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Oct 26, 2018 2018-10 Excellence Giving Stories

Following His Heart

“I’ve made an impact.”

Petullo family giving back every way they can

Tony Petullo has always felt a calling to serve.

He served three years as an officer in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Illinois with a BS in marketing in 1961. Once he became established as an entrepreneur in Milwaukee, he quickly got involved in civic affairs and became one of the area’s most generous philanthropists.

Petullo spent five years with Mobil Corporation before founding Olsten Staffing Services of Milwaukee, one of the largest and most successful temporary staffing agencies in Wisconsin. He served as both president and CEO. Soon, though, he looked back at his time at the University of Illinois, and he realized he needed to re-connect.

“The more I got involved, the more I realized how tough it is for kids to make it through financially,” said Petullo. “If they don’t have strong family financial support and they don’t have scholarships, it’s almost impossible to make it.”

Supporting scholarships to open doors for less fortunate

Petullo has provided generous financial support to Illinois for many years, including an estate bequest to support scholarships at Gies College of Business and a pledge to make annual lifetime gifts for current scholarships. His giving helps support 25 Petullo Scholarships for a diverse group of high-achieving students from across Illinois. His generosity also supports the Anthony Petullo Professor of Business Administration, a position held by Dr. Cele Otnes since 2017. With all he has done financially, he still says some of his best moments are when he gets to spend time with students.

“Working with the students has been one of the most fun – and most challenging – things I’ve done in my life,” he said. “Sometimes after a session, they’ll say, ‘Can I have your notes?’ or ‘Can I call you later?’ That means I’ve made an impact.”

That impact can be felt throughout campus. Not only does Petullo support Gies College of Business, but he also gives toward many other campus initiatives such as Illinois Promise and the Illinois Leadership Center. Petullo also has a passion for art and has shared his renowned, vast collection with the Krannert Art Museum.

Encouraging others to follow their heart

Petullo is passionate about a wide variety of topics; many center around serving his community. He has been a trustee and long-time member of the exhibitions committee of the Milwaukee Art Museum, where he has gifted more than 300 pieces of art. In 2001, he was named Milwaukee Art Museum Friend of the Year. In addition to serving as an active member of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, Petullo is also a former director of the Donor’s Forum of Wisconsin, United Performing Arts Fund in Milwaukee, and Milwaukee Ballet Company.

“I think people should do where their heart is and where they feel they can do the most good,” said Petullo, who also holds an honorary Doctorate from the Milwaukee Institute of Art. “For lots of people maybe that’s their church or synagogue, maybe it’s a favorite charity in their hometown. But the University really should be up there.”

The University of Illinois and Gies College of Business are still close to Petullo’s heart. He is a UIAA Illinois Connection Advocate, a Foundation member, and a member of the Art Advisory Council at the University of Illinois-Springfield. From 2005-2007, he was a member of the Chancellor’s Advancement Cabinet in Urbana. During Campaign Illinois, he was an advocate and served on the post-campaign assessment committee. He often makes trips back to campus to speak with students, and he is proud to do everything he can to help Gies College of Business achieve its goals.

“Every faculty member I’ve worked with and every administrator is top notch,” Petullo said. “This is a great business school.”