Mendoza School of Business

New Notre Dame initiative honors Paul Purcell

Published: May 5, 2021 / Author: Carol Elliott


Paul Purcell and Viva Bartkus

In 2008, Viva O. Bartkus, an associate professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, co-founded the Notre Dame MBA course Business on the Frontlines rooted in two simple beliefs: There is dignity in work, and all people can be empowered to contribute to society.

A dozen years later, Business on the Frontlines has sent students to more than 30 countries around the world to work with partner organizations on 60-plus projects involving the application of the dynamism of business to complex societal issues including post-conflict rehabilitation, poverty, illicit economies, isolation and prejudice. By one estimate, as many as 10,000 people now earn livelihoods who would not have had jobs had it not been for Frontlines projects in the field.

As Frontlines evolved, Bartkus gained the help of an important strategic adviser: Paul E. Purcell, then chairman, president and CEO of Baird, who served for three terms as the chair of Mendoza’s Business Advisory Council until his death on Feb. 28, 2020, due to complications from cancer.

In recognition of Purcell’s extraordinary life and leadership, Mendoza, with the support of the Purcell family and Baird, is establishing the Paul Purcell Initiative as part of a shared mission of developing business leaders who contribute to human flourishing.

The Initiative supports two efforts at the College:

  • The Paul E. Purcell Professor endowed position, which recognizes a Mendoza faculty member who advances the values of servant leadership, teamwork and excellence. In recognition of her dedication to teaching excellence and spirit of service and innovation, Viva Bartkus has been named as the inaugural Paul E. Purcell Associate Professor.
  • The Paul Purcell Frontlines Endowment for Excellence, which extends Purcell’s professional impact by advancing Mendoza’s ability to offer unparalleled experiential learning to every MBA student in perpetuity. The endowment is supported by a cornerstone gift from Baird, its Foundation and select associates.

Paul Purcell

Purcell had a long and illustrious career as a top executive in the investment banking industry, as well as a deep interest in serving his community, especially through educational initiatives including Alverno College and the Cristo Rey Network. With his global vision for the power of business to bring about societal change, he became a guiding force behind Business on the Frontlines as it evolved from a course to the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program.

“For me, personally, Paul represented my go-to thought partner, as the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program navigated new horizons of collaborating with international humanitarian organizations, multinational and local businesses, and the U.S. Army to address the challenges of societies facing conflict and deep poverty,” said Bartkus, who serves as the faculty director of the Frontlines program.

“Gifts given in Paul’s honor will enable the program to turn its attention to partnering with organizations here in the United States that aspire to reduce the barriers to work, including isolation, prejudice, violence and multi-generational poverty,” she added. “No one understood more deeply than Paul the sheer dignity of a good day’s work. We miss him and his advice and friendship every day.”

A 1969 graduate of Notre Dame who earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Purcell most recently served as chairman of Baird and its global private equity business Baird Capital and as a member of the boards of directors of Baird Financial Group and affiliated entities. Prior to his more than 26 years of leadership at Baird, he worked for more than two decades at Kidder, Peabody & Co. as managing director and head of the Midwest Investment Banking Group.

At Baird, Purcell emphasized a culture of trust, integrity and teamwork. Under his leadership, the company has been included in Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” ranking for 18 years in a row.

“Paul gave of himself tirelessly to Notre Dame and other educational causes,” said Baird chairman, president and CEO Steve Booth. “He believed we have an obligation to ensure everyone, regardless of where they live or their circumstances, has access to a quality education. And, he understood the dignity and pride that comes with work. The Paul E. Purcell Initiative advances both of these important causes.”

“Paul was a great friend to Mendoza with a deep commitment to serving others. He was a true champion of our students, a generous and inspiring mentor to myself, and a passionate supporter of Business on the Frontlines,” said Martijn Cremers, the Martin J. Gillen Dean of Mendoza. “Thanks to the support of the Purcell family and Baird, Paul’s legacy will make a difference for not only our Frontlines students and the partners they serve, but for the Notre Dame MBA program itself.”