. An expert in textiles woven from cashmere and camel hair, Brodsky’s uncle sent him to his Aix-en-Provence factory to learn the trade. He next dispatched his nephew to England, where Brodsky studied how raw materials were woven into fine sweater yarns at the Patons and Baldwins mill located in Matlock, Derbyshire.

“It was an incredible, life-changing experience,” Brodsky shares.

Soon after, Brodsky returned to the United States and enlisted in the Army Reserve. He learned of Northeastern and its co-op program from soldiers in his unit from Massachusetts—and he enrolled, intrigued by the melding of classroom study and applied professional practice. A business major, he received a Travelli Scholarship, which was awarded based on financial need, academic merit, and proven leadership.

“My ability to attend Northeastern was because I was a Travelli Scholar,” says Brodsky. “To repay that generosity, I promised to give back to the university when I was able.”

An Enduring Legacy
Brodsky’s interest in working across cultures grew—but at the time, Northeastern’s curriculum lacked a global focus. Upon earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Northeastern, and then a master’s degree in international business from the University of Michigan, Brodsky’s career took off. A successful entrepreneur, he founded the Brodsky Company and International Investment Advisors, a real estate investment and development firm that managed projects for corporate and private clients worldwide. Before founding his own firm, Brodsky also worked in construction, finance, and venture capital positions for various companies, including the Trammell Crow Company and Morse Diesel. 

During his more than 40 years in industry, Brodsky never forgot his vow to help Northeastern’s students and faculty. When elected to the Board of Trustees at Northeastern, he not only advocated for raising the university’s academic ambitions to become one of the nation’s top 100 universities, but also pledged to cultivate and expand Northeastern’s global reach. 

In 1998, Brodsky and his wife, Darla, established the Darla and Frederick Brodsky Trustee Professorship in Global Business—the first endowed position of its kind funded by a Northeastern board member. Such professorships help the university attract top scholars who, in turn, draw and inspire talented students. The inaugural Brodsky Professor, Harry Lane, launched Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in International Business program, and his successor, Allan Bird, created the Global Leadership Initiative, which developed leadership potential in undergraduates. Newly appointed chair, Ruth Aguilera, specializes in strategic organization and global strategy, with emphases on international corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, and internationalization. 

“The ripple effect of the professorship has been tremendous,” says Brodsky. “Darla and I are always impressed by Northeastern’s students and faculty, and what they are able to accomplish.”

In addition to the couple’s passion for the university, they are avid sailors, humanitarians, and environmentalists who work to protect marine life, carnivores, and birds of prey. They are also supporters of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Brodsky is on the Board of Directors of the Coast Guard Foundation. 

A proud Northeastern alumnus, Brodsky urges students to take advantage of all the university offers. 

“Test yourself, grow comfortable with unique, diverse challenges,” he advises. “Do that, and no matter what’s thrown at you—in your career, business, or life—you’ll handle it best if you’ve made the most of your time and experiences at Northeastern.”