Giving Back to Do Great Good

A black and white portrait of Ken Meyer.
Philanthropist and business leader Ken Meyer

An interview with Ken Meyer (BS ‘66), the philanthropist behind the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program 

Ken Meyer (BS ’66), a deeply humble man, finds it hard to talk about himself and his many achievements. In truth, that’s because he would much rather speak about the students and faculty his gifts to the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business have supported — and the impact those leaders are making in the world. 

In addition to putting more than one hundred students through business school at Notre Dame since 1992, he and his wife, Susan Meyer, also endowed the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program with a $15 million gift in 2020. 

Their remarkable generosity made it possible for Frontlines to dramatically scale up in size and scope, sending double the number of teams of Mendoza students per year to communities struggling with economic exclusion. There, the MBA candidates apply business expertise to support local partners in tackling deeply rooted societal problems such as food insecurity, unemployment and equity in education.  

From his home outside Chicago, the retired chairman and CEO of Lincoln Capital Management Co. said, “I believe that it’s better to give people help in a way that allows and encourages them to help themselves. At Frontlines, the support goes to spectacular organizations around the world. I watch the students give a tremendous amount of their time and energy. You couldn’t ask for a better combination and that’s why I’ve funded the program so aggressively.” 

To Meyer, the opportunity to get a solid education was everything — and nothing means more to him as a philanthropist than paying it forward in other peoples’ lives. “Notre Dame did so much for me. It turned me from a young boy from North Kentucky into a man,” he said. “It gave me a view on life that I didn’t know existed and it fully prepared me to succeed in business school.” 

Meyer’s parents, Robert and Ardelle, were extraordinary people who put their three children’s future first. “Neither of my parents went to college, but they made darn sure that all three of us not only went to school but also got advanced degrees,” he said.

Robert was a municipal bonds salesman while Ardelle worked multiple odd jobs as a teenager to put an older brother through medical school. 

To the devout Catholic family who sent their children to Jesuit High School, the clear choice for their youngest son Ken was Notre Dame. Following graduation, he landed a place in Wharton’s MBA program, and spent five months in the U.S. Army Reserves before launching a landmark career in finance starting at Harris Bank.  

“My boss put me in charge of an area of the bank that was struggling — and we just made a phenomenal success out of it,” Meyer said. “I especially enjoyed hiring people from all different backgrounds for that team, including some without an MBA degree.” 

He also built a fulfilling personal life. It was love at first sight in Chicago for Meyer and his future wife, Susan, one crowded April night in 1967 at Butch McGuire’s, a legendary Irish bar. They were married one year later and he gives her full credit for his career success.

As he climbed in his career, Meyer was hired at Lincoln Capital in 1981, where he built a multi-billion-dollar fixed asset management business, circling the globe to serve discerning clients on multiple continents. 

It was high pressure and that was just the way Meyer preferred it. “To be honest, I actually thrived on the stress,” he admitted. “Every time you went to see a client, you were competing with any number of other investment managers who were equally talented. You had to differentiate yourself and it was a big challenge.” 

Ultimately, nothing was more important to Meyer than focusing on family. Since retiring at age 60, he’s found true joy in annual reunions in Michigan with his two sons, daughters-in-law and six grandchildren, in offering his time and expertise to Golden Paws Assistance Dogs, and in giving back to Notre Dame. He smiles as he tells his favorite story about the University — the moment in 1992 when the Robert and Ardelle Meyer Scholarship was first announced. 

“It was a special weekend for the benefactors of the University. I invited my mom up to campus to join me,” Meyer said. “It was a straight walk up to the Basilica from Alumni Hall, and a light snowfall was coming down around us. It was the most beautiful night I personally have ever experienced. We were led to the front of the church and that’s when she found out about the scholarship. That is my best memory of my mom.”

Seeing her son leverage his education and professional success to endow scholarships for other students moved and overwhelmed Ardelle. They both had tears in their eyes and knew that Robert, who had passed away, would have also embraced the full circle moment. 

The scholarship has since put 74 undergraduates through Notre Dame, while the Kenneth R. Meyer Fellowship, launched in 2010 with a $10 million gift, has funded 107 MBA students at Mendoza. 

Each fall, Meyer drives to campus to meet the Meyer Fellows, a group of eight accomplished MBA students who are provided a full-ride scholarship to Mendoza. The program is now in its 11th year, and Meyer and the alumni are a tight-knit circle. He keeps track of marriages, babies and promotions and is a proud investor in the Indiana Whiskey Company in South Bend, a local distillery founded by Meyer Fellow and military veteran, Charlie Florance (MBA ‘13). 

Fellows avidly keep journals of their Notre Dame experiences throughout the year, which they then read out loud from at a private annual dinner in the spring. “You should see the entries in these journals. They are just unbelievable and it’s amazing to see how they welcome the next class of fellows, and the journals pass from student to student,” he said. 

In more recent years, Meyer has watched with admiration as Frontlines in America, the domestic version of Business on the Frontlines,  launched as well. The course has forged impactful partnerships with organizations supporting former gang members in Los Angeles, youth in marginalized neighborhoods  and, beginning in August 2023, with the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada as well. Meyer anticipates seeing a ripple effect in Frontlines alumni being in a position to give back to underserved communities through service and funding after graduation and to donate to their alma mater. 

 “Commit to stepping your gift up each year,” Meyer advised. You’ll find that giving is very rewarding. You’ll get a real sense of doing good.”