Celebrating opportunities of a lifetime, and the visionary leaders who create them

“How do we solve for everyone?” asked Margo Georgiadis, Google’s president of the Americas, during her keynote conversation at the UW Foster School’s 25th annual Business Leadership Celebration October 27 at the Sheraton Seattle.

Mike Greene, Margo Georgiadis, Dean Jim Jiambalvo, Jeffrey Brotman, Gary Wipfler, Claire Lee

Foster MBA (and keynote host) Mike Greene, Margo Georgiadis, Dean Jim Jiambalvo, Jeffrey Brotman, Gary Wipfler and alumna Claire Lee.

It’s an appropriately ambitious goal for a company whose very name pushes the infinite. But Georgiadis, who also leads the 10,000-member [email protected] organization, wasn’t only speaking of her company’s imperative for a more representative workforce to understand and address the information demands of an increasingly diverse marketplace.

She also was challenging companies in every industry to embrace gender and ethnic diversity—as well as the coming revolutions in mobile, artificial intelligence, machine learning, video and virtual reality—to better serve their rapidly evolving customer bases. “A lot of business leaders still underestimate how incredibly pervasive these changes will be,” said Georgiadis.

As for her own approach to leadership, the woman who once thought she would become a starving artist shared her secrets to practicing authentic leadership. Namely:

  • Leading heads-up versus heads-down (“If you think your job is to audit the people under you, your business is going nowhere. You need to walk into work every day thinking, how am I going to clear a path to help these people run faster?”).
  • Resilience (“Things never go as you expected, and resilience is one of the most important characteristics.”)
  • Psychological safety (“It’s almost impossible for people to take risks and innovate if they don’t feel safe. I have a philosophy that it’s fine to fail forward.”)

Georgiadis added that curiosity is critical to innovation and recommended reading A Curious Mind, by Brian Grazer. To remain inspired, she shared her habit of meeting two people each week who are unrelated to her work.

Distinguished Leaders

Providing more than a week’s inspiration would be the 67th and 68th recipients of the Foster School’s Distinguished Leadership Award: Gary Wipfler (BA 1981) and Jeffrey Brotman (BA 1964, JD 1967).

As vice-president and corporate treasurer of Apple, Wipfler manages $235 billion in cash and investments—“the Bank of Apple,” as he calls it.

“Inspiration can come from anywhere,” said the former collegiate high-hurdler who is now the proud father of two current Huskies. “Teachable moments happen every day, any time of day. And often when and where you least expect them. The last three decades at Apple have been filled with those teachable moments.”

None more so than the life-threatening liquidity crisis he inherited upon joining the firm’s treasury in 1986. Today, Apple is the most valuable brand on the planet. And Wipfler said he has learned volumes from the leaders he who have built this amazing company—Steve Jobs and beyond.

“Leadership is about striving to do things the right way, and leading and teaching by example,” said Wipfler. “It’s about being smart but not arrogant. It’s about being honest and curious, listening, and encouraging the team to take measured risks, pushing the team to continually try to evolve.”

Brotman, the co-founder and chairman of Costco, joked about the giant warehouse retailer following the visionary tech firms of Google and Apple in the program. “It’s kind of hard to be transformative selling gallons of mayonnaise and $1.50 hotdogs for 35 years,” he said, to a rousing cheer from a room full of value enthusiasts.

But Brotman pointed to some early decisions that have proved transformational to the Fortune 15 company as it has grown to 700 stores, $100 billion in sales and 160,000+ employees. Specifically, the code of ethics that he and co-founder Jim Sinegal established early on: obey the law, take care of employees, respect your suppliers and, later, take care of your shareholders. “It was a subtle thing, but a very long-term view of the world,” Brotman continued. “Obeying the law, taking care of employees and respecting suppliers at a time when most didn’t care about those things—that could be called leadership.”

A longtime leader at the UW, the former regent also called attention to the recently announced Be Boundless philanthropic campaign that endeavors to raise $5 billion—the most ever in a public university campaign.

“Isn’t it great to be a Husky?” Brotman asked, in closing. “Many in this room have worked tirelessly and given all kinds of support to the Foster School and others at the UW. And we’ve built and amazing university that’s creating enormous opportunity and prosperity, not only in Seattle but around the world.”

Opportunities of a lifetime

Speaking to just a few of those opportunities were hosts Claire Lee (BA 2011) and Christian Merz (MBA 2018).

Lee, a concert pianist who performed during the early portion of the event, spoke on how her experience in Foster’s Professional Sales Program has launched her career, helping her “fuse the art of persuasion to the science and mechanics of business, marrying my musical right brain with my analytical left.” And she credited director Jack Rhodes with inspiring her toward “performance with purpose.”

Merz, a West Point grad, has come to Foster from the U.S. Army, where he earned the rank of captain. He spoke of his time leading a platoon in Iraq where he was responsible for the security and economic development of three small villages. There he witnessed the profound impact of microlending and entrepreneurship on rebuilding war-torn communities. “I left Iraq with the unshakable belief that business has the power to create opportunities of a lifetime,” Merz said. “And when it came time to transition from the military, picking the Foster School was an easy decision. Foster is allowing me to reimagine my life and shape my future as a business leader here in the Seattle community.”

Four more examples followed on a video:

  • Kiersten Bakke (BA 2015, MSIS 2017) on building a career around international business from her experiences through the Global Business Center.
  • Alee Whitman (BA 2016) on finding her passion for consulting through her work with the Consulting and Business Development Center.
  • Jake Director (BA 2013) and Riley Goodman (BA 2013) on launching their successful student startup, Strideline, with help from the resources and network of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.
  • Yesenia Velasquez, a junior studying accounting, on working for a brighter future through the Young Executives of Color (YEOC) program which helped her become the first in her family to attend college.

Business Community

Jiambalvo-BucksAs always, the net proceeds from the Business Leadership Celebration support student scholarships at the Foster School. For this 25th anniversary of the Foster School’s biggest night, Dean Jim Jiambalvo introduced “Jiambalvo Bucks.” With this special purple currency, each attendee was asked to direct $25 of the evening’s proceeds to support one of these six opportunities of a lifetime: consulting, sales, entrepreneurship, global business, transitioning veterans or YEOC.

And every Jiambalvo Buck was doubled by the event’s Silver Anniversary Sponsors: Liberty Mutual Insurance and Safeco Insurance. “An immediate 100 percent appreciation and return on your investment,” quipped Safeco President Matt Nickerson.

Additional partners for the 2016 Business Leadership Celebration included:

Reception Sponsors – Alaska Airlines and Costco Wholesale.

Purple Sponsors – Accenture, American Piledriving Equipment, Anthony’s Restaurants, The Boeing Company, Jason & Stephanie Child, Deloitte, Neal & Jan Dempsey, Bill & Sally Douglas, EY, Freestone Capital Management, Fritzky Family, GM Nameplate, Charlie & Nancy Hogan, Holland America Line, Kemper Development Company, KPMG, Philips Healthcare, Premera Blue Cross, PwC, Shelley Reynolds, Bruce & Gail Richards, Saltchuk, Starbucks, Strideline, superGraphics, T-Mobile, Wells Fargo, Windermere Real Estate, Gary & Barbara Wipfler, and Zevenbergen Funds.

Gold Sponsors – Bob & Ann Christensen, Bill Jackson, Dorrit Bern, Kathy & John Connors, Eli Lilly, Eileen O’Neill Odum, Providence Health & Services, and Washington Society of CPAs.