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Friday, Oct 24, 2014

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Ohio Fellow and Alumnus Robert "Ro" Fallon

Photographer: Patrick Traylor

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OHIO alumnus Ro Fallon: Jumping in, stepping up and giving back

Fallon remembers both rewarding and challenging times as an Ohio Fellow at Ohio University and reflects on his varied paths to success


This story is the last in a series about Ohio University's Ohio Fellows Program (OFP), initiated by Vernon Alden, OHIO's 15th president. The 1960s-era program exposed select students to unique seminars, visiting dignitaries, internship opportunities and travel that enriched their OHIO experience. Several OFP alumni recently made a gift of $365,000 for the program's revitalization as part of OHIO's The Promise Lives Campaign. In this final installment, one of those donors, former Ohio University Foundation Board trustee Robert “Ro” Fallon, remembers the heat and emotion on campus during the Vietnam War and how the Program changed his worldview.

A few years ago, Robert “Ro” Fallon’s life was becoming a little less hectic. He had returned to the United States from Asia where he worked for 31 years in the financial industry and was teaching international banking at Columbia University in New York.  

But in 2009 Fallon, a 1969 honors graduate in math with a minor in English, met an OHIO researcher who was developing a novel anti-cancer drug. He became curious and started asking questions.

“I followed his work for a year,” Fallon said. “I approached the process like a due-diligence investigation, looking for reasons why it wouldn’t make sense to pursue the commercialization of this unique compound.” And, like a good math major, he discovered he “couldn’t prove the negative.” Fallon got the green light from OHIO to license the drug, giving rise to the start of Phosplatin Therapeutics, LLC, where he now serves as CEO.

What business did Fallon, an international finance guy, have in entering the world of biotechnology and dealing with pre-clinical research, Federal Drug Administration approval and oncology drug development?

The answer is: none. But he decided to pursue it anyway, because former Ohio Fellows still follow unconventional paths.

A lesson in standing up

Fallon was a freshman when he entered the program and said one of the more influential aspects was the intimate meetings Fellows had with OHIO’s distinguished visitors.

“It was something to be an ordinary student and be able to sit with people like (eminent photographer) Yousuf Karsh, (US Secretary of Defense) Dean Rusk and (The Twilight Zone television series producer) Rod Sterling,” said Fallon.  

Leslie Rollins, dean of the OFP, was also a powerful—if not sometimes contrary—force, Fallon said.

“Rollins wasn’t there to be warm and cuddly” to the Ohio Fellows, Fallon remembered. “He challenged us to be better.”

Fallon recalls with clarity one day when he got a life-changing nudge from Rollins. It caused him to take a stand and, in return, he learned a lot about himself.

“It was a difficult time on campus during the Vietnam War,” Fallon said. “One day students were at Memorial Auditorium, advocating for the University’s closure and threatening to go on strike. I didn’t agree with them; I didn’t have time to not go to school and delay finishing my degree.”

As the atmosphere was becoming more contentious, President Alden arrived, Fallon said. Alden went to the podium and told the protesters, “firmly and clearly, that there would be no shutting down of the University, that a move like that would be against the freedom of education.”

His decree was not well received. Fallon felt a tap on his shoulder. “Do you agree with the President?” someone asked.

“I looked around to find Dean Rollins. I told him I did.” He said, ‘Then what are you going to do about it?’” Rollins’ challenge gave Fallon the courage to act.  

“It made me realize this: I should be embracing life’s challenges head on. I was a member of student government so I went to the stage and spoke to the hostile crowd against shutting down the University,” Fallon said. “It wasn’t a popular stance,” Fallon remembered, “but in hindsight, it was the right thing to do.”

Graduation and giving back

Fallon was introduced to a world of study through the OFP. Having only one class left to complete his mathematics major, he spent his senior year taking education and English classes.

“I learned how to teach and how to communicate,” he said about his senior year.

Fallon was accepted into Harvard Business School, but after two days in Cambridge, MA., he felt that he needed more time to mature and reflect. He joined the Peace Corps and arranged to return to Harvard later. He served in Western Samoa for four years, teaching math and science to secondary school students.

While in service, another Peace Corps volunteer arrived with the task of transforming the grassy airstrip Fallon flew in on into a real airport, complete with a concrete runway.

“He kept talking about things like capital markets, project financing and indemnities; it was all Greek to me. It dawned on me that this is why people go to business school—to enact big changes.” After Fallon completed his service, he reapplied and returned to Harvard. He earned his MBA in 1975.

Leading with strategy and navigating complex transactions are skills Fallon uses every day as CEO of Phosplatin. His unique OFP-infused education and his experiences abroad gave him these skills, he said. 

“For me, the Ohio Fellows Program was the true embodiment of an ideal education system. If you fully embraced it, you came away forever influenced,” he said.

To read any of the previous stories in the series about Ohio University's Ohio Fellows Program, please click the title of the story below:

Ohio welcomes back 60s-era program for students born to lead: July 9

Two Ohio Fellows alumni still learning lessons: Sept. 11

Alumnus grateful for unique opportunity at OHIO in 1960s: Oct. 4

An Ohio Fellows Program alumnus journeys full circle into a life of service: Nov. 12

Ohio Fellow Program central to alumnus’s identity: Nov. 18