Bob Ambach had a big decision to make. He had gone to public schools his whole life. It was now time to enter 9th grade. His brother, who was a year and a half older than Bob, had been held back a grade because of a speech impediment, so most of his life Bob had been in the same classroom with him. The two looked alike and some people even thought the two were twins. Would the two stick together in high school or would they go their own way?
Bob, class of '84, decided to go La Salle and his brother went to Colerain. Bob never regretted the decision. Bob got into band, playing the trumpet. He became secretary-treasurer of the band, ending up the president by his senior year.
Bob also joined Key Club. The volunteer work he did at La Salle led him to volunteer in college and afterward, culminating in his tenure in the Peace Corps. Looking back on his career at La Salle, Bob commented, "My desire to volunteer certainly came from La Salle and I felt a strong sense of brotherhood. I think having an all-male school, unified and connected, working toward one goal and mission was important. Leadership in the band and the roles I played in the band carried with me. That was the first time I understood there were opportunities to lead student groups. In college I was in a business fraternity and held different officer and leadership positions. So besides the basic education, the leadership positions at La Salle were important as time went on."
After graduating La Salle, Bob went on to the University of Cincinnati where he majored in finance and real estate. His first job was at the University of Cincinnati as a student co-op in the budget office.
Before he graduated, he ended up transitioning to a full time position. He stayed in the position after graduation, working three years and then deciding to go in the Peace Corps.
When asked why he went into the Peace Corps he replied, "It was the right time and I thought there had to be more to life than just working at the University of Cincinnati. Also I went because of all the volunteer work I did at La Salle for the Key Club and at the business fraternity at UC. It seemed like an intriguing idea to go overseas and take on a different experience. I had never left my parents' house. It was a major transition to say at the age 23, 'I'm getting on a plane and going to Ghana in West Africa.'"
He told the Peace Corps that wherever they needed him he'd go, and they chose Ghana. Bob mentioned what he really liked about the Peace Corps, "There is a whole array of things you can do, be it teaching, water sanitation, or forestry programs. I chose a program that dealt with small enterprise development. I liked being able to do the Peace Corps and continue to do business-type activities. That was a nice fit."
Bob's parents were supportive but not thrilled with him leaving his University of Cincinnati job to work in a village in Ghana. They were very nervous about the unknown, as was Bob. He described his mother's attitude, "She was supportive, 'Do what you want to do as long as you know what you want to do.' "
Before he was sent to Ghana, Bob went through three months of training. He joined about 40 people from all over the United States. Bob described the experience, "You are still in that safe zone, but you are learning language and culture. In Ghana, English was the predominate language but there are 23 dialects, depending on where you are in the country. You may have to know one or more of them."
Bob arrived in Ghana alone. He said, "I can still remember that day. It was a Friday afternoon. They dropped me off at my site at this administrative office where I was going to work. It was a 3rd world country. There weren't many workers around. They said, 'Your Peace Corp volunteer is here.' They didn't expect me, so they started scrambling around to find a place for me. They dropped me off at a single room guesthouse and told me they would see me Monday. I thought what did I get myself into. I was sitting in a 10' by 10' room with a bed and a couch with nothing to do until Monday morning. It was one of those gut check moments. I said to myself, 'This is what you signed up for.' I ventured out going to the local bar and ended up meeting four individuals who became some of my best friends the whole time I was there."
When asked what his job was Bob said, "We worked for a United Nations project embedded inside Ghana's administrative offices. We would go out and try to identify any small-scale business, be it a blacksmith, a goldsmith, a hairdresser or a furniture maker. We would sit down with them under a tree or in their shop and try to do an assessment. We would then try to figure the cost of their raw materials and labor cost, where were they selling their products, and what were the issues they were facing. We would then put on a marketing, training and record-keeping program for them."
"A lot of it came down to literacy. They knew what they were doing in terms of producing and manufacturing there, but their literacy rate was low. They knew how to price things but they didn't know how much they were selling. You went to the store everyday since they didn't have refrigerators. We taught them to measure how much they were selling each day and were they charging enough to make a living."
When Bob would arrive in a village, most of the people would disappear. He couldn't figure out where they were going. They thought Bob's group was there as tax collectors, so Bob would have to seek out the village chief, sit down and drink a glass of palm wine, tell him why he was there and why they brought the white guy with them. The chief would then give him an idea of whom they could go and talk to.
In the two years, Bob probably met with over 200 small entrepreneurs. He had a meaningful impact on about 20 of them getting them some working capital loans.
Bob stayed about two and a half years. From time to time he finds himself missing his time there. He mentioned, "I would definitely like to get back there some day and take my wife and kids. It is on my bucket list. I'm still in contact with four of the people on my team who were from Ghana."
Bob concluded, "I would absolutely recommend the Peace Corps to other people. From my experience I truly learned that I can do whatever I set my mind to. It really gave me a lot of confidence. You just have to put that foot in front of the other foot and pursue what you want to do. You will have failures along the way, but all things are possible."
When Bob came back to the U.S. his goal was to go to graduate school. When he went back to UC to get transcripts sent off, he ran into an old boss who had been promoted to comptroller of the University while he was gone. It was November and she suggested that he would not be able to go to graduate school until next spring, so she offered him a job. Bob had been moving furniture at the time, so he jumped at the opportunity.
UC allowed Bob to design his own master's program. It was out of Political Science and connected to DAAP. It has become a Peace Corps international economic development program.
While at UC, Bob ended up working four or five jobs before being promoted to the University's Budget Director reporting to the Vice President for finance.
Bob worked at UC for seven years and then was recruited by a friend of his to take a job at Cal Poly. He became the associate director in charge of the foundation.
Bob said, "A lot of my confidence to take on difficult jobs came from the Peace Corps, my time at La Salle High School, and my mom. For a number of years she was a single mom with four boys. She was tough but supportive at the same time.
After three years, Bob was recruited back to the University of Cincinnati in 2004. UC was looking for a Chief Financial Officer [CFO] for the Medical School. Bob would be overseeing the finances for pharmacy, nursing, medicine, allied health as well as the physician practice. After three years in California, Bob had purchased a house and he had developed a circle of friends, making it a difficult decision to come back or stay.
Bob explained why he came back to UC, "To me, I think I have done all of these pieces and this appeared to be the final piece within higher education. Also, I was still pretty flexible because I was still single."
Bob was in his new position about six years. When University President Nancy Zimpher left to take a new job, Bob's predecessor Monica went with her. Before leaving, Monica recommended that Bob take over her job on an interim basis while a search was taking place. Six months later, Bob was chosen for the job of Senior Vice-President for Administration and Finance on a permanent basis.
In the corporate world he would be considered the Chief Operating Officer [COO]. He has something to do with anything non-academic, reporting directly to University President Ono. He has something to do with accounting, treasurer, budgeting and public safety. About 980 employees work under nine directors who work under Bob. Taking the CFO position proved to be a great decision. In August of 2012, Bob was recipient of the Cincinnati Business Courier CFO of the Year Award for a large non-profit company.
When asked how he likes the job that must carry with it a lot of stress, Bob replied, "It's fun. It can be frustrating at times as any job can be, but overall I love going to work everyday. I love the organization I get to work for. I went there and I spent most of my adult life at UC I believe in the mission - the transformational power of education. Getting a degree has the ability to change lives. Education is the key to a lot of things that ails our culture today. It is amazing the opportunities an education at La Salle has given many students. Their lives are completely different today than they would have been had they not gotten that education. I look at myself, I grew up in Cheviot to a single parent."
When asked why he has led such a successful life, Bob answered, "I believe I have been successful because I have had a good, quality education and my family installed in me a strong work ethic. Also people have taken an interest in me, exposing me to projects I would not have otherwise been exposed."
Bob is married with six-year old twins. With what little free time Bob has, he enjoys taking his family boating on Norris Lake.
Bob has changed a lot of lives for the better in his short time on earth and of that he can take great pride.