May 13. 2013 9:00AM

High impact

Michael Cudahy receives BizTimes Lifetime Achievement Award

By Steve Jagler

  
Aside from city founders Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn and George Walker, few people, if any, have had more impact on Milwaukee than entrepreneur, community advocate and philanthropist Michael J. Cudahy.
Michael Cudahy Bravo! Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

For his achievements and contributions, Cudahy will be the recipient of the 2013 BizTimes Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award.

It is not a stretch to make the following statements:
  • Without Michael Cudahy, GE Medical would not be employing 6,500 people in Wisconsin.
  • Without Michael Cudahy, Milwaukee would not have its signature Calatrava Addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
  • Without Michael Cudahy, Discovery World, Pier Wisconsin, the Denis Sullivan Schooner and the Harbor House Restaurant would not exist on Milwaukee's lakefront.
  • Without Michael Cudahy, the Riverside Theater and the Pabst Theater would not have been refurbished in Milwaukee.
  • Without Michael Cudahy, the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes would not be lit at night.
  • Without Michael Cudahy, the John S. Cudahy YMCA, named after his father on Milwaukee's west side, would not exist.

The Cudahy family story is a classic American immigrant success odyssey. Michael Cudahy is the son of the late John C. Cudahy, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Poland and Belgium. Michael is the grandson of Patrick Cudahy, founder of the meat plant in Cudahy.

Michael Cudahy founded Marquette Medical Systems Inc. in 1964 with only $15,000 in capital. The company established the nation's first central electrocardiographic system at Northwestern University Medical School.

Marquette Medical grew to become a $650 million company before Cudahy sold the firm to GE Healthcare in 1998.

As Cudahy likes to say, after he sold his company, his new job became trying to figure out how best to give away his fortune. However, as anyone who has dealt with his philanthropic ventures knows, Cudahy pays keen attention to the details and wants to make sure his money is invested in worthy projects that produce tangible benefits for his beloved city.

Cudahy continues to serve in several capacities. He is a member of the boards of directors for Cyclics Corp. in Schenectady, N.Y.; Access Genetics LLC in Minneapolis, Minn.; Compact Particle Acceleration Corp. of Livermore, Calif.; and Granite Microsystems in Grafton, Wis.

Cudahy also remains active in the Milwaukee community, as he is a regent at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, chairman of the Pabst Theater and a member of the boards of the trustees for the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and Milwaukee Art Museum.

Cudahy will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 BizExpo to be presented by BizTimes Media LLC on Thursday, May 16, at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Expo Center in Milwaukee. To register to attend, visit www.biztimes.com/bravo.

As for Cudahy's impact on Milwaukee, BizTimes compiled testimonials from people throughout the community.

"Marquette Medical Systems helped make GE Healthcare what it is today," said Mike Harsh, vice president and chief technology officer for GE Healthcare. Harsh was the engineering leader at GE Healthcare when the transaction took place in 1998. "Michael Cudahy's vision, determination and commitment to Milwaukee were vital to making Southeast Wisconsin a global hub of medical innovation. His hard work and entrepreneurial spirit have played a large part in our company's now $3.8 billion annual impact to the state, representing one in every 63 dollars in the Wisconsin economy."

"Mike loves Milwaukee and has given his heart and soul to its progress. Our friendship is one of the most cherished relationships in my life," said Sue Black, owner and CEO of the Milwaukee Wave professional soccer team. "My favorite times are when he pulls out his pencil at lunch and shares his latest vision on the tablecloth. Time after time, we are then at the event, ribbon cutting or groundbreaking, and I will give him a hug and say, 'You did it again!' I admire him in so many respects but love him more. Congrats Mike! Your lifetime contribution has enhanced all of our lives. Well done!"

"I wish I would have met Michael Cudahy 30 years ago. Our passions align in so many ways, and I have much admiration for him and all he's done in Milwaukee," said Joe Bartolotta, president of Bartolotta Restaurants, who partnered with Cudahy to open the Harbor House Restaurant in Milwaukee. "Michael and I are both visionary, creative people who ask the questions 'What if?' and 'Why can't we?' We're separated by 30 years, but we share so many of the same principles and beliefs when it comes to running our companies. It's a privilege and an honor to not only be partners in business, but to have the relationship we do. In many ways, I consider him a second father."

"Mike Cudahy is a self-described tinkerer. He likes to tinker with things. Throughout his business career, he always strived to make a better product and satisfy the wishes of his customer," said Gary Grunau, president of Grucon Group in Milwaukee. "He carries this same attitude into his civic affairs, that he's not satisfied with the status quo. If Mike Cudahy sees something, the first thing he says is, 'Why can't we do it better, and he somehow figures out how to do it better.' He is relentless in his pursuit of perfection and will not rest until every detail has been taken care of."

"He's been a marvelous philanthropist. I have seen political and private sector leadership, and I can tell you categorically no other person has the stick-to-it-ness to really stay with projects and improve Milwaukee," said Milwaukee attorney Franklyn Gimbel.

"Michael Cudahy uniquely combines passion, strong ideas and an ability to get things done," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "His contributions to Milwaukee's business landscape are impressive; his contributions to civic life in this city are unmatched. While he has accomplished a remarkable amount, he continues to look forward – which is great for Milwaukee and its future."

"Mike's impact on the physical landscape of the city is obvious to people who have lived here for even a short time; just look at the east end of Harbor Drive. With his inspiration and effort on the Lakefront Development Task Force, even more will happen in this neighborhood in the coming years. However, Mike's most lasting impact may be his lesson that we must be a city of action, and we have a responsibility to be doers rather than just talkers," said Joel Brennan, president and CEO of Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin. "Mike had a lasting influence on Milwaukee long before he had the means to be able to make a real difference on its physical landscape. And he has taught us all that we can't afford to sit on our hands and watch the world happen; we all have the power and ability to make change. One of the best lessons that I have personally learned from Mike Cudahy: A handshake does – and should – still mean something."

"Amongst other projects, I have traveled with Mike to Portland, Ireland and France, often with a mayor or governor in tow, to look at urban transportation systems, economic development strategies and anything else that will improve our prospects," said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. "Mike Cudahy is a fearless, pot-stirring Irishman with an unquenchable thirst for improving Milwaukee. He is always looking for better ways to utilize the assets of this community so we can compete with the rest of the world and does not suffer small thinkers in the process. We are blessed to have his courage and vision."

"Michael is Milwaukee's visioncaster. He built a great company, then created Milwaukee's public innovation hub, Discovery World, and now set the stage for transforming Milwaukee's front door - the lakefront," said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. "He is a Milwaukee legend and great fun to work with, and he has amazing stories."

Cudahy will join an illustrious list of past recipients of the award, including: Sheldon Lubar, founder and chairman of Lubar & Co. in Milwaukee; Fritz and Debra Usinger of the Usinger family; Stephen Marcus of The Marcus Corp.; Richard Pieper of PPC Partners Inc.; George Dalton of Fiserv Inc.; Robert Kern of Generac; Joe Zilber of Towne Realty; and Harry Quadracci of Quad/Graphics Inc.

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