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UCLA

We Will Always Call Him Coach

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By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:59 AM


Business and Basketball

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Wooden reluctantly posed with the fruits of his basketball labors. Photos by UCLA Photo.

Coach, teacher, legend. John Wooden was all of that and more, especially after he retired in 1975 and embarked on what amounted to a 35-year second career as a business sage.

Three years ago, UCLA's Anderson School of Management acknowledged this facet of a remarkable life when it established an annual award in honor of the man who truly exemplified leadership. The recipients of the John Wooden Global Leadership Award have all been industry leaders: Howard Schultz, chairman, CEO and president of Starbucks; Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express; and, this past April, Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx.

"[Wooden's] lessons on leadership and success are clearly as much of a legacy as everything he achieved — all the greatness — on the hardwood," says Rick Wartzman, executive director of Claremont Graduate University's Drucker Institute.

Wooden, the author or co-author of 17 books, was well-known for his profoundly simple and overwhelmingly transformative axioms:

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

"Never mistake activity for achievement."

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."

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Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1990.

Away from the court, Wooden was best known for his Pyramid of Success, which contains 15 building blocks for winning in basketball and in life. On the foundation are qualities like industriousness, loyalty and enthusiasm; in the middle level are condition, skill and team spirit; and at the top is competitive greatness.

"If you look carefully at his Pyramid of Success, it is a set of values," says David Lewin M.B.A. '67, Ph.D. '71, the Neil H. Jacoby Chair in Management at the Anderson School, who was pivotal in adding the Pyramid of Success to the readings in the Executive M.B.A. curriculum. "His view is that individuals can adhere to and sustain those values under any and all circumstances. And he is further saying that it is particularly important for the leaders of an organization to have those values, articulate them and motivate others to do so."

Andy Hill '74, M.A. '76 knows this as well as anyone. A member of three of Wooden's championship teams, Hill went on to become president of CBS Productions and now travels the country sharing Wooden's wisdom on leadership with Fortune 500 companies.

"Coach was the greatest coach ever. And his lessons were so applicable in business — and anything, really. My son is a professor at the University of Virginia; he teaches oboe using Coach's lessons. The universality of his principles are really remarkable," says Hill, who co-authored Be QuickBut Don't Hurry! with Wooden.

"Clearly, the championships presented a platform for him, but it's quite unique that a prominent public figure retires from his professional career and starts a second career in which he is more successful than he was in the first," Hill says. "That was the case with Coach."

— Brad A. Greenberg '04

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