ALUMNI PROFILE: Walt Zukowski MBA/JD '80

Author: Tim Ponisciak

Walt Zukowski

Everyone who decides to pursue a graduate degree must have a certain amount of inner drive. However, to pursue both an MBA and a JD takes a lot of fortitude. Graduate Alumni Board member Walt Zukowski MBA/JD '80 shares his experience going through the two programs, and how his Notre Dame experience has influenced his personal and professional life as the founder of a boutique law firm in the small town of Peru, Illinois.

Why did you choose ND for your graduate degrees?

Having grown up in the Midwest I was well aware of Notre Dame's outstanding reputation for academic rigor, job placement, and networking. My experience surpassed all of my expectations. I received a challenging education, had no problem finding an initial position, and have used the Alumni directory on many occasions.

What was it about the dual degree that appealed to you?

My family has always been in business. My grandparents owned a tailor/furrier shop. My father managed a chain of fast food restaurants. I had a job since the age of 11 and I always enjoyed business. Having been aware of numerous regulations, statutes and cases impacting business, obtaining degrees in both areas seemed to offer me choices. I could take a business job with a greater appreciation of legal issues, or I could take a legal job with a greater appreciation of business needs. Interestingly enough, several years ago, while attending a reunion of law classmates, of the six of us sitting around the table, I was the only one in private practice. The others had all migrated into business positions in various industries.

For me, having started a boutique law firm, the management tools learned in the MBA program proved extremely valuable.

How are you utilizing your MBA in your law career?

I use my Notre Dame MBA education and experience in multiple ways every day. Twenty five years ago my wife and I started a law firm of transactional attorneys. The business has grown significantly since then. We frequently confront business formation, management, dissolution, and succession planning issues for clients. We resolve contract, labor, and finance issues weekly. Through the MBA program I gained important knowledge and insight into these areas, and many others.

Additionally, as the managing partner in the firm, I use budgeting, finance, cost analysis, human resource, and marketing skills through the MBA program on a daily basis.

My MBA experience taught me how to manage a business. It also gave me the confidence to start my own firm. My experience at Notre Dame has helped to expand our client base, as well as to diversify into other service areas.

How do you stay connected to ND as an alum?

I stay connected in many ways. Like many grads, I review the class notes in the Notre Dame Magazine. I use I also subscribe to FaithND.

Additionally, as a member of the O'Hara Society, I receive information and attend events for the graduate business programs. We also attend several football games every fall. During those times, we always attempt to participate in the Mendoza tailgates. It's a wonderful opportunity to meet alums, as well as interacting with current students and administration.

For classmates, however, I frequently interact through our class distribution list. One of my classmates has graciously undertaken the organizing of class reunions on home football weekends every several years. I regularly email, text or call classmates.

I consider it a great blessing to have friends who were classmates so many years ago. My wife and I have stayed with classmates in Arizona, Minnesota, and New York. In turn, classmates have stayed with us.

What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?

I came to Notre Dame looking for an academic education. What I received was much more – a way to live a Catholic life. My most vivid recollections are the core values of the University. The faculty were clear, demanding and passionate about their subject areas. Students were intelligent and driven, yet collegial. The Administration conveyed the expectation that we use the skills and talents that God has given us to the best of our ability. We are expected to achieve not only within our employment setting, but also within our communities in a meaningful and ethical fashion. We've adopted the same principles within our firm. Professionals are expected to not only be members of service organizations, but to also donate time to non-profit organizations.

Is there a professor that had a significant impact on your time at ND?

I was very satisfied with all the professors I studied under at Notre Dame. From a practical perspective, there are two professors whose subject areas and expertise have proven most useful, given my career path.

Professor John Kennedy taught marketing in a clear, logical, no nonsense, insightful fashion. From Professor William Sexton I learned a great deal about interpersonal skills, political sensitivity, and the value of an empathetic approach.