Whistle while you work

Business Leadership Celebration honors remarkable alumni, sings a Disney tune

The University of Washington Foster School of Business welcomed the CEO of Disney and honored three remarkable leaders—a healthcare entrepreneur, a pioneering academic and a city-defining developer—at its 23rd annual Business Leadership Celebration at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center last night.

Business Leadership Celebration 2014

Dan Baty, Dean Jim Jiambalvo, Nancy Jacob, and Kemper Freeman at the 2014 UW Foster School Business Leadership Celebration.

The evening’s hosts were UW Regents Marnie Brown (BA 2014), a student in the Foster School’s Master of Professional Accounting Program, and Orin Smith (BA 1965), retired president and CEO of Starbucks.

In his keynote conversation, Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, shared his essential traits of a great leader: curious, optimistic, focused, fair, thoughtful, decisive, risk-taking, courageous, innovative, and a perfectionist to boot.

In Q&A with ABC News correspondent Cecilia Vega, Iger embarked on an entertaining meander of topics, ranging from his humble start at ABC four decades ago (when his myopic first boss declared him “not promotable”) to the great leaders who influenced him (including Roone Arledge, Tom Murphy, Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs). He recalled the risk he took to bring “Twin Peaks” to the small screen and the even larger risk that Walt Disney took to bring “Snow White” to the big screen. He noted successful Disney acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm (for a total price tag of more than $15 billion), and shared a laugh at his folly in greenlighting “Cop Rock,” a short-lived TV police musical in the early ’90s. And he celebrated the Disney’s historically successful first animated feature directed by a woman—Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen”—and historic construction of the company’s largest castle ever for Disneyland Shanghai.

“I’m often asked what I think Walt Disney would think of the company today,” Iger said. “I think he’d be unbelievably proud. We’ve managed, after 91 years, to continue to be relevant to a world that doesn’t look anything like the world that existed either when Walt founded the company in 1923 or when he died in 1966. And we’ve done so without compromising the values that Walt put into everything that was Disney: notions of optimism and inclusiveness, universally appealing stories that touch people’s hearts.”

Distinguished Leaders
Walt Disney famously said that “if you can dream it, you can do it.” No one embodies this notion better than the three recipients of the Foster School’s 2014 Distinguished Leadership Awards.

Dan Baty (BA 1965) is a life-long entrepreneur who has catalyzed successful ventures in international healthcare, wine and wealth management. After growing a small chain of nursing homes in his early career, Baty co-founded Emeritus Senior Living, a network of assisted living and retirement communities in 45 states. Today he’s principal of Columbia Pacific Group, a private equity and wealth management company he founded more than 30 years ago.

“Suggested speaking topics tonight were impact of the business school, and lessons learned in 43 years of business.” Baty said. “My immediate response to both of these was: relationships. And many started as an undergrad at the University of Washington.”

Nancy Jacob (BA 1967) became the first female dean of a major American business school when she was appointed to lead the Foster School in 1981. The school’s Executive MBA Program launched during her tenure. After retirement from the UW—where she was the first female full professor of finance—Jacob founded NLJ Advisors and Windermere Investment Associates and established a successful second career in the financial services industry.

Jacob remarked on the dearth of women in finance at the beginning of her pioneering career and the ongoing challenges for women in traditionally male fields. “We make a big deal of the glass ceiling for women executives in their careers,” she said. “But that’s misleading because life is not a vertical climb. It’s a multidimensional trip. It doesn’t come with an easy button or a fair button. It is what it is. But when one door closes, another opens. You have to be flexible and you have to be willing to deal with adversity.”

Kemper Freeman, Jr., (UW 1963) is the chairman and CEO of Kemper Development Company, the driving force behind Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square—four million square feet of award-winning mixed-use real estate. Freeman studied economics and political science at the UW and pursued careers in farming, radio, banking, real estate, and even a stint in the state legislature before joining the family business that has reshaped the city of Bellevue.

Freeman shared his family’s philosophy of devoting 30 percent of waking hours to the community, saying that the “absence or presence of private-sector leadership within a community makes or breaks that community.”

He also credited the amazing diversity of successful local companies—Boeing, Microsoft, Costco, Amazon, Nordstrom, PACCAR, to name a few—as well as the Foster School with making this a golden age for the region’s economy. “There’s so much bad news going around,” Freeman said. “But if this isn’t Seattle and Bellevue and the Northwest’s best time of all, I don’t know what it is.”

More than $100,000 in net proceeds from the UW Foster School Business Leadership Celebration will support scholarships and help create futures at the University of Washington.