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Hard work, high standards
Fortune 100 CEO remains committed to his University

By Mary Alice Casey

Rick Fatica
Robert Walter, BSME ’67

From Robert Walter’s office in Dublin, Ohio, two walls of windows look out on a magnificent stand of oaks and maples and the growing northwest Columbus skyline. Family pictures dot the walls and desktop.

This is the environment of a most successful businessman, devoted husband, involved father and committed Ohio University alumnus.

Walter is chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health Inc., a Fortune 100 company with annualized revenues of $38 billion. His commitments extend to 45,000 employees worldwide, many of them fellow alumni.

He also is a member of the boards of trustees of Ohio University and Battelle Memorial Institute and the boards of directors of Bank One, Infinity Broadcasting and Viacom. In February, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce presented him with its highest honor, the Christopher Columbus Award.

Yet Walter describes himself as a private person. He shuns interviews and prefers quiet time with his family to any other activity. He is not reserved, though, about his conviction that a good education, high ethics and hard work provide the strongest foundation for success.

And he sets a good example.

Born and raised in Columbus, Walter arrived at Ohio University in 1963. He graduated summa cum laude in December 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

“I worked hard at Ohio University,” says Walter, who held a job in the engineering labs, served on student council and was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. “I never missed one class. I still had a lot of fun, but I never missed a class. Even my wife thought I was crazy.”

The Walter file

His family:
Despite his business and philanthropic obligations, Walter says his first commitment always has been to his family. He and his wife, Peggy, have three grown sons — Matthew, Blane and Peter — and three grandchildren.

Cardinal Health:
Walter founded the company as a food wholesaler in 1971. Through internal growth and more than 30 acquisitions, Cardinal has expanded to pharmaceutical distribution; health-care product manufacturing, distribution and consulting services; drug delivery systems development; and more. The company occupies the No. 1 or 2 market position in every product or service it offers.

Hardest business lesson:
“You cannot tolerate people who lack character; you cannot change people’s values.”

Advice for today’s students:
“If you hustle, you will get ahead.”

Three months before he graduated, Walter married his grade school sweetheart, Peggy McGreevey Walter, BFA ’67. After working briefly as a design engineer in Columbus, he decided to pursue an MBA. His application to Harvard Business School was supported by then-University President Vernon Alden, a former Harvard dean.

“I have a lot of loyalty to Ohio University for a lot of reasons, including the help given to me by Vern Alden,” Walter says. Alden’s encouragement — and the generosity of scholarship donors who provided support for Walter’s education — helped inspire his impressive commitment to assist others.

The Robert and Margaret Walter Endowed Scholarship, established in 1991, has provided 52 students with scholarships. And this past fall, the Walters announced a donation of $5 million to help finance a state-of-the-art classroom building at Richland Avenue and South Green Drive. The $10 million building is targeted for completion in 2004.

Dick Brown, BSC ’69 and HON ’96, was encouraged by Walter to become a Sigma Chi. Today, the two men have something else in common: They both lead Fortune 100 companies. Brown is the CEO of EDS, the world’s second-largest computer services provider.

“You could tell back then that Bob had the capacity to deal with complexity, to sort things out, to prioritize — all qualities you need to have if you’re going to lead a Fortune 100 company,” Brown says.

Loyalty must be another attribute.

“As you become successful, you have an obligation to give back to the things that helped make you successful,” says Walter, who was granted an honorary doctoral degree by the University in 1997, the same year he began a nine-year term on the Board of Trustees. “I’ve gotten a lot of really nice rewards.”


Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today.

 

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