As a child, Bill’s peers dreamed of becoming cowboys, astronauts and racecar drivers, but Burke said he was always interested in becoming a businessman. He got his start with a paper route at age 10. In frigid Iowa winters, he threw the papers from his bike, not from a heated car driven by his parents, as has become the habit of paperboys these days.
“I learned responsibility, the rewards of hard work and how a small patch of ice can change everything about your day,” he recalls.
As a student at Iowa State University, his areas of concentration were marketing, logistics and management. After graduating, he had promising opportunities with National Cash Register, Maytag, Arthur Anderson and Burke. He chose Burke.
“I’m not saying it was predestined that I work for the company, but it certainly was a good choice, especially considering the current states of the other three companies,” he said. “At Burke, we’ve been very fortunate to survive in a changing world, while the others have not fared as well.”
“The [Burke] company is not a one-man band and hasn’t been since my father was the only employee,” Burke said. “The name on the door is Burke, but the culture is made up of every employee in the company. The culture evolves with every person who joins us and every person who leaves. It’s that collection of people that makes our company unique.”
Burke said he’s always tried to hire people smarter than he is. “I like it when people know the business end of a shovel. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach integrity. I look for strength of character, insights, diagnostic ability, honesty and a good sense of themselves,” he said. “But character is number one.”
He says he is most proud of the growth and development of the people in the company. “Burke’s success has rested in the hands of each employee since the day they joined,” he said. “Our customers have more people here thinking about their business than with any other company.”
After passing the torch, Burke said he will be doing three things: “First, I’m going to apologize and make up to my family for decades of never unplugging from business. Time at home or on vacation didn’t sever the cord. Second, I’ll concentrate on catching up on business investments and social connections. Third, I’ll continue support of several key philanthropic concerns.”
He is confident he is leaving the company with strong leadership and a new president who will be a good addition to a solid team. “The path is set,” he said. “We need to continue to touch our customers and support them with our best.”