Foster School’s Business Leadership Celebration honors remarkable alumni

The University of Washington Foster School of Business honored four remarkable leaders—of differing ages and industries—at its 22nd annual Business Leadership Celebration November 7 at the Sheraton Seattle.

David Bonderman (BA 1963), Thomas B. Crowley, Jr. (BA 1989) and Daniel S. Fulton (MBA 1976) received this year’s Distinguished Leadership Awards. Kate Kingen (BA 2009) was named the Foster School Builder of Our Future for 2013. And Richard M. Kovacevich, Chairman Emeritus of Wells Fargo & Company, delivered the keynote on leadership in challenging times.

Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo introduced this year’s distinguished quartet of awardees as proof that there can be many different paths to successful leadership, with the common trait of willingness to put in the hard work. He noted, by way of teasing their introductions, that one of the awardees “worked as a longshoreman in college, another served four years in the Armed Forces, one was a dishwasher at Salty’s, and one used to pump out the sewer system at Alcatraz.”

Captain of industry

The erstwhile plumber of Alcatraz, Tom Crowley is the Chairman, President and CEO of Crowley Maritime Corporation, the business founded by his grandfather in 1892 on the San Francisco Bay. Crowley started humbly, working the full gamut of jobs across the organization before taking the helm in 1994, at the age of 27, after the death of his father.

In the past two decades, Crowley has expanded the company’s tanker, tug and barge business and diversified its portfolio to include business services, transport and distribution, marine salvage, and naval architecture and engineering, serving many regions of the world.

Regarding this latest industry award, Crowley offered a bit of charming insight on the grounding nature of running a family business—even one on a global scale. He recalled recently winning the prestigious “Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award,” a beautiful silver sculpture of Christopher Columbus: “I took it home and put it on the kitchen counter and my son asked, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s the award I just got.’ And he said, ‘It’s silver. Who got the gold?’ ”

The steadiest hand

Dan Fulton, the recently retired President and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Company, also told a funny story about his own son once offering him the sage advice to refrain from saying “anything stupid” when interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Fulton made a career of smart moves, from his time in the US Navy Supply Corps to his MBA internship with Weyerhaeuser that opened the door to an incredibly successful 38-year career with the iconic Northwest company.

After heading Weyerhaeuser’s real estate arm for many years, Fulton took leadership of the company in 2008. “What we call the Great Recession was really a depression in our industry,” he said.

But under Fulton’s steady leadership, Weyerhaeuser navigated the crisis to emerge stronger than ever before, he reported. “As I look back on my career,” he concluded, “I thank the US Navy, I thank the Foster School for getting me launched in a career, and I thank Weyerhaeuser for the incredible opportunity to work with this company that was founded in 1900 and has been led by a series of highly honorable leaders who have all taken a serious stewardship responsibility of this very special asset that we have.”

Brilliant investor/raconteur

David Bonderman did, indeed, work as a longshoreman at the Port of Seattle while studying Russian at the UW. He went on to practice and teach law, served as a Special Assistant to the US Attorney General, and was COO of the Robert M. Bass Group before founding TPG Capital, one of the world’s largest and most diversified private equity firms, earning him his own category of “Times Topic” in the New York Times. He also founded the Bonderman Fellowships that allow UW students freedom to experience and study cultures around the world.

But perhaps none of these achievements can quite compare with the long-ago feat he shared with the evening’s 600 attendees, a lost chapter in Husky athletic history. According to Bonderman, the University of Washington was invited by Cal State Fullerton to compete in the 1962 Elephant Race, the first—and perhaps only—intercollegiate event of its kind. He formed the UW Elephant Racing Team that traveled to California, rented an undersized elephant from Ringling Bros., and won the JV race by coaxing their entrant down the course with bananas.

Bonderman said his offer to enshrine the championship trophy in the Husky Athletic Department was roundly refused. “Nevertheless, we were on the front page of the local newspapers,” he said. “And to this day, because the UW wouldn’t accept it, I have the trophy in my basement.”

“I think the team from 1962 should finally get some recognition,” he added. “So on behalf of the team, I hereby accept this award.”

Ideals + savvy

Growing up in West Seattle, Kate Kingen washed dishes and performed any other task required at her parents’ restaurants—Salty’s and Red Robin. But her humble labors launched a meteoric rise. After being named the Most Outstanding Accounting Graduate for 2009 at Foster, Kingen joined Deutsche Bank and quickly worked her way up to lead analyst on a number of marquee M&A deals, writing her ticket to a powerful career on Wall Street.

Instead, she joined the Newark School District as Deputy CFO/COO to help reform one of the nation’s most troubled education systems. Her follow-up leading strategic projects for the New Jersey Commission of Education has convinced her that education reform is where she needs to make a difference.

“Fixing public education is the key challenge of our time,” Kingen said. “The ills of a broken education system permeate all facets of society… But there is hope. Our system is not irreparably broken. We have a window of opportunity to improve our system through better teacher education, rigorous information-based instruction, transparency and accountability in performance, and adoption of better management practices and data-driven decision making.

“I believe we can right this wrong. I believe these changes are possible, and will provide all students with a better education and a more promising future. It is our responsibility to fix our education system. Our collective future depends on it.”

Leadership in challenging times

In his keynote address, Richard Kovacevich offered Wells Fargo as a case study in the right response to a financial crisis. Rather than retreat into a bunker mentality over the past five years, Kovacevich charted Wells Fargo on an aggressive course of action and investment.

“I would argue that it is in the challenging times that you should be the most aggressive,” he said. “The bigger the crisis, the greater the opportunity.”

By investing in the down market, making acquisitions at a discount, and picking up customers and employees who will be loyal for life, Wells Fargo has emerged from the crisis with its largest market share of the mortgage and banking markets in its history.

Kovacevich also touched on the art of leadership which is, above all, about empowering people. “Those at the top should, above all, be leaders, but quite often they act like managers,” he said. “Managers administer. Leaders innovate. Managers rely on systems. Leaders rely on people. Managers need control. Leaders rely on trust. Managers work on getting things right. Leaders work on the right things.”

He revealed his most valuable lesson in nearly 50 years in business is that success is less about brains and more about empowering people. “Great leaders give power to their team—they do not monopolize it. You cannot share a vision unless you share the power to achieve it. Leaders don’t point fingers, they point direction. They show the way by personal example.

“If you want to be a great leader, it is important to be humble. It isn’t about you. It’s about your people.”

A community of support

Major supporters of the 2013 Business Leadership Celebration include American Piledriving Equipment/Iron Mountain Quarry (Public Reception Sponsor), Wells Fargo & Company (Awardee Reception Sponsor), Starbucks (Dean’s Table Sponsor), GM Nameplate (Book Sponsorship), and Zevenbergen Capital Investments LLC (Keynote Address Sponsor).

Gold Sponsors include Alaska Airlines, Amazon.com, Anthony’s, Chuck and Linda Barbo, Dorrit Bern, Susan Bevan and Tony Daddino, The Boeing Company, Boston Consulting Group, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Deloitte, Neal and Jan Dempsey, EY, the Fritzky Family, Kemper Development Company, KPMG, Philips, Premera, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bruce and Gail Richards, Saltchuk Resources, Inc., J. Gary Shansby, Weyerhaeuser Company, Barb and Gary Wipfler, Wurts & Associates, and Zones, Inc.