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A Vision for Business

by Megan Stock Tuesday, June 23, 2020
David Walsh

“For people with a passion for entrepreneurship, there is nothing more important than understanding the facts, recognizing the circumstances, and measuring success through the lens of the truth,” says David Walsh (BBA ‘65), Weinert Center Advisory Board Member. David has a long relationship with the University. He was chair of the Alumni Advisory Board of the Business School, served on the UW System Board of Regents for 13 years, two years as President and in 1997 received the Distinguished Business Alumni Award.

David received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1970. He practiced law with Foley & Lardner where he spent over 40 years representing communication entities, litigating and handling M&A transactions. He served as the managing partner of the Madison office and as the chair of the Firm’s Finance Committee. At the same time he was a founding participant of the cable television industry, building out most of Wisconsin, was a minority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and was heavily engaged in entrepreneurial activities including as a founder and investor in many start-ups.

David has clear feelings about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.  He believes “nothing gets done unless people see a reward, it can be intrinsic, subjective or monetary but, in the end, to be a successful entrepreneur is in itself one of the purest, most natural rewards.” However, he is careful to note “it is not a smooth road, there will be unforeseen headwinds, there will be dynamics out of your control and, of course, there will be failures”.  He reminds us, “failure is a learning experience and so long as one understands why [the facts] and truthfully accepts why failure happened, he or she will learn and gain credibility for the next opportunity.”

David, laughingly recalls, his many failures and admits he was often overconfident or did not accept the reality that perhaps the science behind his ideas was not strong enough or that his game plan was simply not realistic. It is at that point, according to David, when you have to be truthful with yourself as to why you failed and learn from the experience. And, David notes, “the hardest truth to accept is that it may have never been a good idea from the start or even with some that start with good science, they failed because they refused to listen to others that have been there before.” To that end, David reminds us, there are really good people in this community that you can learn from starting with the professors and instructors at the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship and the many mentors it brings to the table.  

“Having a good idea or for that matter, even having great science isn’t enough unless you really understand what it takes to monetize your science and that means the necessary capital to confront the headwinds, survive the dynamics you can’t control, and learn from your mistakes.” Further, David suggests, “to raise that capital you need credibility which in turn is established by being truthful to yourself about your goals.” Finally, David strongly believes that “one should never invest more than one cannot afford to lose, make sure you have a fallback at all times so that you can recover from your decisions.” And, the corollary to that is “it is important not to let the reward cloud your consciousness, because in making those decisions, you must not be blind to the reality of the facts.”

David Walsh and Family
David and family with Alice McPherson, founder of the McPherson Eye Research Institute

David retired from Foley & Lardner in 2012 but he retains an office and staff to allow him to pursue other goals which have given him another perspective on entrepreneurship. He continued on as Chair of UW Hospitals and Clinics where he promoted sponsorship of medical research, particularly vision research. In that role, he has chaired the McPherson Eye Research Institute and has worked closely with Doctor David Gamm, a world class researcher focusing on stem cell research and treatments for inherited and acquired degenerative diseases of the retina. His motivation is two-fold. First, he believes in the Wisconsin Idea that the boundaries of the University are not just the boundaries of the state but also all boundaries and the University has an obligation to share its knowledge with everyone. Second, it is personal, his two sons have a recessive genetic condition that causes irreversible vision loss. David is motivated to improve our collective quality of life and reduce inequalities through innovative therapies for vision loss. “It isn’t about the monetization of science, rather it is the spreading of knowledge so that passionate entrepreneurs can make a difference whether or not there is a profit motive.” In that sense, David clearly believes in the importance of supporting, funding and promoting the University of Wisconsin-Madison so it can create knowledge for knowledge and the truth’s sake.