Paul Rizzo, former IBM executive and UNC business dean, dies

Paul Rizzo (66) with Charlie Justice (22) when they both played for the University Tar Heels in the Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2, 1950.
Paul Rizzo (66) with Charlie Justice (22) when they both played for the University Tar Heels in the Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2, 1950. Hugh Morton Collection, UNC LIbraries

Paul Rizzo, former IBM executive and dean at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, died Thursday at the age of 89.

Rizzo was a successful businessman before and after his five-year stint as Kenan-Flagler dean from 1987 to 1992. He had a long career at IBM, where he was a senior vice president and eventually vice chairman of the board. After his deanship, he was a partner at the Chapel Hill investment firm Franklin Street Partners, where he was chairman.

He was closely tied to the university, where he served on the boards of the UNC Health Care System, the UNC Board of Visitors, the UNC Board of Governors and the athletic booster club, known as the Educational Foundation. He also became a benefactor of UNC, where Kenan-Flagler’s executive education conference center bears his name.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt issued a statement Friday praising Rizzo.

“Paul Rizzo was an exemplary Carolina alumnus who embodied the ideals and spirit of the University,” the statement said. “After a successful career as Vice Chair of IBM, rather than retire, he chose to return to his alma mater to serve Carolina as a visionary leader of Kenan Flagler. He was wise, candid and pragmatic, and was loyal to his teammates, friends and alma mater. He earned the respect of all who knew him, and he will be warmly remembered.”

Having reached IBM’s mandatory retirement age, Rizzo was on a flight to Japan in 1987 when Richard Jenrette, a UNC trustee, asked him to apply for the dean’s job at his alma mater, where he had earned a degree in accounting. Rizzo was chosen for the position despite the fact that he had no advanced degree and no higher education experience.

As dean, Rizzo presided over an era of growth, and he insisted that UNC compete with the best business schools in the country. He planned for a new building, boosted the MBA program and advocated for an executive education program that rose in stature.

“He just was a really strong leader,” said Paul Fulton, who followed Rizzo as dean. “He inspired people. I think people liked to work with him. ... Without a doubt, he put Kenan-Flagler on the map – just his presence.”

Fulton said Rizzo was so successful, he was called back after retirement to help IBM when the company stumbled.

Paul Joseph Rizzo was born Jan. 4, 1928, in Utica, N.Y., and graduated from Clinton High School. He was initially recruited by coach Carl Snavely to play football at Cornell University. When Snavely moved to UNC in 1945, Rizzo followed and would end up on the same team as Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice. In the 1950 Cotton Bowl, Rizzo scored twice against Rice University late in the game, preventing a shutout for the Tar Heels.

Rizzo served on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards, including Ryder Systems Inc., Fairfield University, Hollins University, BTI Telecom Corp., Xanthon Inc., Pharmaceutical Product Development, Cox Enterprises, McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc., RTI International, The Maersk Co. Ltd., Johnson & Johnson, Morgan Stanley and Pozen Inc.

In 1994, he received UNC’s William Richardson Davie Award and the UNC General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Medal. He later was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at UNC for his accomplishments in business, higher education administration and philanthropy.

Rizzo was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Sidna, as well as his sister, Genevieve Mills. He is survived by his children David (Robin), Ann Bingham (Joe) and Beverley Cook (Mark); his grandchildren, Paul Rizzo, Sam Rizzo, Mary Bingham, Stephen Bingham, Hunter Cook and Matthew Webb; his sister, Marguerite Stewart; his brother, Donald Rizzo (Diane); his brothers-in-law Sam Reefe and Don Mills; and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. March 16 at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center or the James Spurling Football Scholarship Fund at UNC.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill