Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Ken Robertson (’94, ’09) Focuses on a Thriving Milwaukee

Ken Robertson

In a conversation with Kenneth Robertson (’94 BBA-Accounting, ’09 Executive MBA), the word “opportunity” is likely to pop up pretty frequently.

He proudly describes how he had the opportunity to “see the world” through six years with the U.S. Air Force, enjoy a great college experience at the Lubar College of Business, and then rise through interesting and challenging professional positions with multiple top companies.

Today, though, his focus is on ensuring opportunities for others.

Robertson is the Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Financial Officer, at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which is among the largest and oldest community foundations in the nation, comprised of 1,300 charitable funds that provide approximately $60 million in annual grants to support a thriving Milwaukee. Among his many responsibilities, Robertson manages the $1.1 billion in investment assets that the Foundation holds.

In his role, Robertson also serves as co-chair of the Thrive On Collaboration, a partnership between the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Royal Capital. The initiative is a key part of the Foundation’s vision of A Milwaukee for All, aimed at “mending the fault line of system racism that prevents individuals, families, and the region from reaching their full potential.”

Thrive On seeks to provide opportunity for city residents and businesses by making transformational investments into five priority areas – housing, early childhood education, health and wellness, social cohesion, and economic opportunity.

“There are certain communities in our city that have not gotten their equal shake from an investment perspective,” he adds. “What philanthropy can do — and why the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is leaning in here — is that we can provide the spark and then allow the natural forces of economics to take over.”

Robertson describes Thrive On’s renovation of the historic 450,000 square foot Gimbel’s/Schuster’s building on North Martin Luther King Drive as an aspirational opportunity to provide a “place-based” presence in the heart of the community.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation itself will relocate its headquarters to the building in early 2024.

“It was our desire to move into the community and allow the community to inform our overall work, as well as transform how we think about our work,” Robertson says.

The Medical College will also occupy several floors with some of its community-facing departments that are currently located at its suburban campus. There will also be an early childhood education center, a workforce development and education component, mixed income housing, 55+ housing, and other amenities.

“For me, this project has just been so rewarding,” he says. “I think it’s such a blessing for the city of Milwaukee, and hopefully serves as a template for what is possible in other areas of the city.”

Prior to joining the Greater Milwaukee Foundation in 2015, Robertson spent eight years at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, where he served as vice president and CFO. His professional career has also included financial roles with Price Waterhouse LLP, GE Medical Systems, MillerCoors, Briggs & Stratton, as well as the IRS. 

He currently serves on the Business Advisory Council of UWM’s Lubar College of Business.