American National Business Hall of Fame est. 1972

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AMERICAN NATIONAL BUSINESS HALL OF FAME – HISTORY

The idea of an Illinois Business Hall of Fame originated in a meeting of four Western Illinois University Professors in 1970. The four --- Richard Hattwick, Paul Holmes, Norman Meonske and Dennis DePorter – were concerned about the negative attitudes toward business leaders which had become widely present in the press and on college campuses. They met to explore ways in which business schools might play a role in setting the record straight.

One of the ideas that surfaced was to create an Illinois Business Hall of Fame for the purpose of finding positive business role model stories and find ways of making those stories part of the business school curriculum. Over a period of months other faculty members from both Western Illinois University (WIU) and other Illinois universities were brought into the discussion. On November 2,1971 the newly created Illinois Business Hall of Fame received a charter as a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of the State of Illinois.

At its first meeting the board of directors made two major governance decisions. First, the board voted to entrust the daily administration of the Hall of Fame to the Center for Business and Economic Research at WIU. Second, it voted to entrust any financial support received from private sources to a Hall of Fame Endowment account at the Western Illinois University Foundation.

By the end of 1971 the board had formulated the criteria for selecting laureates. Candidates could come from any period of American history. Candidates had to be retired. Candidates had to be associated with a business success story based in Illinois; their leadership had to have been a crucial determinant of that success; and the leadership had to meet the test of acceptable business ethics for the time in history when they were active.

For several years candidates were identified by researching the histories of Fortune 500 companies because of the abundant public records which existed for most of those companies. About one-third of those companies turned out to have easily identified stories of a role model who met the criteria.

During those initial years the board also discussed various ways of identifying small and medium size business role models. One approach involved establishing local business heritage programs in various Illinois cities. Another was to publicize the existence of the IBHF with the expectation that third parties would submit nominations that could then be investigated by IBHF teams.

Local business heritage programs were established in Aurora and Quincy. A small number of unsolicited nominations from the business community were received and a few of those led to the selection of laureates from small and mid-size businesses.

In 1972 the board made the first selection of laureates and the following year formal induction ceremonies were held for two new laureates – Charles Becker and W.A. "Pat" Patterson. The Becker induction was a community affair held in Springfield and attended by Springfield community leaders and retired colleagues of Becker. The Patterson induction was a black-tie affair attended by Patterson and his Chicago area business peers along with Chicago political and community leaders with whom Patterson had worked during his decades as a Chicago community leader. In both cases the induction dinner involved a brief slide show highlighting the laureate's career and the presentation of the IBHF Pledge of Trusteeship. The Pledge of Trusteeship represented the IBHF promise to do its best to create awareness, understanding and appreciation of the laureate's business career in perpetuity.

Over the following decades formal induction ceremonies were conducted for some, but by no means all, of the laureates. Some were community affairs conducted in partnership with the local chamber of commerce ( Aurora, Quincy). Some were done in conjunction with laureate speeches in front of of auditoriums filled with university business school students ( Bob Galvin at Northern Illinois University, Robert McDermott at Illinois State University), some were conducted at the annual stockholders meeting or company annual awards banquet ( ServiceMaster, Motorola).

A year after the first laureates had been selected, educational programming began. Presentations featuring laureate stories were prepared and presented at both the high school and the university level. The high school program focused on careers in business and entrepreneurship. Speakers from Western Illinois University were sent out to speak in high school history and business classes. WIU communication professors Ned and Sandy Shearer were the main presenters. A few graduate students also made presentations.

At the university level various slide illustrated programs were developed and then delivered in business school classrooms. Popular programs were entitled A History of Retailing, Competition in the Consumer Electronics Industry, The Illinois Advertising Heritage, and Business Ethics. In each case the careers of several different laureates were used to explore principles of business as illustrated by the topic of the program. By 1980 one or more of those or other programs were being presented once or twice a semester at a number of Illinois universities. Hall of Fame board members instrumental in making that happen were Fred Fry ( Bradley University), Harold Wilson and John Grant ( Southern Illinois University-Carbondale), Harold Johnson and Jay Wagle ( Northern Illinois University), Walter Primeaux and David Gardner ( University of Illinois), Jim Grim and Lee Graf ( Illinois State University), Gerald Hill ( University of Illinois-Chicago), Yunus Kathawala and Jyoti Prasad ( Eastern Illinois University) and Dick Hattwick and Hans Moll ( Western Illinois University).

In 1972 the Illinois Business Hall of Fame board created The American National Business Hall of Fame. Subsequently, the boards of the Illinois Business Hall of Fame and of the American National Business Hall of Fame were merged. Educational programming expanded to telling the stories of business role models at universities all over the United States, but with a continued strong emphasis on Illinois.

In 1972 the board began discussing the concept of a hall of fame museum. The original thought was to eventually raise funds for a free-standing museum. But board members thought that some sort of small temporary museum should be established. The first effort to do that was to create a small museum in a large room at Stipes Hall on the campus of Western Illinois University. Later the first three floors of Stipes Hall were turned into exhibit spaces. Students would see the exhibits while walking to or waiting for classes. Visitors could freely enter the building and walk through all three floors. In the late 1990s the board created separate a web site for the Illinois Business Hall of Fame. Patricia Blizzard was the person who made that happen. Outside contractors were currently engaged to expand the site over the following decades.

In the 2010s the board developed plans to turn the web site into the museum. In 2023 the board contracted with the Western Illinois University Libraries to assume management and maintenance of the online museum.

From the time of its creation until the early 1990s the administrative responsibilities of the IBHF were performed by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Western Illinois University. When that entity was closed,administrative duties were handled primarily by faculty board members on a pro-bono basis until responsibilities for both the IBHF and the ANBHF were assumed by Dr. John Grant at Ohio Dominican University.

The initial financial support for the IBHF was provided by the College of Business at Western Illinois University. Dean Howard Nudd was responsible for that happening. The support was included in the budget of the business college's Center for Business and Economic Research. Dr. Richard Hattwick was the director at that time. Subsequent fund raising efforts created an endowment account which the WIU Foundation agreed to administer. In 2023 the IBHF contracted with the Western Illinois University Libraries to manage the hall of fame museum in perpetuity using a portion of the annual earnings of the endowment. The WIU Foundation would continue to be the fiduciary monitoring that contract.