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Where are they now? Nicholas Vecchio, class of 2008

COURTESY PHOTO Nicholas Vecchio in the produce department of Southeast Grocers’ flagship Winn-Dixie store.
Nicholas Vecchio in the produce department of Southeast Grocers’ flagship Winn-Dixie store.

Nicholas Vecchio lives in Jacksonville, Florida these days. But he grew up in Shelter Island, which will always hold a special place in his heart — and for good reason.

“Sixteen years ago this Christmas, Islanders showed their true colors when they came to our aid after we had a house fire in the early morning hours of Christmas Day,” Nicholas explained. “The love and support we received is something my family will never forget, and is truly what makes Shelter Island special.”

Nicholas, 26, will be returning to the Island again this year to spend Christmas with his family who live off Sylvan Road. He notes that his mother makes a wonderful dinner, and his favorite part of the Island around the holidays are the seasonal decorations.

“We all know the Island is quiet in the winter, but the fact that storefronts are still decorated, the Police Department lights the tree, and even the ferries have wreaths on them all makes it feel even more welcoming,” he said. “My dad does a good job of putting lights on our house, and I love the way our lights reflect across a calm Chase Creek — you get a good view from New York Avenue.”

While his upcoming visit will primarily be focused on family, there’s a chance Nicholas may also run into some of the individuals who guided him over the years at Shelter Island School.

Numbers have always been Nicholas’s thing. In high school he excelled in Audrey Pedersen’s math class and Ann Marie Galasso’s science class. But in his senior year, it was a class on stock trading in Peter Miedema’s economics course which set Mr. Vecchio on the path that would ultimately define his career.

“That’s how I got the idea of finance in my head,” Nicholas said.

He was valedictorian of his Shelter Island High School class of 2008. Today, he is a finance manager with Southeastern Grocers, the fifth-largest conventional supermarket chain in the United States, comprised of BI-LO, Harveys and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, located in seven states throughout the South. With 1,000 people, including Nicholas, based in the firm’s corporate headquarters in Jacksonville, and more than 66,000 associates working throughout all of Southeast Grocers’ stores, it’s a company environment that dwarfs the population of Nicholas’s hometown.

But he remains pragmatic about his humble beginnings, and feels that hailing from a place like the Island has served him well in the wider world, since coming from a small community helped him socially. Nicholas explained that as a result of his upbringing, when he got to college he looked to create a small group of friends.

“We might not have had a lot in common, but we kept a close group,” he said. “Shelter Island is always a story. When you say you went to a public school that only graduates 20 kids a year, people are flabbergasted.

Nicholas earned his undergraduate degree at Tulane University in New Orleans. During his first semester in the fall of 2008, world markets were rocked by the U.S. housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown, which quickly caused Nicholas to shift his educational focus from investment banking to finance.

“I always tell the story as an aside, but the day I decided I wanted to change to finance at Tulane, the Dow fell over 700 points,” he said. “I knew eventually it would recover, but the 2008 crash changed my track.”

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in management from Tulane in 2012, with a major in finance and a minor in accounting.

But upon graduating, he realized the economy still hadn’t rebounded to the extent he would have liked.

“Job prospects were not good then. So I went right away to grad school that next fall,” Nicholas said.

He enrolled in a 16-month program in finance at the University of Tampa. By that point, he realized educational institutions had worked a new lesson into the curriculum.

“By the time I got to my masters program, we understood what got us to the financial crisis and the process needed to fix it, and the slow growth back,” Nicholas said.

While living in Tampa, he interned at FIS Global, a banking and payment technology company, and eventually worked there as a risk analyst. In February 2015, he began his career at Southeast Grocers as a financial analyst and has since been promoted twice, and now is the treasury manager.

“All the cash inflows and outflows are managed by me and my analyst,” Nicholas said. “Every day, store deposits go in to the bank, and the accounts payable team is paying out most of the bills.”

On any given day multi-millions of dollars can be moved in just a few transactions. He recalled one day moving over $100 million in half an hour.

“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “There are a lot of financial controls we’re under and we’re back and forth with the treasurer.”

Many of those controls are checks and balances that have been put in place in recent decades to ensure everything is being done properly. Even though Southeast Grocers is a private company, as a result of the Enron scandal, corporations have become highly regulated.

“I can’t move the money by myself,” Nicholas said. “It needs a second verification.”

While he admits that at times he misses his hometown, he’s enjoying his career and has found financial advantages to living in Florida. “I’m a homeowner now. Moving away afforded me that,” Nicholas said, noting that he returns to the Island at least twice a year to visit.

Gaining as much experience as possible at Southeast Grocers is a primary goal for Nicholas. He brings to his job the same determination he had in high school.“That’s my own desire,” he said. “Being at a bigger company, sometimes you can get lost in the shuffle. You have to keep the drive and determination going.”

What advice would he give to today’s students at Shelter Island High School?

“When you get to college and are trying to decide what to major in, go with something you’ll enjoy, and second, ask is it practical?” Nicholas said. “If you can manage your time, the payoff is memories that last a lifetime.”