An Unplanned Return: Bill Schmuhl Jr.

By Christine Cox | Fall 2015

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As the son of a Notre Dame business school graduate, Bill Schmuhl Jr.(ACCT/FIN ’65, LAW ’67) was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I wasn’t forced to, but there wasn’t a lot of discussion either,” Schmuhl says. “And that’s fine with me. Notre Dame is a fine university and business felt like the right field.”

Schmuhl lived up to expectations. At Notre Dame, he completed a program that earned him a bachelor’s and law degree in six years. He earned an MBA at the University of Chicago. He achieved business success — especially as president and CEO of Heywood Williams USA Inc., a plumbing and building products company that reached sales of more than $600 million during his tenure. He still serves as board chairman after retiring in 2001.

But Schmuhl’s life is equally distinguished outside the corporate suite. In this Q&A, he speaks about his career-long commitment to education, a dedication to philanthropy that spans 25 years, and his unplanned return to Notre Dame as an associate teaching professor of accountancy.

Q: How is it that you’re back at Notre Dame?

A: After retiring, I was looking for something to do and thought about Notre Dame.
A faculty member friend of mine took my résumé to the accounting department. I taught two or three courses each semester as an adjunct for a few years and then went
full time in 2006.

Q: Throughout your career, you consistently made time to teach as an adjunct. You even took a two-year leave to serve as chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at Saint Mary’s College. What interests you about education?

A: I really enjoy interacting with students. It’s fun and interesting, and one would
hope to make a contribution to the growth of others. My time at Saint Mary’s gave
me experience leading a department that was going through a period of change. It is rewarding to offer whatever help I can, especially because education is so important.

Q: Students in the MS in Management program talk about liking you and your class despite being intimidated by accounting. How do you present this difficult topic?

A: That’s nice to hear. I would hope what they’re referring to is that I really do care about them and about their learning the material. I encourage them to recognize that maybe they’re not learning a technical subject as much as a second language, which most of them have done. I spend as much time as it takes with them in class and outside class. I try to get to know them as individuals. And I really try to get them comfortable with uncertainty, which can be hard in today’s culture but is a given in business.

Q: What did you enjoy about being a CEO?

A: The ability to influence events and hopefully move the organization forward. The business I was in was subject to significant ebbs and flows in volume and profitability. It’s fun to manage growth, but sometimes you’ve got to manage contraction as well. It was a great challenge.

Q: You have guided and served such charitable causes as WNIT Public Television, Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana, Saint Mary’s College and Memorial Children’s Hospital. What interests you about nonprofits and what causes attract you?

A: It just depends on the mission of the organization, but generally I’m attracted to educational and health-related causes. I like to think I can add value and make some contribution, whether it’s time or money or advice. If I’m the right fit for a nonprofit, I’m happy to be involved.

Q: You’re loyal and connected to the University. Can you speak to that?

A: My father went here; my brother, Robert Schmuhl (’70), is a professor in American Studies; and my daughter, Francie Schmuhl (MNA ’03, ’96) earned two degrees here. The University provides an excellent educational and personal growth experience. It’s great to play a small part in that.