Colangelo shares pearls of wisdom with GCU management team

April 02, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau

It became an oft-made request from leaders at Grand Canyon University: When can we hear from Jerry Colangelo? On Wednesday, GCU’s administration and the man himself made it happen, and he did not disappoint.

Jerry Colangelo addresses members of GCU's management team Wednesday in Antelope Gym.

Jerry Colangelo addresses members of GCU’s management team Wednesday in Antelope Gym.

For nearly an hour in Antelope Gym, Colangelo, one of the most iconic figures in professional sports in Phoenix and across the country, addressed an audience of about 450 managers, directors, faculty, deans and administrators representing the main campus and the Tempe, Peoria and Camelwest offices.

Colangelo’s talk began with his first glimpse of GCU many years ago — a basketball game in that same gym. Decades later, his name would be placed first on the College of Business’ sports business school, then on the entire college during a renaming ceremony in September.

“It’s humbling to have something like that happen especially when you start out as a young person like I did,” he said.

Colangelo, who grew up in a poor neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, on Wednesday revealed some of the circumstances of his upbringing that contributed to his successful 45-year career in athletics and business. His mother was a wise woman who had a fourth-grade education, but his father was a no-show, never once shooting a basket or playing a game of catch with his son.

Colangelo’s boyhood home, which he shared with his grandparents, was built from discarded railroad boxcars and had exposed plumbing pipes. His grandfather banged a spoon on a pipe each morning to awaken him for his paper route. The neighbors worked at steel mills and textile factories and carried lunch pails to work and back.

Colangelo watched and listened and, like a sponge, soaked up all he could. An old man in his neighborhood pointed to a star in the sky one evening and told him it was “better to be on that star for one day than to never get there at all. It was something prophetic that stayed with me,” he said.

Fast forward to Colangelo’s leadership in building a new home for his Phoenix Suns in then-America West Arena downtown. Colangelo took all the bells and whistles he’d noticed as an NBA executive were missing from other arenas and put them into his arena. It was the place to play professional basketball for a time.

“I knew what we’d done was very special for our team, and it couldn’t be duplicated,” he said. “It was like being on that star for one day because almost immediately, everyone started to follow.”

Colangelo peppered his remarks to GCU’s management team with guiding principles and inspirational quotes he’d used as a compass in his life, beginning with God. Initially, he hadn’t felt comfortable sharing his testimony in public, but with practice, that became less difficult and more important.

In 2000, he organized a 2,000th birthday celebration for Jesus in then-Bank One Ballpark, home of his Arizona Diamondbacks. At a planning meeting, Colangelo stood before dozens of people representing dozens of faiths who were not accustomed to being in the same room and used this as the ice breaker:

“‘My name is Jerry Colangelo, and I’m a Christian,’” he said. “That’s all I had to say. It was simple but impactful.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Colangelo quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt — “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” — and Robert Kennedy — “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘why not?’”

He shared the “Ten Commandments of Human Relations” and “The 7-Ups of Life” and talked about the importance of being passionate about and taking pride in your work because, “I happen to believe God has a plan for everyone’s life.”

“Along my journey many times people have said, ‘You can’t do that, and for me that was the ultimate challenge. I said, ‘I can, I will, and I’m going to show you how,’” he said. “That didn’t happen every time, but with that kind of attitude, you have a pretty good chance of success.”

Thinking about the greater good in your workplace and community, believing in the power of “we,” rather than “I,” and never being afraid to fail were other pearls of wisdom Colangelo imparted. Perhaps most importantly, he said is getting your priorities right: God, family, business.

Colangelo took questions from audience members about leading a new team (be a sponge, but be your own person) and improving the attitude of negative employees (listen and show respect).

He said he is proud of his connection to GCU, a Christian university and community role model that is greatly impacting Phoenix, especially its west side. He called CEO/President Brian Mueller a visionary who thinks outside the box. “That was exciting to me, that he was willing to take a shot and not be afraid to fail,” he said of his interest in playing a greater role at GCU.

“In some ways, it’s a miracle, but it also proves to me what vision and planning can do when you have good leadership in place,” Colangelo said, referring to the University’s growth, then giving his best advice. “Enjoy the ride and make the most of where you are right now.”

Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or

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