Burwood Group President Jim Hart defined by Pittsburgh’s blue-collar work ethic, wrestling roots
Pittsburgh’s blue-collar roots have never left Burwood Group President Jim Hart.
Hart, the youngest of five siblings, was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. The Pittsburgh native earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh while working his way to a partial athletic scholarship as a member of the Panthers wrestling team at 142 pounds.
“It came down to drive, self-confidence and persistence,” said Hart, who has been President of Chicago-based Burwood Group – an IT consulting and integration firm with 250 employees and seven U.S. offices – for the last 20 years. “I have the same mindset at Burwood, where we are always focused on winning and striving to be the “best”. We hire the best and brightest people who are goal-driven as individuals yet want to excel as a team.”
Hart’s father sold cleaning and janitorial supplies, his mother was a homemaker and secretary. But Hart was always interested in science and technology and originally wanted to be a civil engineer. He said wrestling – he was a standout at Plum High School in Pittsburgh – helped give him the drive to consider attending college.
His parents divorced at the start of his freshman year at Pitt, and Hart almost dropped out after his family had to move into his grandmother’s house. He was also at a cross-roads academically when a Pitt college counselor suggested he take computer and information science courses. It was a turning point and a defining moment that set him on the path to his current role. “Had I not gone to that counselor I am not sure I would have completed my degree and who knows where I would be now.”
He said the classes re-energized him and eventually led him to enroll in the school’s new master’s program in telecommunications. A mentoring professor, Leon Montgomery, was a key cog in Hart’s decision to earn his master’s. Dr. Richard Thompson and Ken Sochats further guided him during his time in the program.
“Each of them went out of his way to be available to help me and other students at any time of the day,” Hart said.
Hart believes in paying it forward at Burwood. Hart, who has lived in La Grange, Illinois, for almost 15 years, is a longtime Board Member at Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. He helped create Burwood Cares – the company’s vision for social responsibility – this year in support of BGCC’s ongoing fundraising campaigns.
“What motivates and inspires me is to see what these kids have gone through,” Hart said. “They don’t become victims of circumstance but rather see the opportunity and have the mindset they can do anything. The Boys & Girls Clubs helps provide them a safe haven after school and on the weekend along with valuable resources and life-changing mentors.”
Burwood also has developed partnerships with the 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.
“It's important to us to find or create ways to have a direct impact on our communities because we depend on them as much as they depend on us,” Hart said.
Hart has more than 20 years of experience in technology consulting and leadership. He joined Burwood Group in 1998 to lead the company’s go-to-market strategy and business development efforts. He currently oversees Burwood’s client-facing functions including advisory services, technology consulting and business strategy.
“The key to success is hiring great people who in turn challenge and inspire us to be better every day,” Hart said. A trait that was core to the culture at Pitt where he wrestled behind four-time All-America and current Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “Pat rewrote the record books at Pitt with his relentless drive to be the best while challenging others around him to the be better every day. In turn he was challenging himself by raising the bar for others. Everyone on the team had that mentality. Talk is cheap when you are on the mat. All that matters is the result. You either win or lose and ties are equal to losing.”
He is still involved with Pitt wrestling getting the call from his former roommate and teammate, Mike Tongel, a few years ago to help raise funds for the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club, used by Pitt and other top wrestlers during the non-college season.
Hart, who is married with three daughters – from college freshman to seventh-grader – never expected to run a company from his humble beginnings.
“I couldn’t have imagined this in my wildest dreams,” Hart said. “If I can pass the lessons I’ve learned on to the next person or help them, then hopefully the world will be a better place for it.”