Jim Hart’s incredible rise in the business world was not by accident. His team-oriented focus and relentless work ethic developed and refined while wrestling at the University of Pittsburgh instilled a core belief in him that failure would not be an option. He carried this blue collar drive with him through graduate school, also at Pitt, and into his career which has been nothing but successful.
Jim is currently the President of the Burwood Group, a Chicago-based technology consulting and integration company. The Burwood Group employees 250 individuals across seven offices in the United States. Their main focus is on “helping companies get the most out of investments they make, whether or not it’s in infrastructure technology like cloud computing or security networking, and help businesses get value out of their contact center with analytics technologies,” Hart expalined. He has been President for 20 years.
A Plum native, Jim was the first member of his family to attend college. A talented high school wrestler, Jim was a two-time section champion, and placed at many highly regarded tournaments. He was also a member of the Pennsylvania National Freestyle team which competed at the University of Northern Iowa (now held in Fargo, ND). Other members of that team included NCAA and Olympic Champion Kurt Angle, and three-time All American and Edinboro’s first ever Division I NCAA champion Sean O’Day.
Wanting to purse a degree in engineering and to wrestle at the next level, Pitt was it for Hart. “Primarily academics, but wrestling too. At the time I was going there I thought there was an opportunity to get a decent shot at starting, but also just the reputation the team had built under Rande Stottlemyer… It was mostly education oriented, I was interested in the good engineering school.” Jim eventually changed his major from engineering and graduated with a BS in Computer and Information Sciences in 1989, and a MS in Telecommunications in 1991. While an undergraduate athlete he was fortunate to be teammates with some of Pitt’s most decorated wrestling alumni, Scott Hovan and Pat Santoro.
When asked what is was like training with Santoro every day, Jim responded quickly, “humbling.” Expanding, “Pat is just a great guy… We were all incredibly hard workers… the thing that stood out with Pat was his character… you can see that today with the kids he produces out of the Lehigh program. He gave me a really good perspective on what it took to be the best of the best. That and the combination of not just goal setting, but having a winning mindset. You get a good sense of reality when you get in the room with someone at that level.” Jim and Pat both wrestled at 142 pounds.
Of course gaining first hand witness to a champion’s habits and discipline are useful for anyone in any walk of life. But it wasn’t just getting to practice with Santoro that instilled this practical and resourceful lifestyle. It was his experience at Pitt as a whole.
Jim switched his major to computer sciences after a conversation with his advisor, and credits Pitt’s “innovative culture” and the personal relationships he had with professors as important influences for his achievements today.
As mentioned, Jim grew up in Plum which was comparatively rural, and the unstoppable cycle of Oakland’s hustle and bustle was a stark change of scenery. It was a good change though: “The combination of being in what I thought was a big city (growing up in Plum), having more exposure to an urban environment, access to broaden [my] horizons culturally with the museums, and music and art venues, international students… it was an integrated experience.” Jim’s father was a janitor, and his mother a secretary. “Combining that with traditional Pittsburgh working class roots gave me more exposure to a diverse student base.”
Pitt has always been on the cutting edge of research in many fields. At the time, one of Jim’s professors developed a completely new networking technology, the first of its kind. This environment of innovation allowed Jim to realize nothing was impossible.
Dan Gable famously said, “Once you wrestle, everything else in life is easy.” For Jim, the highly focused work ethic and dedication to self-improvement he developed wrestling at Pitt have had an enormous impact on his professional accomplishments.
“You had to earn your way into the room every day. We used to have these drills that we would do; you would never want to be the guy that was ‘slacking’ because the coaches called you out because they wanted to push you harder. At the end of the day, it’s a very individualistic sport in a sense that you own your own success, your own failure, but the team work and the camaraderie and the way everybody pushes everybody to be better… the more I push somebody to be better, the more it’s going to challenge me to be better. We had a very strong team culture.”
But it’s not all work. Jim also learned some important life skills from his coach, Rande Stottlemyer. “Pretty amazing guy. Obviously an exceptional competitor, but the humility and character… he didn’t have to say much for you to understand where he was coming from.” It’s probably fair to say coach Stottlemyer’s temperament influenced Jim to also want to take young adults and direct them in a positive way.
Jim is directly involved in several charities. He is a longtime Board Member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, and has developed partnerships with Genesys Works, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Feed My Starving Children, American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, and Project Linus. He has helped create Burwood Cares, the companies outreach for social responsibility.
“What drew me to those is being able to pay it forward and provide opportunities and insights for kids to realize what career opportunities are ahead of them. [Boys & Girls and Genesys Works] are very focused on creating a strong set of programs that produce tremendous results as it relates to keeping kids in school, giving them strong mentoring, great role models, and those pathways to higher education and jobs; a ‘step-up, not a hand-out.’”
Jim is still tangentially involved in Pitt wrestling today, primarily via raising funds for the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club with his old roommate Mike Tongel, a member of the Board of Directors.
Although it has been several decades since Jim competed in collegiate wrestling, he still carries that team-oriented, yet individualistic focus with him, and has woven it in the fabric of Burwood’s philosophy. There are countless stories of NFL players and other business leaders who credit their wrestling background for instilling in them the proper life skills to succeed. For Jim, it was a combination of this, as well as studying under industry leading professors that have propelled him to the top of his field. And it all happened at Pitt: “The campus experience was just fantastic overall… educationally, I can’t say enough.”