John G Kulhavi

John G. Kulhavi

Soldiering On: John G. Kulhavi

REP.’s 33rd Annual Advisors with Heart Awards

Firm: Merrill Lynch
City: Farmington Hills, Mich.

Age: 70
Years as an advisor: 44
Years with current firm: 40
AUM: $982 million


John G. Kulhavi probably wouldn’t call himself a hero. But it’s hard not to think of that word when noting Kulhavi’s accomplishments as a decorated Vietnam War veteran and generous donor and volunteer for charitable causes.

Kulhavi was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and for his service there and elsewhere he earned a Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart, among other awards. Although he shies away from telling war stories, he says the one mission, out of the more than 300 he flew, which he feels the best about was a rescue mission he made to Cambodia. Five soldiers were being held prisoner behind enemy lines in Cambodia after the rest of their patrol was executed. The mission was successful—the five soldiers’ lives were saved—and Kulhavi says that’s important despite the significant risks of the operation. “You couldn’t really order anyone to go into combat if they believed that, if they were captured, no attempt would be made to retrieve them,” he says.

Today, he supports members of the military and veterans through a variety of nonprofits. In the last year, for example, Kulhavi delivered numerous speeches on behalf of Mikie’s Minutes, an organization that raises money to provide phone cards for members of the military. He was also recently the keynote speaker for a fundraiser for Homes For Our Troops, which purchases and refurbishes homes to donate to handicapped veterans.

In addition to his military-related causes, Kulhavi is a devoted supporter of his alma mater, Central Michigan University. He is a past chairman of the board of trustees for the University, and is currently tasked with raising $2.8 million to renovate the school’s events center. He sponsors multiple scholarships and projects at the University, and endows a Chair of Neuroscience position.

Kulhavi estimates he spends more than 600 hours per year giving speeches and serving on the various nonprofit and civil service boards on which he sits. For example, he currently sits on the board of directors of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. Yet he is just as generous with his financial commitments. Kulhavi says he donates a minimum of $100,000 to charitable causes each year.

“Most of us had some help along the way,” Kulhavi says. “One thing I wish I could accomplish is to encourage anyone who has achieved any measure of success to give back. It would make us a better country.”

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