Note: This article is adapted from a report in BU Today. WBUR is owned by Boston University.
BOSTON — It all started with tuition remission. In August 1973, Joseph Mercurio was a determined undergraduate business student at Suffolk University, struggling to come up with the next semester’s tuition.
“Someone told me if I could get a job at BU, I could get free tuition,” he recalls. “So I did. I took the job to get tuition remission to get my degree and get out into the commercial world.”
Now, 38 years later, the man who planned and directed the largest expansion of the Boston University campus is still eager to get out into the commercial world. Only this time, he’s going to do it. Joseph P. Mercurio, executive vice president of BU for the past 16 years, will leave his post on July 1 to launch what he calls his “third chapter” and “form a new business enterprise.”
In a letter sent to University leadership Friday, President Robert A. Brown describes Mercurio (MET’81) as “an icon for the effective management of Boston University” and urges the BU community to thank him for “his incredible role” and wish him well.
“Joe is legendary for his ability to grasp the complexity of Boston University and guide effective decisions in so many facets of what we do,” Brown writes. “No individual has played a larger role in creating a collegial environment for all of us who have the privilege of working at BU.”
Brown says Mercurio’s expert mentoring of senior staff has cultivated “a host of talented individuals in leadership ranks,” and that after meeting with University leaders, he would propose a reorganization of the senior administrative structure that would not directly replace the executive vice president, and prepare for the transition.
In the years since his first job as an associate budget director allowed him to take classes at no cost, Mercurio has seen the annual budget at BU grow from $89 million to $2 billion, and he has directed over nine million square feet of development, valued at more than $2 billion. After serving for four years as an associate budget director, Mercurio was assistant vice president and comptroller, vice president for business affairs, senior vice president, and since 1995, executive vice president. In that role, he has led the University’s senior management team and directed all nonacademic programs and service and support activities, as well as business functions and commercial activities. He has overseen the expansion of the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus and has guided efforts that pushed BU’s endowment above $1 billion for the first time. He leaves behind a reputation as an extraordinarily fair-minded and supportive leader of many in the BU community and as someone whose sense of purpose united the business and educational missions of the University.
Mercurio is deeply grateful to the four presidents he has worked with. “John Silber inspired me and allowed me to grow professionally,” he says. “He allowed me to take on greater responsibilities and taught me not to be afraid to make mistakes (although when I made mistakes, he would always let me know). Jon Westling encouraged me to probe new areas for the benefit of Boston University. Aram Chobanian taught me about bringing people together during difficult times. Working with Bob Brown, I have found new and innovative ways to support the academic mission of BU, and I’ve continued to learn meaningful principles and values of university leadership. They have all been supportive, and I’m proud to say they are all my friends as well.”
“I have developed deep friendships within every segment of the community,” he says. “That includes custodians, plumbers, electricians, faculty, staff, administrators, and so many students whom I have had the pleasure of knowing. As a graduate of BU, with four children who have also attended BU, I feel very blessed to have been able to share the amazing Boston University experience with all of the friends I’ve made over the years and with my family as well. My beautiful wife, Toni, and I met at Boston University, so how can you top that? It has truly been my home.”
David Campbell, University provost from September 2005 to December 2010 and now a College of Engineering professor, says he always valued Mercurio’s understanding of both the business and the academic mission and his ability to meld them.
“Joe understood deeply the academic goals and aspirations of our faculty, staff, and students and worked tirelessly to build and lead the infrastructure that enabled our academic enterprise to flourish,” says Campbell. “As University provost, one of my greatest pleasures was working with Joe and watching his steady hand, insightful judgment, and superb planning guide the University’s administrative and auxiliary efforts through some very challenging times. I will miss his wonderful wit and wisdom.”
Robert Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75), a 13-year trustee and current chair of the Board of Trustees, calls Mercurio a legendary executive and a treasure.
“Joe is my favorite person,” he says. “I was a junior at BU in 1973, the year Joe started, and he has been affiliated with the school all that time. It is significant that in all those years BU has never had a loss, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Joe. There is not a comparable university that is as well run. He is exactly what any trustee would want in the administration, and one of the reasons BU has so much depth of talent is that a lot of people were hired by, and mentored by, Joe.”
Peter Smokowski, associate vice president for administration, has praise for Mercurio’s ability to envision enhancements and to find the resources to create them. “During Joe’s tenure,” he says, “there have been literally hundreds of significant projects, including the development and construction of new state-of-the-art academic and research buildings, new and renovated dining facilities, the campus bookstore, and new residence halls. Joe was responsible for the planning, construction, and operation of the new John Hancock Student Village, which opened in 2005. He has proven time and time again that he is an innovative thinker and inspiring mentor. His impact on Boston University has been remarkable.”
Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services, says Mercurio has been not just a boss, but a friend as well, a person he could talk to about any problem, professional or personal.
“He has been a personal mentor to me,” says Fiedler, who has worked with Mercurio since 1999. “He taught me more than anyone else about how to do proper business, how to work effectively in a large institution like Boston University, how to build relationships, and how to present the University in the best light. He has incredible integrity and is incredibly fair. I consider it a gift to have worked with him.”
This program aired on February 28, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.