What’s in a name

Paul J. Hooker’s gift to the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership enables new programming, mentorship opportunities

By Anne-Margaret Swary

When Paul J. Hooker ’75 graduated from BGSU and headed into the business world more than 40 years ago, the self-described “small-town” boy from Orrville, Ohio, never could have imagined the profound impact he would have on the College of Business, or that its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership would one day bear his name.

Armed with his degree in business administration and a will to succeed, Hooker bought into a partnership in SFERRA, an Italian fine linen company, just a few years out of college. What started as a small company in New York City with under half a million dollars in sales grew into an industry leader with more than $40 million in annual sales.

While juggling CEO duties, Hooker also became a passionate social entrepreneur, founding RallyCap Sports, an organization that provides a much-needed outlet for children and young adults with special needs to take part in sporting activities.

But running a successful business, raising three children with his wife, Margo ’74, whom he met at BGSU, and helping RallyCap expand kept Hooker too busy to stay connected to BGSU over the years. Luckily, a visit back to campus for the University’s 100th anniversary in 2010 changed that dramatically.

“When I finally came back to campus, I realized ‘Gosh, did I miss it!’” he said. “And then I had the opportunity to interact with some of the students. I was so inspired by their potential that I knew I had to find a way to help ensure their success, whether that meant through scholarship, through mentorship or something else.”

The Hookers initially decided to fund a scholarship as part of the Alumni Laureate Scholar program.

“It was a natural first investment back into the University and allowed us to have the ability to continue interacting with students,” he said.

One of the students Hooker met was Luke Sims ‘15, a College of Business student ambassador who started the first RallyCap university chapter at BGSU as part of a senior project. After Sims graduated, Hooker hired him to take the program national, and he now serves as executive director.

“Paul has had a profound impact on my life and career trajectory,” Sims said. “As a student, he took me under his wing and mentored me as I considered my next step in life. He taught me that success is not determined by money or prestige, but by the positive impact we have on the people we come in contact with every day. He taught me how to view business as a way to solve problems, and that entrepreneurship is a way to leave this world a little bit better than the way we found it.” With his most recent gift to the College of Business, Hooker hopes to impact hundreds more students like Sims through the Paul J. Hooker Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, formerly known as the Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

“Paul’s endowment provides a solid foundation for increasing the impact of the Center at BGSU and in northwest Ohio,” said Ray Braun, dean of the College of Business. “We plan to expand our mentorship program, offer educational workshops and work with high schools to provide entrepreneurial programming. Paul’s gift will be changing lives for future generations.”

Hooker has also pledged support for the new home of the College of Business in the Robert W. and Patricia A. Maurer Center. The new Student Success Hub on the first floor will be named in honor of his aunt, Sister Mary Noreen Gray, R.S.M. By doing so, Hooker emphasizes that his gifts are about creating meaningful connections with his alma mater and not recognition for himself.

“The more touchpoints I have with the University, the happier I am about sharing our gifts,” he said. “It’s not about building buildings; it’s about the students.”

Sims said Hooker cares deeply about the students at BGSU and the impact that their education can have on them.

“His gift to the College of Business is the perfect example of one of his life mottos: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” Sims said. “I’ve never seen Paul more excited about the future of the College of Business, about the strong leadership and the passionate students. He couldn’t care less about his name on a wall – his heart is with providing the best possible resources so that BGSU students can pursue their dreams, just as he did.”