Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Leadership Conference

The Honorable Joe Kernan


Joe Kernan’s lifetime commitment to service continues today as he fulfills numerous roles as a business executive, community leader, lecturer, consultant, and former governor. Kernan is the President and owner of South Bend Enterprises, Inc., a community and business development consulting firm. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches Public Policy and the Executive Branch. And he is the Managing Investor and President of the South Bend Silverhawks, the Single A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Kernan, a native of Chicago, graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. A catcher for the Fighting Irish, he graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1968 with a degree in government. Kernan returned to Notre Dame 30 years later as the Commencement speaker for the Class of 1998, where he was also awarded an honorary doctorate. In 1969, Kernan entered the U.S. Navy and served as a Naval Flight Officer aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. In May 1972, he was shot down over North Vietnam and was held as a prisoner of war. Kernan was repatriated in 1973 and continued on active duty until December 1974. Kernan’s military awards include the Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Hearts, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After leaving the Navy, Kernan spent several years as a business manager and executive at various South Bend companies, in addition to a four year term as City Controller for South Bend. In 1987, Kernan was elected Mayor of South Bend, and re-elected in 1991 and again in 1995. He is credited with investing in long-term job creation efforts, improving public safety, and strengthening the city’s financial standing.

In 1996, Kernan was elected Lt. Governor of Indiana on the same ticket as Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Both were re-elected in 2000. As Lt. Governor, he played a central role in strengthening Indiana’s business climate, leading efforts to attract new and expanding businesses, building the research and technology sector, and protecting homeowners and businesses by restructuring Indiana’s tax system.

Joe Kernan was sworn in as Indiana’s 48th governor on September 13, 2003, immediately following the death of Gov. O’Bannon. Amid a tragic transition and ongoing recession, Kernan provided strong leadership, initiating critical efforts to get Indiana’s economy back on track, including strengthening job training for workers and promoting Hoosier businesses, realigning Indiana’s education system, bolstering early learning opportunities, expanding veterans’ assistance, and developing the most sweeping government reform proposals in more than 30 years. Governing Magazine rewarded these efforts by naming Indiana the most competitive business climate of any state in the country.

Kernan and Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randall T. Shepard served as Co-Chairs of the bipartisan Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform in 2007, which recommended steps for leaner, more efficient government. Kernan has also been a featured speaker at various panels, conferences, and symposia. His volunteer activities range from umpiring Little League games to overseeing the development of the State of Indiana’s Vietnam and Korean War memorials. Other affiliations include United Way, Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Club, Notre Dame Monogram Club, Kroc Community Center Campaign, and St. Joseph County Community Foundation.

go to Top