Willener: COB students poised to soar

Curt Willener.
Curt Willener.

The College of Business prepares people to measure up against the best, says Curt Willener, this year’s Distinguished Early Career Business Professional.

The Hillsboro resident should know. Three years after his OSU graduation, he was accepted into the MBA program at Harvard Business School.

“OSU was on my list, but since I’d gone there as an undergraduate, I wanted a new experience,” who at the time was working at a mill in Albany. “I had just gotten done with a super dusty, 14-hour shift when I talked to (Dean) Ilene (Kleinsorge) about going to graduate school. I think I got her office dirty. But she was so open to talking with me and supporting me, and Ilene wrote a recommendation letter that helped me get into Harvard.

“You’re always a little nervous with something like that, but Ilene said don’t worry, we prepared you, and she was absolutely right,” Willener said. “The top students at Oregon State can compete anywhere in the world against anyone.”

For Willener, now operations manager and Danaher Business System leader at Tektronix/Danaher, the route to OSU began on Sauvie Island, where from age 12 to 18 he worked at a local farm and kennel. After graduating from Scappoose High School, he followed in the footsteps of his OSU alum father, Henry, and headed to Corvallis.

Willener graduated in management and finance from OSU in 2004 and earned a place in a Weyerhaeuser program designed to develop new leaders. Within a few months he was the night-shift supervisor, winning over the older, more experienced workers by “treating them with respect and giving them a fair shake” and “approaching situations with humility and common sense.”

“Listening is a really big part of it,” he said. “People respect you for it.”

Willener will be honored May 11 in Portland at the college’s annual Celebration of Excellence, along with the rest of the 2015 award winners as well as the retiring Kleinsorge. For more on the event and the honorees, follow the College of Business blog as the countdown to the celebration continues over the next couple of weeks.

The evening begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and the awards presentation. For more information or to register, contact Elsa Frey at elsa.frey@oregonstate.edu or call 541-737-6648, or register online at http://business.oregonstate.edu/awards.

Weatherford Award ceremony shows entrepreneurs come from all walks of life

Thursday night Oregon State University MBA candidate Dale McCauley told the crowd at the 2013 Weatherford Awards in Portland how he got started as an innovator.

“When I was 4 years old my parents gave me a tool box. With real tools,” McCauley said. “Nothing with bolts was safe.”

It was a fitting start to an evening honoring entrepreneurs and innovators, those who saw the tools they had at their disposal and found a way to change the world, or in the case of 4-year-old McCauley, his mother’s Cuisinart.

McCauley is also a key part of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, which sponsored the awards and is housed in Weatherford Hall. The program, supported by a gift from Ken and Joan Austin, helps expose current Oregon State students to the ideas and practice of entrepreneurship and teach the next generations of business visionaries.

One of the first students to come out of the program was Alex Polvi, who was honored with fellow OSU alumni Dan Di Spaltro and Logan Welliver for the their startup, Cloudkick.

“We had no clue what we were doing,” Di Spaltro said.

“We had some clue,” Polvi interjected.

“No clue.”

Di Spaltro spoke of the trio’s defining ideas of humor, trust, determination and keeping the operation lean.

“We had a team in it for the dream, not the paycheck,” Polvi said.

Also honored was Dr. Albert Starr, who helped develop the first artificial heart valve while working at what is now Oregon Health and Science University in 1958.

He said one of the keys to innovation is confidence, having the strength to push ahead even when the outcome is uncertain.

Starr remembered the first time OHSU approached him about cardiac surgery, something he hadn’t trained for specifically.

“He said Starr, can you do this type of surgery?” Starr said. “Of course.”

While Experian CEO Don Robert is confident in his business life, he was less so when he received the letter informing him he was a 2013 Weatherford Award honoree.

He called College of Business Dean Ilene Kleinsorge to let her know she had the wrong guy. He was the CEO of the world’s largest credit services company, not an entrepreneur.

