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Honoring the life of Bob Burgess

By Aaryn Richard
Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Robert “Bob” Burgess, a distinguished 1966 Michigan State University alumnus, esteemed business leader, and dedicated philanthropist, passed away on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. He was 79.

“I am saddened by the passing of Bob Burgess and my prayers are with Georgia and the Burgess family,” said MSU President Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We spoke shortly after my arrival at MSU, and I know he was a humble, compassionate and kind man who dedicated his life to creating opportunities for young people. He wanted them to explore their curiosity and grow as professionals. He cared deeply about student success and fostering a community culture of innovation. We are proud of Bob’s fierce advocacy of entrepreneurship education at Michigan State. He embodied what it means to be a true Spartan.”

“Bob Burgess’s remarkable life was one of service to his community,” said Judith Whipple, Interim Dean of the Broad College of Business. “His dedication to the Spartan Nation was unmatched. His generosity and work on MSU’s campus has, and will continue to have, an enormous impact on student success for generations to come.”

Bob’s philanthropic generosity across campus has equipped Spartans with practical skills and tools, preparing them for entrepreneurial and creative problem-solving opportunities after graduation. Bob foresaw the dynamic, ever-changing business and social landscapes students would experience and knew it was imperative to arm them with an entrepreneurial mindset. He knew investments in support structures would have a profound impact.

“The School of Packaging recognizes Bob’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Matt Daum, director of MSU’s School of Packaging and assistant dean of corporate relations and strategy for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We are grateful for our partnership with the Burgess Institute. Bob’s packaging scholarship endowment stands as a remembrance of his time as a student in our program and an incredible gift of generosity for students now and in the future.”

In 2005, the Broad College established the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which Bob contributed to help launch. A decade later, he made an additional, significant gift that fully established his namesake, the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The Institute has grown into one of the leading national undergraduate entrepreneurship education programs in the country.

As the managing director of academic programs at the Burgess Institute, Ken Szymusiak worked closely with Bob and the Burgess family. “Bob loved supporting students in their pursuit of new ideas,” said Szymusiak. “He recognized that entrepreneurship and innovation are powerful vehicles for changing the world. He also knew that entrepreneurship can be a lonely space and that the health and vitality of the community surrounding and supporting entrepreneurs is just as important for their success.”

“Bob Burgess was one of the most humble and caring people I have ever met,” said Laurel Ofstein, faculty director at the Burgess Institute. “I could tell from my first day on the job that he and I shared a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation education and from that moment forward, he was my biggest supporter. While he always championed the programming and initiatives of the Institute, Bob never shied away from asking our leadership team tough questions, or making sure that MSU students were kept top of mind in all our decisions. I will miss Bob’s presence, but we will continue to walk the path he envisioned for what the Institute could become.”

Bob’s generosity and interests did not stop at philanthropic giving. He was a remarkable mentor and friend.

“I met Bob in the mid-90s when I joined the Eli Broad College of Business,” said Helen Dashney. She serves as the director of the Dashney Women’s Leadership Accelerator and is a faculty member within the college. “From then forward he took a personal interest in whatever I did. I’m grateful for all the Burgess family has given to MSU. But Bob’s personal mentorship and friendship are the gifts I will forever cherish the most.”

Bob saw mentorship as a sacred act of service and an essential element of student empowerment and success. He wanted to ensure the Burgess Institute’s programming and team valued mentorship as foundational to their mission. Today, the Burgess Institute enlists the help of countless alumni and friends — all experts in their fields and industries — to act as coaches and mentors for Spartan student entrepreneurs.

Continuing this remarkable legacy, the entire Burgess Family will remain supporters of the Institute, ensuring that Bob’s vision for entrepreneurship and student empowerment will persist and flourish at MSU.

Bob also provided mentorship by giving his time, expertise and service on boards of directors associated with the university, including serving as the president of the Broad College Alumni Advisory Board and the Broad College Capital Campaign Board. He was also the chair of the MSU Research Foundation’s board of directors. He made an impact by offering insights and wisdom to support the ongoing growth of entrepreneurship as a point of excellence at MSU.

“After joining the MSU Research Foundation board in 2002, Bob served as board chair from 2007 to 2009 coinciding with the Great Recession,” said David Washburn, executive director at the MSU Research Foundation. “The challenges were immense at that time and Bob’s leadership was instrumental in navigating the Foundation through that period while continuing to nurture entrepreneurship and innovation.”

From humble beginnings to industry giant

Born in Brantford, Ontario, on May 13, 1944, Bob’s journey was marked by hard work and perseverance. His path led him to Rochester, New York, where he attended high school. He then came to MSU, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1966 from the School of Packaging.

Bob’s professional path was defined by his innovative mindset and leadership qualities. Starting with a management trainee program at General Electric, he ascended through the ranks, later contributing his expertise to renowned firms such as Touche Ross and Plante Moran. Bob’s indelible mark was made at Pulte Corporation, where his vision and dedication were instrumental in its expansion into a leading national home-building enterprise.

In retirement, Bob discovered a profound passion for philanthropy, particularly in the empowerment of young people. His work with the Boys and Girls Club of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, and the establishment of the Burgess Institute at his alma mater underscored his commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders. Bob’s philanthropic efforts ensured that countless students would have the resources and opportunities needed to achieve their dreams. 

Bob’s life was also rich in personal joys, especially those shared with his family and friends. An avid outdoorsman, he relished fishing, hunting and exploring the wilds of far-flung destinations. His love for music, leisurely walks with his dog Dewars and the occasional fine scotch, reflected the breadth of his interests and the depth of his character.

Bob’s enduring love story with his wife, Georgia, began along the banks of the Red Cedar, blossoming into 57 years of marriage. Together, they raised three sons, Michael, Brian and Kevin, who gave them seven beloved grandchildren: George, Aiden, Sophia, Ellie, Reagan, Connor and Elliot. Bob is also lovingly remembered by his brother, Don, and a vast circle of friends and colleagues. 

Bob Burgess lived a life marked by ambition, compassion and dedication to making a difference. His legacy will continue to inspire and influence — a testament to a life well-lived and a future forever brightened by his contributions.

A celebration of Bob’s life will be held in May in Phoenix, Arizona, for local friends, and in July in Birmingham, Michigan, for friends and extended family.

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