|James V. O'Donnell, B.S.B.A. '74, M.B.A. '74
Serving the University Whenever Asked
James V. O'Donnell believes in the power of education to transform lives.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."—Chinese proverb
When Jim O'Donnell quotes this well-known saying, it is clear how deeply he believes it. He credits Washington University as the first link in the chain of his successful career, and for the past quarter-century he has committed an extraordinary amount of his time to the University, as a volunteer and an adjunct professor of finance at the Olin School of Business.
O'Donnell, B.S.B.A. '74, M.B.A. '74, is president of Bush O'Donnell, a St. Louis-based financial services company he formed with William H.T. Bush in 1988. A native St. Louisan, O'Donnell began his career in the local office of Goldman, Sachs & Co. and remained with the firm for 13 years, working with institutional investors and high net worth individuals.
"Beyond my studies, I didn't really get involved at Washington University until five years after graduation, when I returned to the School of Business to recruit students for Goldman Sachs," O'Donnell recalls. There he reunited with Robert Virgil, his former accounting professor, who was dean of the School at that time.
"Jim O'Donnell is one of our most engaged alumni ... he makes an extraordinary contribution to the Olin School of Business," says Dean Greenbaum.
"Bob encouraged me to get active as a volunteer, and it really opened my eyes to a side of the University I had never seen before," O'Donnell says. "The richness of what Washington University has to offer is simply astounding, far beyond what I had been aware of as a student. When I met William Danforth, I came to deeply admire not only his leadership, but his vision of the University as a positive force in society. Ever since then, I have pretty much agreed to serve whenever I've been asked, and I've had a great time doing it."
O'Donnell is even connected to the University by marriage. His wife, Kathy Gudermuth O'Donnell, A.B. '77, who earned an M.B.A. in finance from New York University in 1979, was a development officer for the Olin School of Business when they met.
"One cannot speak of Jim without also speaking of Kathy," says Robert Virgil, M.B.A. '60, D.B.A. '67. "She is his partner in all he does for Washington University. Jim O'Donnell has been one of the stalwarts of the School of Business. Early on, he saw the possibilities, and over a long period of time no one has done more to make these possibilities happen. Jim is very wise, independent in his thinking, and a great teacher."
A dedicated volunteer
Over the years, O'Donnell has chosen to focus his volunteer commitments exclusively at Washington University. He served on the University's Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2000 and has been a member of the Olin School of Business National Council since 1996. In the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, he was patrons chair from 1995 to 1998 and served as president from 1998 to 2001.
At the business school, O'Donnell served on both the Eliot Society Membership Committee and the Alumni Association Executive Committee from 1982 to 1987. During 1989-90, he was president of the Olin Alumni Association and served on the Alumni Board of Governors, and he served as the alumni representative on the search committee for the business school's new dean during 1993 and 1994. "I found the work of the search committee very interesting and am very proud of the job we did," he says. "Stuart Greenbaum is an outstanding dean."
In 1989, O'Donnell received a Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day, and the School of Business honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1997.
Jim and Kathy O'Donnell are Life Benefactors of the Eliot Society and members of The Danforth Circle. In addition to their annual support, they made a leadership gift to the Campaign for Washington University, which named the O'Donnell Lounge in the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center and endowed the Kathy Gudermuth O'Donnell Scholarship in Arts & Sciences.
Risk and reward
Jim O'Donnell's enthusiasm for his profession has only increased over the years, and he credits the late John Bowyer as the professor who sparked his interest in the investment world. "Investing requires finding the right balance between risk and reward," he says. "It's a dynamic, highly competitive field, and our mission is to be purveyors of good advice."
Today Bush O'Donnell & Co. is a diversified financial services company. A subsidiary, Missouri Physicians Associates, is an insurance company. Bush O'Donnell Investment Advisors has $280 million under management for individuals and families, corporate retirement plans, charitable foundations and endowments, and religious communities.
Bush O'Donnell Smith Capital Services acts as an agent for corporate fundraisings and as an adviser on mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, and also invests in businesses through its affiliates. Bush O'Donnell Capital Partners is the fund manager of Eagle Fund I, a licensed small business investment company.
"We're a case of 'one plus one' equals more than two," O'Donnell says of his partnership with William Bush. Many of their clients have been with them for more than 15 years, and O'Donnell credits their success to a focus on service and building solid relationships—with their employees as well as with their clients. "We like to hire outstanding young people and help them develop their careers," O'Donnell says. "None of our partners has ever left the firm."
Support for students
Jim O'Donnell likes working with young people, and he has nothing but praise for the bright, talented students at the School of Business. He has been a scholarship sponsor for the Scholars in Business Program since 1982, and today he and his wife sponsor three annual scholarships. The first is named in honor of Leo and Lois Eason. "Leo was the head of placement at the business school for years, and he and Lois lived next door to my parents in University City," O'Donnell recalls. "He looked out for me at the University, and I began my career at Goldman Sachs with his guidance."
A second scholarship is named in honor of Eugene and Marilyn Bischoff, the owners of Byron Cade, a Clayton retail store, where O'Donnell worked full-time while earning his two degrees. The O'Donnells also sponsor a scholarship in honor of William and Patricia Bush.
O'Donnell's support for students extends into the classroom at the business school, where he has been an adjunct professor of finance since 1988. Currently he teaches the Investment Praxis course in the Center for Experiential Learning, where undergraduates and graduate students gain experience by managing more than $800,000 of the School's endowment.
"Working with professional business people gives students a chance to connect their academic knowledge with the practical world," O'Donnell says. "The Olin School gives its students a superb set of analytical tools. I challenge them to use those tools to answer the fundamental question: 'What is a good business?' If you can identify a good business at a good price, you will be a successful investor."
According to Dean Stuart Greenbaum, "Jim O'Donnell is one of our most engaged alumni—he's incredibly versatile, and he makes an extraordinary contribution to the Olin School of Business."
O'Donnell looks at it another way. He says, "I have been very, very fortunate in my career to associate with outstanding people at Washington University, Goldman Sachs, and Bush O'Donnell. It's easy when you work with the best."