“She told me maybe we have the wrong guy, but we’ve got the right company,” Robert said.

That he agreed with. Experian thrives on institutional innovation, Robert said, with much of the company’s business coming from products that didn’t exist five years ago.

“The job of our management team is to not screw that up and get in the way of good ideas. I will take the credit humbly for not screwing it up.”

The final honoree of the evening was Oregon’s first and still only woman governor, Barbara Roberts.

“Some of you are wincing to think about innovation in government,” Roberts said. “But in Oregon it does and has happened.”

Roberts mentioned Oregon’s vote by mail system, the Death With Dignity Act and a number of other legislative firsts which show Oregon’s pioneering character.

“I am a descendent of Oregon Trail pioneers,” she said. “You don’t stop. You don’t turn back.”

Roberts left the stage with a line from her inaugural address (“Not everyone gets to say that,” she added with a laugh).

“Each generation has but one chance to be judged by future generations,” Roberts said. “Now is out time. Let us be worthy of their judgment. ”


2013 Weatherford Awards: Barbara Roberts

To celebrate the 2013 Weatherford Awards, this week we’re profiling each of the honorees here at the College of Business blog. Today is former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts. For more information about the awards and links to other honoree profiles as they’re posted, check out our introduction to the series.


Former Gov. Barbara Roberts.
Former Gov. Barbara Roberts. Photo: Edmund Keene Photography

Barbara Roberts has never let convention get in the way of doing what she knew to be right.

As a young mother of an autistic son, Roberts began advocating for special needs children.

In 1984 she became Oregon’s first woman House majority leader, then in 1990 was elected as the state’s first and still only woman governor.

“It’s impossible to be a leader without being a risk-taker,” Roberts said. “You must take a risk to lead. You have to walk out on a limb to make the kind of changes to make you that leader.”

Roberts was born a fourth-generation Oregonian in Corvallis before moving to Sheridan. She graduated from Sheridan High School and then Portland State University.

Though Roberts never saw herself as a reformer, in 1971 she saw a need and began to fight for the rights of special needs children, inspired by her own son, Mike.

In her new role as a lobbyist, she spent four days a week at her job as a bookkeeper and one day at the capitol building in Salem.

In the next six months, she became an expected presence, talking to all 90 members of the Oregon legislature, telling her story and advocating for educational rights.

Roberts’ efforts helped Oregon make history, passing the first law in the nation requiring special education for children.

“Women have a tendency to be more collaborative leaders and it was that collaboration that allowed me to bring all kinds of people to the table,” Roberts said. “The table was full – out of that collaboration, we came up with a lot of innovations.”

From there Roberts become involved at every level of Oregon’s political landscape, serving on the Parkrose School Board, Multnomah County Commission and the Oregon House of Representatives.

In 1984 Roberts was elected Oregon Secretary of State, winning re-election in 1988.

Soon after, the Democratic candidacy for governor was open and, with this newfound confidence and understanding of herself, Roberts announced her campaign.

During her time in office, Roberts had a significant impact on the state – on the economy, on the people, in education and the environment.

Roberts initiated the “Conversation with Oregon,” a statewide project to meet with citizens and hear opinions on how the state should address issues with taxation and government spending. The Roberts administration is also a strong supporter of gay rights and appointed a number of women and minorities to positions in state government.

After her term as governor, Roberts served as Director of the State and Local Government Executive Programs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, as Associate Director of Leadership at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government and as a member of the Metro City Council in Portland.

“I like to look at the fact that I served in public office for more than thirty years and no one ever questioned my honesty and ethics,” Roberts said. “If I had to pick a thing that I am proud of, that would be it.”

For a career of service that always found new ways to bring people together for innovative solutions to the problems of government, Roberts is being honored as one of the 2013 Weatherford Award Winners.

“At first I was surprised to hear that I was getting this award,” Roberts said. “It became clear to me that there was more than one way to be innovative. ”