When Doris Kearns Goodwin talks of “my guys” – the leaders she has studied in unparalleled depth over her career as U.S. presidential historian – she ticks off shared traits such as intelligence, empathy, energy and communication skills. But the most important presidential quality, she says, is resilience. So, as President Trump this week reaches his first 100 days in office, he will likewise be tested, sooner or later, in the adaptability department.
“Resilience is a mystery, and it is the key leadership trait, in my judgment,” Goodwin said. “All of my guys come from different circumstances, but that sense of resilience, that ambition and desire to help their fellow man, united them all.”
Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, shared stories about U.S. presidents going back over a century as the distinguished guest speaker at the CU Denver Business School’s 2017 Celebration of Success. A sellout crowd of 640 people attended the recent scholarship fundraising event at Denver’s Grand Hyatt.
$3.3 million raised
Over the years, Denver’s business community has joined with the Business School to raise more than $3.3 million (including an estimated $400,000 this year), benefiting more than 1,800 students. Also, several deserving faculty have been awarded fellowships.
The spotlight also shined on new Business School Dean Rohan Christie-David, who served as emcee at his first Celebration of Success, regarded as one of the most prominent events within the Denver business community.
Denver’s most recognizable businessman-turned-politician, Gov. John Hickenlooper, was among the guests, and the governor extolled the pivotal contributions of the CU Denver Business School. Back when he was launching his craft brewery downtown, Hickenlooper took several entrepreneurial courses at the CU Denver Business School and has since seen the school grow in size and sophistication.
Relevant and impactful programs
In 2008 when he was Denver mayor, “I said every great city has to have a great Business School, and I stand behind that statement today,” he said. “They have built relevant and impactful programs… If you were to measure all the outcomes of all your investment of dollars in the CU Denver Business School, you would see probably one of the most successful and efficient investments you can make.”
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell echoed the governor’s remarks, noting that the university and the Business School occupy a unique niche in Colorado higher education. As the state’s only public urban research university, “we address critical civic and social issues with the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit of the city we call home.”
Employers can count on Colorado’s most ethnically diverse research university to provide the talent for vital positions, according to the chancellor. “One of the best ways to keep Colorado business thriving is to ensure that we have a talented and well-prepared workforce,” Horrell said. “And one of the very best ways to get that is through investments in high-quality higher education.”
The chancellor noted that one-third of CU Denver students represent the first generation in their family to attend college and more than half of our students receive need-based financial aid. “They are absolutely driven and hard-working.” A video showed stories of three students who have emerged from adversity to enroll at the Business School, receive scholarship support and thrive.
Goodwin remarked on the determined nature of our students as well, as, hours before the evening gala, she toured the Business School and enjoyed “one of the more interesting conversations I’ve ever had with a group of students.” Their level of purpose distinguished the CU Denver students from other college students she’s met, Goodwin said. “They’ve come through adversity. They’ve been working. They’ve had difficult times in their lives and they discovered that moment where passion for their work and their passion for a subject is united with the opportunity to express that.”
Goodwin said “echoes of the past” – particularly in earlier waves of populism and periods of fear and anxiety in the nation – led to the electorate’s mood in 2016 and the emergence of Republican nominee Donald Trump. “Now that he’s in the White House, I’m hoping we can talk about what these other guys from the past can teach him about what it means to be the president of this great country,” she said.
Goodwin is essentially a living repository of that kind of information. She has written about Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. She served as a White House Fellow under LBJ, spurring her interest in presidential history. Steven Spielberg based his Oscar-winning film, “Lincoln” on her book. America’s “historian-in-chief” is currently writing a new book on U.S. Presidential leadership.
Walking in another’s shoes
While she shared plenty of anecdotes about each president – including Johnson, whom she erroneously thought carried a torch for her (it turned out, “I reminded him of his mother”) – Goodwin also commented about the zeitgeist of the times in which the United States, and much of the globe, finds itself.
“What I worry about right now is I’m not sure any of us are seeing other people’s points of view in the same way,” she said, adding that the communications landscape, and the nation overall, are more polarized than ever before. “Unless we can figure out how to understand other people’s points of view we’re not going to be able to get along as a democracy.”
Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of DaVita Inc. and Business School Board of Advisors member, served as moderator of the armchair dialogue with Goodwin. He asked her many questions, including queries written by audience members. As a last question, he asked Goodwin to imagine the room being filled by 600 young people; what would she tell them?
‘Come through tough times before’
She said the lack of economic mobility strikes her as the greatest problem in the land. “I would say to young people that somehow they have to not lose their belief in what the ideal of the country was, and that problems created by man can be solved by man,” she said. “When you look at our history, it’s always the groups from below that change what’s above – the anti-slavery, women’s, gay rights, environmental movements. … Don’t lose faith in this country … we’ve been through tough times before and we can get through these.”
Other distinguished guests at the Celebration of Success included John “Jack” Kroll and Irene Griego of the CU Board of Regents; CU President Bruce Benson and First Lady Marcy Benson; CU Denver Provost Roderick Nairn; CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman; and Gala Chairs Kelly Brough (CU Denver alumna and president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce), Patty and Mike Imhoff (University of Colorado alumni) and Chancellor Horrell.
The Denver community and business leaders have lent consistent support for the Celebration of Success by acting as dinner chairs. This year’s presenting sponsor was DaVita Inc. and gold sponsors were: Arrow Electronics, Charles Schwab & Co., Ellen Balaguer and Mark Chase, Citywide Banks, FirstBank, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Northern Trust, and STIFEL.