Alfred University News

Peter Cuneo ’67, Chair Emeritus Life Trustee, provides lessons in leadership, and is visited by an old friend

Peter Cuneo '67 joined by Spiderman/Alfred University undergraduate Emilia Smith
Peter Cuneo '67 joined by Spiderman/Alfred University undergraduate Emilia Smith

“Great leaders create positive changes,” Alfred University alumnus and Trustee Peter Cuneo ’67, HD ’13, ’22 told a packed audience Tuesday night in Nevins Theater as part of the Peter Cuneo leadership forum, “How You Can Become a Superhero Leader.”


“Great leaders create positive changes,” Alfred University alumnus and Trustee Peter Cuneo ’67, HD ’13, ’22 told a packed audience Tuesday night in Nevins Theater as part of the Peter Cuneo leadership forum, “How You Can Become a Superhero Leader.”

Cuneo helped turn around the sputtering Marvel Entertainment corporation after being appointed Chief Executive Officer of the company in 1999. At that time, he recalled, Marvel had about $3 million in cash assets; 10 years later, in 2009, the company was purchased by The Walt Disney Company for $4.5 billion. Cuneo’s leadership during the years when Marvel superheroes like Iron Man and Spider-Man hit the movie screens is credited with the company’s rise from near-obliteration.

Cuneo served as a member of the Alfred University Board of Trustees for 27 years, including six years as Board Chair. In 2020, he was confirmed as a Chair Emeritus Life Trustee. He also is the recipient of two honorary degrees from Alfred University: Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa (2013), and Doctor of Commerce, honoris causa (2022).

Tuesday night, Cuneo delivered a wide-ranging talk on leadership, which he characterized as a rare quality in the modern era. “There is less quality leadership in the world than at any time in human history,” he said, adding that any Alfred University student who seeks a future leadership role has a great advantage: “There is little competition.”

He shared a selection of his “32 Essentials of Turnaround Leadership” (Examples: Admit your mistakes; Remember your failures and forget your successes; Be ruthless when called for); and peppered his remarks with stories from his years at Marvel Entertainment.

Part of his success at Marvel, he said, was the company’s willingness “to change the rules of the game.” When he joined Marvel, the Hollywood template for a successful movie was to hire a $10-million lead actor to carry the film. “Our view was that we didn’t need big stars because the characters were already the stars,” he said. “We viewed ourselves as the characters’ agents.” That sort of thinking, he said, contributed to the hiring of actors like Robert Downey Jr. to play Iron Man, a character that generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Marvel, and Toby Maguire, who played Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the first Marvel films.

Cuneo’s talk included an on-stage visit from Spider-Man, portrayed Tuesday by Alfred University undergraduate Emilia Smith. Spider-Man/Smith and Cuneo shared the stage, along with Alfred University President Mark Zupan and Greg Connors ’92, chair of Alfred University’s Board of Trustees. Together, Zupan and Connors awarded Cuneo his second honorary degree from Alfred University.

 

In photo above, Alfred University undergraduate Emilia Smith, dressed as Spider-Man, joins Peter Cuneo '67 at the conclusion of Cuneo's lecture "How Can You Become a Superhero Leader?"