How an Irish Restaurateur Benefited from a Notre Dame EMBA

Colm Kennedy, ND EMBA ’14, gained surprising business help and a sense of home.

By: Lynn Freehill-Maye

Growing up in an Irish village, Colm Kennedy saw how his grandparents’ store took care of their neighbors. His gram sold women's fashions in front, his grandad repaired bikes out the back, and the whole operation felt to him like an empire in a town of 500 souls. Wanting to care for people, too, Kennedy entered the hospitality business. He earned degrees in hotel, catering, and commerce from Irish universities and worked in hotels in both his home country and Illinois.

Still, Kennedy wanted more. Two childhood friends became his business partners, and the three Irishmen established The Kerryman, a successful pub and restaurant in downtown Chicago, where both the pints and the flower boxes overflow with good cheer. Yet Kennedy wanted to develop his business skills even further. He knew of the University of Notre Dame from the football team’s visits to Ireland over the years, and its international reputation called to him. He decided to enter the Mendoza College of Business Executive MBA program.

“I certainly didn’t feel I needed to brush up on being Irish,” Kennedy says, giving the same easy grin that puts The Kerryman’s patrons at ease. Then he turns serious. “My choosing to do an MBA was my determination to do best for me and my family. I’m proud to say I’m Irish, but now I’m equally as proud to say I’m Notre Dame as well.”

The investment in his education paid off quickly. On his daily commute in downtown Chicago, Kennedy had often passed a building that looked like a great growth property, and he and his partners were eager to expand. This building would take a multimillion-dollar investment to buy and renovate, but its location was phenomenal. Should they make the leap?

Kennedy realized that he now had 65 experts to help him decide: His Notre Dame EMBA classmates. He reached out to several to help him set up spreadsheets, work on cash-flow statements, and assess the risk levels associated with various economic scenarios. They calculated that if they bought this particular property, the Kerryman partners would likely run out of cash within the first two years.

Avoiding that deal alone made his EMBA worth the investment, Kennedy says. “If I hadn’t gone to Notre Dame, I would’ve jumped in with two feet,” he says. “Instead, I was workshopping with some of the 65 smartest people anywhere on a biweekly basis. I’m not sure how many millions I would’ve had to pay to get that kind of expertise to help me on some of my business challenges. If you want a healthy environment where people are going to want the best for you, for me that’s Notre Dame all the way.”

Another unexpected blessing of the Notre Dame EMBA for an Irishman living a continent away from home: It brings him back to that village where he grew up. “Ironically, when I get homesick, which does happen frequently, the place I go to try to recreate my hometown is Notre Dame,” Kennedy says. “It’s home.”





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