Colangelo Servant Leadership recipients generate tears, gratitude

Strategic Advisor of the Colangelo College of Business Jerry Colangelo (center) celebrates Colangelo Servant Leadership Award recipients (from left) Mike Greenawalt, Karrin Taylor Robson, Brandy Labinjo and Bill McKee.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Brandy Labinjo’s eyes welled up as she thanked numerous people who impacted her life.

“My husband told me, ‘Don’t cry,’" Labinjo said Wednesday morning as she regained her composure at the fourth annual Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony at Grand Canyon University's Havoc House.

“I'm thankful to the state of Arizona for opening my eyes on the work that needs to be done here in Arizona to make things (better) in underserved communities," she said at the event, which featured a performance by GCU's Critical Mass vocal ensemble and a benediction by Connor Vicary, president of the IDEA Club.

Labinjo, Karrin Taylor Robson, Mike Greenawalt and Bill McKee were honored for their servant leadership, which embodies the ideals for which Jerry Colangelo has been known since arriving in the Valley in 1968. The awards, organized by the Colangelo College of Business, were presented by Freeport-McMoRan.

Illinois native Labinjo, a leader of executive operations support at APS, has been promoted to several positions since starting there in 2016. She serves as professional chair for APS’ African American Employee Group, is a member of the business college's Advisory Board and is a faculty member.

As a young lawyer, Taylor Robson, founder and president of Arizona Strategies, recognized Colangelo’s commitment to ethics, as well as his servant leadership and entrepreneurship – the three pillars that form the foundation of the college.

In one of her first cases, she recalled working for a client who needed to buy 1,200 addition square feet for a Walmart Supercenter.

“So when we pulled the property records, much to my surprise, (the land) was owned by Jerry Colangelo,” said Taylor Robson, who explained her client’s request at Colangelo’s office, in what was then America West Arena.

GCU President Brian Mueller (left) and Jerry Colangelo were among those who celebrated the honorees at the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony.

“At the end of the meeting, I said, ‘Should I get an appraisal or how do you want to proceed?’" Taylor Robson recalled.

Colangelo replied: “No, we don't need an appraisal. I just never want to find out that you took advantage of me.”

“That was a very important lesson in ethics,” Taylor Robson said with a smile. “I made darn sure that we paid him a fair price for that 1,200 square feet.”

In addition to her land strategy business, Taylor Robson has mentored several GCU students, using some to assist her on projects. She has served on multiple government, community and economic development organizations, including Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix, the Arizona Mexico Commission and the Joe Foss Institute.

Colangelo embarked on a career that included ownership of the Suns and 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks while invigorating downtown Phoenix with two state-of-the-art sports venues, re-establishing world dominance of USA Basketball and serving as principal partner with JDM Partners, which has a 60-year history of real estate acquisitions, development and management.

Sports business icon Jerry Colangelo (left) presents Brandy Labinjo, leader of Executive Operations at APS, with her award during the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards at Havoc House on Wednesday.

In the process, Colangelo has emphasized ethics and trust in his dealings, many that have concluded in a handshake deal. That is why the awards are important to him.

“I think it’s important to recognize people who are making a difference,” Colangelo said. “It’s one thing to be successful. It’s another thing to be caring. This is unique in the sense we’re honoring those who have been successful, but they haven’t lost sight of the fact that this is about helping others, making contributions to the community, making it a better place in which to live.

Award recipient Karrin Taylor Robson, founder and president of Arizona Strategies, speaks during the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony.

“There is a lot of caring that is required. This is a big city today. And I think the recognition we can bring to certain people serves as a positive influence on others and encourages them to do the same.”

Overseeing his first Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony as dean of the Colangelo College of Business, John Kaites was moved by the humility of each of the four recipients who were selected from more than 100 initial candidates.

“None of them want to be or expected to be recognized for what they do,” Kaites said. “They are servant leaders. They do it humbly, without praise, without acknowledgement. We see their work here at GCU and choose to honor them for what they do for us, but they’re servant leaders who don’t need the acknowledgement but do it anyhow.

For us, it’s important to acknowledge them but praise God for what they’ve done for us and the community.”

Mike Greenawalt did not forget his roots as he ascended from an apprentice electrician to CEO of Rosendin Electric. Greenawalt was instrumental in helping form GCU’s Pre-Apprentice for Electricians pathway to address the issue of workforce shortages.

“I have an opportunity of, so far, about 250 lifetimes that have changed so far – 250 young men and young women's direction in life and given them an opportunity, a career or a profession,” Greenawalt said.

Many have attended GCU after not thinking of enrolling in college during their senior year of high school. “And I guarantee you, most of those kids are going to come back for more semesters,” Greenawalt said. “They've got a taste of it, and they love it.”

Greenwalt thanked Colangelo for allowing him to start his program.

Award recipient Mike Greenawalt, CEO of Rosendin Electric, started an apprentice program at GCU.

“I don't want to sound corny, but GCU helped me find my purpose,” Greenawalt said. “I've been giving back and didn't realize how big of a difference we make. And being able to bring in hundreds of young men and women into a profession and get them exposed to a college education, the opportunities here, it's amazing.”

After serving a distinguished career in the Air Force Academy, McKee held many positions in finance and is a scholar-in-residence at Valley Presbyterian Church and executive-in-residence at GCU.

Jerry Colangelo (right) welcomes Rosendin Electric CEO Mike Greenawalt.

McKee supported the building out of the Bloomberg Terminals in the business college's Charles Schwab Finance Center and has hosted several lunch sessions to educate students on the Bible, economics and human flourishing.

He became heavily invested after meeting GCU President Brian Mueller during a Zoom meeting during COVID and marveled over his leadership team under the likes of Provost Dr. Randy Gibb, Kaites and the business college's associate dean, Dr. Allison Mason.

McKee is working on earning a doctorate in theology at GCU.

“Students are fully equipped to enter the business field, fully affirmed in our Christian worldview,” McKee said. “The students here are, in fact, the empowerment of that good that's going out in the world today. All of God's greater glory.”

Mueller stressed that Colangelo has set the tone for the community.

“The most important thing he's done, in my opinion, is to serve a role as a role model for students,” Mueller said. “I point to him frequently and say if you want to know how to live your life, how to put God first, how to put your family second, and have a successful career, please look at him.

“And that's why we've invited all the other honorees here because we want to honor them and their accomplishments, and most importantly, we want them to become role models for our students.”

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]


Related content:

GCU News: Colangelo servant leaders: It's not about me

GCU News: Colangelo award-winners link service, spirituality


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