Foster Leadership Celebration honors remarkable builders of the economy

The University of Washington Foster School of Business honored Howard Behar, Dorrit Bern (BA 1972), Don Root (BA 1961) and Amazon.com at its 21st annual Business Leadership Celebration, held November 15 at the recently renovated Husky Union Building (HUB) on the UW Seattle campus.

In a keynote conversation, Alan Mulally, president and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, reported on the resurgence of the iconic American manufacturing firm and fielded questions from the audience on topics ranging from the government bailout of GM and Chrysler to introducing a modern management style to a 109-year-old company.

Since joining Ford in 2006 after 37 years at the Boeing Company—the last five as company executive vice president and president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines—Mulally said he refocused the company on the full family of Ford and Lincoln vehicles, unified global operations, sized production to real demand, and accelerated new product development.

He recalled arriving at Ford to a forecasted loss of $17 billion. “And we were able to achieve that,” he deadpanned.

But, its house in order, Ford delivered nearly $9 billion in profit last year, Mulally reported proudly, “without using any precious taxpayer money.”

2012 Distinguished Leadership Awards

The three recipients of the Foster School’s 2012 Distinguished Leadership Award are leaders who have created lasting value in very different industries.

As president of Starbucks North America and founding president of Starbucks International, Howard Behar led the company’s exponential growth from 28 stores to over 15,000 on five continents. Since retiring, he has chaired the UW Foundation Board and served as the 2008-09 Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School. He’s also the author of It’s Not About the Coffee, a book that espouses his belief that great leadership begins with personal values.

To illustrate his philosophy, Behar pointed to the night’s keynote speaker. He recounted meeting, some years back, three Boeing employees who all cited Mulally as the best leader at their company. When Behar asked them why, they said the same thing: “because he has great values and we know that he cares about us.”

“Values matter in our lives,” Behar continued. “We have a great opportunity to rebuild trust in this country, but we have to do it right here, at the University of Washington. We’ve got to help our students understand it isn’t about leadership with a capital L, it isn’t about leading others. It’s about leading yourself and living your life full of your values. That’s how we’re going to change the world.”

Values have guided Dorrit Bern to an incredibly successful career in the apparel industry. After leading Sears to its breakthrough “Softer Side of Sears” campaign, she joined a struggling company called Charming Shoppes as president, CEO and vice chairman. In short order, Bern transformed the company into the nation’s leader in women’s specialty plus apparel.

After retiring as chairman of the board of Charming Shoppes in 2008, she reconnected with her alma mater, joined the Foster School’s advisory board, and served as the 2009-10 Fritzky Chair in Leadership.

“I want to talk about the pleasure I had coming back from the other side of the United States and finding this incredible school,” she said. “When I came back to Foster I was struck by the quality of the program, the passion and commitment of the professors and the board. I want to say thank you to the Foster School for giving back to me. I know that this country is going in the right direction, not because of me, but because of you.”

Don Root (BA 1961), the longtime CEO and chairman of GM Nameplate, has never really left the Foster School. A longtime advisor and supporter, Root said his dream of owning his own business—in the footsteps of his parents—began on the UW campus.

“My degree from what’s now the Foster School gave me the keys to my successful business career,” Root said. “That education made my dream possible.”

He got his first job as a salesman for this small company that created aluminum nameplates for well-known firms such as IBM and HP. In 1977, Root and three partners purchased GM Nameplate. And he’s kept it growing ever since.

Today, Root’s labor of love produces state-of-the-art instrument panels, electronic assemblies and molded components for a huge range of companies, include Boeing. His four sons have joined him in running a family business on an international scale. That little company that became his own now employs 1,200 people across the US and in two overseas locations. “Quality jobs,” Root reflected. “I think that’s really cool. It makes me feel really good that we built something that could provide that many people a good job.”

Builders of Our Future Award

The Foster School honored Amazon.com with this year’s Builders of Our Future Award. The world’s definitive online retail company employs nearly 300 Foster School alumni and more than 1,000 UW alumni. Last year, Amazon hired 17 percent of the graduating class of full-time Foster MBAs, and more than 50 Foster undergraduates are participating in the company’s coveted internship program.

“I’m not sure that there is an award whose name will resonate more with my colleagues than the “Builders of our Future Award,” noted Craig Berman, Amazon’s vice-president of global communications. “Because Amazon is a place where builders are revered… For quite a long time, graduates of the University of Washington and the Foster School have been making huge contributions in helping us build the future at Amazon.”

And speaking of building futures, Dean Jim Jiambalvo paid special tribute to transformational donors Neal (BA 1964) and Jan Dempsey on the eve of dedicating Foster School’s newest state-of-the-art facility: Dempsey Hall.

Gold Sponsors of the 2012 Business Leadership Celebration included Accenture, Alaska Airlines, Alexander Hamilton Friends Association, Amazon.com, American Piledriving Equipment/Iron Mountain Quarry, Chuck and Linda Barbo, Dorrit Bern, Susan Bevan, The Boeing Company, Boston Consulting Group, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Deloitte, Neal and Jan Dempsey, the Denman Family, Ernst & Young, GM Nameplate, GMN Aerospace, Goldman Sachs, Budd Gould, GreenCupboards, Rod Hochman, Charlie and Nancy Hogan, Holland America Line, Jon and Kim Hemingway, JP Morgan, Kemper Development Company, KPMG, Eileen Odum, Premera, PricewaterhouseCoopers, PSE, Saltchuk Resources, Inc., Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Weyerhaeuser Company, and Barb and Gary Wipfler.