A Legend and a Legacy
Jim Johannes (BA ’72, MS ’75, PhD ’78) considers himself a lucky man. With a couple twists of fate, hard work, and people who looked out for him along the way, he has built a legendary career as a professor of finance at the Wisconsin School of Business and the director of WSB’s Puelicher Center for Banking Education.
But as Johannes gets ready to retire this spring, scores of students and colleagues have reason to believe they have been the lucky ones.
“The impact we can have on our students is the best gift we can give to the future,” Johannes says. “In my view, it’s the most important thing we do as faculty.”
WSB will feel Johannes’ impact well after his retirement—through his students, the strong tradition he has helped build in WSB’s banking program, and myriad administrative roles, including his current service as senior associate dean for faculty and research.
Fundraising in Johannes' name
Johannes’ time at WSB coincides with the emergence of the Puelicher Center as a steady resource for teaching, cutting-edge faculty research, and industry connections. It was founded in 1995.
Gordy Gunnlaugson, chairman of the Puelicher Center board, says the impact of Johannes’ career has been twofold—his industry connections and his teaching.
“Jim has many points of contact with the banking industry that undoubtedly enrich his applied knowledge of the industry,” says Gunnlaugson, retired executive vice president and CFO of M&I Bank. “He has an enthusiasm for the subject of banking that he transmits to his students. His combination of the academic side with real-world experience enriches the students’ learning experience.”
To continue the legacy built through Johannes’ work with the Puelicher Center, WSB is embarking on a $2 million fundraising campaign that will help enhance the administrative abilities of the center, as well as scholarly research in banking. In support of the former, and in Johannes’ honor, WSB has launched a fundraising effort with a goal of $1 million to endow the Puelicher Center directorship in his name. To support the research mission, the Puelicher Center campaign has already created the Chris M. Bauer Endowed Professorship in Banking and Finance through the generosity of the late Chris M. Bauer (BBA ’70), a Puelicher Center advisory board member.
— Jim Johannes
From student to faculty
For as much impact as Johannes had on WSB, his academic career might not have happened but for two strokes of providence. The first came as his senior year at UW–Madison was winding down, and the economics major felt someone tap him on the shoulder and say, “Mr. Johannes, I need to see you in my office.”
It was Eugene Smolensky, chair of the Department of Economics, who wondered about Johannes’ career plans. Johannes said he’d like to go to graduate school but had no money for it and knew he was about to get drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Smolensky had a different idea.
“He said, ‘The faculty have been watching you, and we’d like you to stay and get a PhD,’” says Johannes, who was unaware he had been making an impression.
Johannes was stunned, and thrilled because the offer came with a scholarship. He agreed to stay in school until he was drafted. As Johannes awaited his fate, President Nixon abolished the draft. Johannes’ education would continue.
Strengthening WSB’S banking reputation
After beginning his academic career at Michigan State, Johannes returned to his alma mater in 1983 and quickly became an integral part of UW–Madison becoming a hub of banking education. He has taught and held leadership positions at the Graduate School of Banking, a program of advanced management for banking professionals that recently celebrated its 75th year in partnership with UW–Madison.
Through the Puelicher Center, WSB’s banking reputation grew. Courses were added as the industry changed over the decades and as student interest expanded beyond commercial banking to investment banking.
Johannes, who holds the Aschenbrener Chair in Finance and Graduate School of Banking-Prochnow Professor of Banking, has built strong industry relationships. He was a director for the UW Credit Union and John Deere Financial, and ran the finance committee of the UW Athletic Board in the 1990s when the football program became a powerhouse.
“I’ve tried to be a practical academic by keeping my feet firmly entrenched in the real world,” he says. “I can bring banking alive in class because of my real-world experience. I’ve got some great stories after all these years.”
Sometimes when Johannes is teaching, he sees a little of himself—a student working hard to learn.
“When I go into a classroom, I can see how some students are getting it, but can see on the faces of other students that they’re not getting it,” Johannes says. “So I know to stop, say it a different way, make it interesting and practical.”
If anyone knows the value of a WSB education, it’s Johannes—as a student, teacher, scholar, administrator, mentor, and community member.
“I tell people if I talk about the university and sound too excited about it, it’s genuine,” he says. “I owe everything I have today to the good fortune I had going to the University of Wisconsin.”
To learn more about making a gift in honor of Jim Johannes’ many contributions to the Puelicher Center and WSB, contact Rachel Lionberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alumnus Chris Bauer (BBA ’70), a Puelicher Center board member and passionate Badger, passed away on March 13. We are ever grateful for his generosity and support of the banking education mission at WSB.