The Chicago Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Lost One This Week

On December 4th, Professor Paul Magelli Sr. passed away.  I used to lecture at Paul’s classes. He was really really a great guy.  I always told him one of my regrets in life was not taking a class taught by him when I was an undergrad.  I am relatively sure he would have changed the direction of my life.

He taught entrepreneurship with a passion.  He saw potential in everyone. He was a dynamo.  He wasn’t just a force at the University of Illinois, but a force at the Kaufman Institute.  Where others saw chasms, Paul built bridges.

He was really engaged in helping Dean Jeff Brown and others transform the University of Illinois into an entrepreneurial school.  A long time ago, he started the undergrad consulting program called IBC, which cranks out highly regarded people year after year.  Many people regard Illinois as a satellite of Chicago-but it is integral to the city’s success.  Here is Dean Brown’s statement on Paul.

Once Paul told me a story about seeing President Obama when we were eating dinner at Timpone’s.  He got a private meeting with the President.  20-30 minutes in the oval office. He didn’t talk about himself.  He didn’t ask for favors.  He talked to the President about his legacy and what he could do to cement it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Paul was pretty apolitical.  He just did it to help.  He’d do the same for anyone.

When you sat in his office, you didn’t always get what you initially came there for.  But, you felt like you meant something to someone.  You felt like you could do something others might not be able to do.  Paul would unearth something in you that others couldn’t.  That’s the way he was.  He just wanted to help you realize what you could be.  He would listen, and smile.  He’d laugh.  Then he’d say something to make you think just a little bit differently.

His students left messages on his Facebook wall.  I took the liberty of cutting and pasting a few.  I don’t think they will mind.  To me they are amazing.   I loved meeting Paul’s students.

Paul was my professor, my mentor, and my family. To Paul I was a daughter and to me he was a father. That was our relationship. I never made a life decision without consulting him. No matter where I was in the world, I picked up the phone and gave him a call to ask for advice, guidance, and sometimes just to chat and catch up. 

When I got the message that he had passed, I was in total shock, unable to really accept it. But after sharing and exchanging memories with friends of Paul, I feel more at peace – knowing that the essence of who he is, is immortal. His unique ability to connect with all on the human spectrum, his compassion, his empathy, and his insatiable search for beauty, truth and adventure will continue to guide us, the thousands and thousands of students and people he uplifted, inspired and loved.

22 years ago, I made the drive that would alter the course of my life for the good. This 20 yr old drove from Florida to Illinois to begin a life and academic journey at the U of I with my best friend. The reason though, for this move was because of a great man that admitted me into the MBA program with limited work experience because he believed in my potential. Dr. Magelli will forever live in my heart and these two phrases will stay with me for life: just as I’ve seen potential in you, see it in others when you have an opportunity and go where they want you ( in response to getting declined to a graduate program later). He’s a man of faith, a man of courage and has left such a legacy across the world. I’ll miss you and wish I could have seen you one last time

I vividly remember strolling into his office in 1994 as I was considering what to do next with my life and visiting Champaign to look into getting my MBA. I walked out of his office convinced of two things. (i) This man sees something in me — he believes in me and my potential and (ii) this is what I have to do next. That was the beginning of an amazing friendship and relationship that has strongly influenced who I am, and where I am, today. The most amazing thing is, I am one of thousands he touched during his life in the same way. A true gift.

You saw potential in me over 20 years ago when few others did. You inspired me with your courage, passion, generosity, and dedication. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

the year I decided I would never work for someone again, the year I decided I wanted to change the world. It all started with the most selfless and transparent man I have ever met. Dr. Magelli saw in me what others never saw and he inspired me to not care what others saw and to act on what’s right.

I do not think there are enough words in the English language to describe Dr. Paul Magelli‘s value in my life and how much he meant to me. I was blessed to have him to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. There has never been a time that I’ve called on Dr. Magelli that he has not been there for me

I can’t remember how many times I sat in his office and asked for advice, how many times I walked out from the office with inspiration, relief and joy. I was constantly amazed by how he could run for an hour on treadmill every day at the age of eighty plus, how he could respond thousands of emails within a day, and how he could still do International travels now and then with joy at this age. He was the one that would pop up in my mind whenever I need any help during my four years of undergraduate and I know he will be there. He once showed me his snack drawer in IBC office and told me if I don’t have time for lunch during the day, just come here and grab something

I affectionately called him grandpa – he called me his grandson. He believed in me and went to bat for me countless times. I’ll never forget how we used to chat, I would share my naive dreams and he would listen with the most sincere smile on his face and write down 7 “big-shot” names on a notepad and would make introductions to every contact before our conversation ended. Instantneously, every single contact would reply ending with the same phrase, “Anything for Paul Magelli.” If you knew him – there was no such thing as 6 degrees of separation – at most there was only 2. He had a way of making you feel like you were the only one in the room – like you were the next greatest entrepreneur. It was never about what you could do for him – his sole focus was how he could help you become the best you.

Paul was a man with great great heart. During my time at UIUC, Paul Magelli had consistently provided me support and believed in me to help me achieve the next stage. In lieu of memory, I will continue the tradition and help as many people as I can during my current career as a public accountant and I hope Paul’s friends can do the same. Helping each other is one of the greatest strengths of human being and we should use it to combat the world where is spreading hatred and fear!

I think those of us that knew Paul owe him a favor. We do need to keep spreading his light in the world.  That’s the best way for others to get to know him too.

  • awaldstein

    Nice one.

    • You would have loved talking to him.

      • awaldstein

        Your posts about your town and the community you are part of and the people that matter are the ones that draw me in.