At its 28th annual Business Leadership Celebration, November 14 at the Westin Seattle, the UW Foster School of Business examined multiple facets of leadership and honored a pair of extraordinary local leaders of iconic Seattle companies: Shelley Reynolds of Amazon and Brad Tilden of Alaska Air Group.
Of course, Foster itself is under new leadership in Frank Hodge, the Orin and Janet Smith Endowed Dean.
“We truly believe you are the right leader to galvanize everybody to take this school to the next level,” remarked Annie Young-Scrivner (BA 1991), the CEO of Godiva Chocolatier and chair of the Foster School Advisory Board, in introducing the school’s new top Dawg.
Hodge opened the proceedings by discussing his active transition into the deanship, which has taken him across the university and around the world on an extended “listening tour” of students, faculty, staff, alumni, supporters and advisors.
He shared two symbolic gifts that he received upon becoming the school’s 14th leader in July, items that greet him each morning in the dean’s office. One is a vintage 1880 coin. The other is a globe that perpetually rotates according to the Earth’s gravitational pull.
“The coin is such a meaningful symbol because I believe you have to understand the history and context of the institution you are leading if you’re going to make meaningful change,” Hodge said. “And the spinning globe reminds me that we have to be innovative in order to be relevant tomorrow. The world will not wait.”
He also mentioned a particular role model who exemplified this same philosophy: Abraham Lincoln. Hodge said he admired the nation’s 16th president for his unwavering commitment to researching a topic deeply and considering every perspective—he of the “Team of Rivals” cabinet—before trying to convince people to change their behaviors.
“I have great respect for Abraham Lincoln,” Hodge said. “Actually, I think he would have made a great faculty member of the Foster School.”
Facets of Leadership
A quintet of that faculty’s most-decorated members delivered TED-style talks to the 600+ in attendance on different “Facets of Leadership.”
Charles Hill, the illustrious professor of management and organization, spoke on emergent leadership, recounting the origin story of masking tape, which was developed as a happy accident in the 1920s by a young lab assistant at 3M as he failed to develop a stronger adhesive for sandpaper. A skeptical executive eventually championed this new product, and the pair created an innovation-fostering culture that has made 3M one of the most successful firms in the world. “One of the crucial jobs of leaders,” Hill said, “is to establish the content which allows other people within an organization to fulfill their potential.”
Crystal Farh, an associate professor of management and Michael G. Foster Endowed Fellow, challenged assumptions on team leadership. Citing an experiment she and her colleagues ran on Foster student teams, she suggested that some of the most successful teams are the ones that accomplish the most above expecations. This occurs—even in teams of average ability—when leaders empower their teammates. “In effective teams,” Farh said, “everyone has a voice, everyone has ownership.”
Bruce Avolio, the Mark Pigott Chair in Business Strategic Leadership, viewed authentic leadership through the examples of a proactive Alaska Airlines flight attendant, a group of Foster MBAs, and a prison warden who helped innumerable inmates turn their lives around simply by offering respect. “They’re here because they failed at so many things, including crime,” this warden told him. “What I do is give them dignity and respect. And they give it back.”
Christina Fong, principal lecturer of management, touched on relational leadership and the relative success of takers, givers and matchers. Noting that givers tend to be both the worst and best performers in an organization, she offered a reason why: “Unsuccessful givers often think about help as existing on a single continuum: I can either help you or I can help myself, but I can’t do both. In contrast, successful givers see opportunities where helping themselves helps other people as well.”
And Pat Bettin, senior lecturer of management, illustrated compassionate leadership with the story of his own commander in Vietnam, who fought to preserve the humanity and dignity of his troops by demanding that they shave and brush their teeth and changed their socks every day. “He’s the person who taught me compassion,” said Bettin. “In the middle of the ugliest, the dirtiest, the most difficult and challenging of times, these are still people we’re responsible for. To treat them with dignity, with respect is so critical for us as leaders.
“And it’s those qualities that seem to embody both Brad and Shelley.”
Exemplars of excellence
Bettin referred to this year’s recipients of the Foster School’s Distinguished Leadership Award, each playing a central role at one of Seattle’s most iconic companies.
Shelley Reynolds (BA 1987) is the vice president and worldwide controller of Amazon. Since joining Amazon in 2006 after 19 years at Deloitte & Touche, Reynolds now leads the global accounting team that handles every business and location in which the Fortune 5 firm operates.
In a Q&A with Dean Hodge, Reynolds shared the discipline she developed as a collegiate gymnast, the determination that sped her rise up the accounting profession, her disdain for crisis (“I don’t do drama,” she said, “and I think good planning can overcome any obstacle”), and her belief in empowerment (“Hire good people. Let the people do the work. You need to lead them.”).
She also pointed to the Amazon leadership principles, such as high standards, bias for action, be curious, think big. “We live those things every day,” she said. “And it really helps diffuse arguments, and focus on what you can solve—and on the long term over short term.”
Brad Tilden (MBA 1997) is the chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group, the nation’s 5th largest carrier. The 27-year veteran of Alaska is an avid pilot in his own right, and also serves on the boards of the Washington Roundtable, Nordstrom, Boy Scouts of America, Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Airlines for America.
Tilden touched on his symbolic reasons for always flying coach, his vigilance for the leadership lessons he encounters every day, and the secret to Alaska’s success. “We challenge each other, we are honest with each other, we push each other hard,” he said. “But everyone knows that we’re all there to help each other be as good as we can.
“And we laugh a lot.”
Tilden also gave some of the credit for Alaska’s ascent to the UW itself, noting that the company has sent two promising employees through the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program each year since 1997, creating a common language of leadership at the company. “You can’t have a great business community without a great school,” he said.
Indeed, Foster’s success is powered by many invaluable corporate and individual partnerships, many of which were on display at the Business Leadership Celebration.
Gold Sponsors included Accenture, Anthony’s Restaurants, Dorrit Bern, Susan Bevan, Jason and Stephanie Child, John and Kathy Connors, D.A. Davidson, Deloitte, Neal and Jan Dempsey, Bill and Sally Douglas, Tim and Nicole Engle, EY, Ed and Karen Fritzky Family, Dan Fulton, GM Nameplate, Charles and Nancy Hogan, Kemper Development Company, KPMG, LMN Architects, Lee and Darlene Nutter, Premera Blue Cross, Providence St. Joseph Health, PwC, Bruce and Gail Richards, Wells Fargo, Gary and Barbara Wipfler, and Zevenbergen Capital Investments.
Net proceeds from the Business Leadership Celebration will help foster leaders at the University of Washington.
The UW Foster School’s margin of excellence is largely due to private support from alumni and friends. If you are considering a gift to Foster before the tax year ends on December 31st, you can browse different areas of support by visiting foster.uw.edu/give.