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Advancement News

‘What do we love about the university?’

Posted Apr. 12, 2011

Elizabeth Brumbaugh and Greg HackettA conversation with husband-and-wife alumni Beth Brumbaugh, ’79, and Greg Hackett, ’75, reveals a deep and playful relationship that began when they were work colleagues more than two decades ago, and only later blossomed into romance. 

In one moment, she reminds him about the ’70s campus culture of streaking; in the next, he teases that her intense college experience was “no fun.” She confesses that she selected Kent State for its highly ranked journalism program and because she was interested in a boy here. He on the other hand, admits attending was a compromise between his wish to join the Air Force and his father’s insistence that he pursue a degree.

Both are effusive in their admiration for Kent State — but that wasn’t always the case.

“Greg has always loved Kent State,” Brumbaugh says. “It was always very near and dear to his heart. Whereas my love for it waned after graduation. I felt the value of a Kent State degree had gone downhill. But what I think Dr. [Lester] Lefton has brought to the party has raised the value.”

Hackett and Brumbaugh didn’t cross paths at the university. That changed in the late ’80s when they were both employed at Booz Allen; he in management consulting, she in marketing. Their work relationship was strong — “he listened, which was different from other people,” she says — but eventually he left to form his own firm: The Hackett Group.

“It was always a little fantasy of mine if he ever got big enough and needed a marketing director, he’d ask me to come over,” Brumbaugh says. “And he did.”

Joining as vice president, she helped Hackett develop a worldwide reputation for the company.

“We built it to the point that we had the largest database of knowledge-worker best practices in the world,” he says. “More than 1,200 clients on every continent, including Antarctica.”

By 1997, the firm was successful enough that Hackett sold it, allowing him to retire at age 45. But rather than resting on their laurels, the pair formed a new firm, MergerShop. They were married in 2004. Hackett also returned to Kent State as the Goodyear Executive Professor. For three years, he brought new ideas to the Exploring Business class, challenging students to think as they would in the real word and rewarding them with a “salary,” rather than a grade.

“Everyone said the kids today aren’t like they were,” Hackett says. “And the answer is: You’re right. They’re a lot further along than I was at that time. I was encouraged about their future.”

Reconnecting to the university brought the Centennial Campaign to their attention, and led to a discussion about how they could become involved.

“I love Kent State. It gave me a foundation and a start,” Hackett says. “So why not contribute back? We sat down and asked: What do we love about the university?”

The first answer was obvious: Porthouse Theatre, the summer home for the School of Theatre and Dance, where the couple often brings friends for an evening at one of the “gems of Northeast Ohio.” Their campaign gift is building a new entertainment pavilion, which will debut this summer.

The remainder of the $100,000 gift will support the construction of the health communications suite in the College of Communication and Information.

“Health care is one of the real economic engines of Northeast Ohio,” Brumbaugh says. “It can be world-class and exported to help shore up the economy of the region. This positions Kent State to be leading the discussion on health communications worldwide.”

This story originally appeared in the summer 2011 issue of the Kent State Magazine.