Colangelo servant leaders: It's not about me

Dr. Allison Mason, interim Dean of the Colangelo College of Business, and sports/business icon Jerry Colangelo (right) present Don Cardon, Founder and CEO of Cardon Development Group, with his Colangelo Servant Leadership Award.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Don Cardon, one of the visionaries behind restaurant and entertainment hub CityScape, changed the face of downtown Phoenix. He also led Arizona’s Department of Commerce, now called the Arizona Commerce Authority.

But in moving those mountains, the Founder and CEO of Cardon Development Group said he realized one important thing:

“The best things about the accomplishments that I’ve been able to walk in is that they revealed to me how life isn’t about me,” he said during the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards on Friday at Grand Canyon University. “I finally began to see that the things that I thought would give me life — by succeeding in everything — were God’s mercy to show me that you don’t need to chase these things.”

Instead, he said, life is about loving well, walking in faith, receiving the love of God and using the platform He has given us to glorify His grace.

That sentiment — that it’s not about us — exemplifies what’s at the core of being a servant leader.

Cardon, the namesake of GCU’s Cardon Center at the LOPES Academy with wife Kim, was among the servant leaders recognized at the third Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards, the signature awards event for the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB).

The other three honorees at the awards, which were presented by Freeport-McMoRan, included Dawn Grove, corporate counsel and Vice President of Karsten Manufacturing Corp.; Steve Zabilski, retiring CEO of St. Vincent de Paul; and Tommy Espinoza, Past President and CEO of Raza Development Fund.

Award winners are chosen based on service before self, humility, love and care for their team, and stewardship of their organization.

Colangelo listens as award recipient Tommy Espinoza tells a "Jerry story" during the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards.

Sports and business icon Jerry Colangelo, who has embodied servant leadership in a storied career that has included ownership of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, said the awards honor those who have made significant contributions to the community.

“They really understand what it’s all about,” he said. “A lot of successful people are in this room, but the most important thing is they take that success and pour it back into the community and pour it back into people. That’s the whole idea.”

Dr. Allison Mason, CCOB interim Dean, shared how GCU’s business college pours into the community by pouring its values into its students.

She spoke of how business should be a force for good and that free-market capitalism leads to prosperity.

“There’s been no other system ever created that has lifted people out of poverty better than free market capitalism,” she said. The college believes all global challenges will be solved by entrepreneurs and that business founded on Christian faith can change the community.

She also shared the importance of servant leadership to the college. It is one of its three pillars, alongside ethics and entrepreneurism.

“This award aligns with the values of our college and our entire university,” said Mason. “We want to highlight how business can elevate humanity in servant leadership.”

Dawn Grove didn’t have to look far to find servant leaders. Her mom exemplified service with a “whistle-while-you-work, uber contentment,” and her dad served his church and taught his daughter that nothing was impossible (even running 100 miles in a day as an ultramarathoner).

Honoree Dawn Grove, who serves as corporate counsel and Vice President of Karsten Manufacturing Corp., speaks about the servant leaders in her family who inspired her.

“As I looked around and learned from these servant leaders, it became obvious that it was important to give back to everyone around you,” Grove said.

After the ceremony, she shared how that kind of servant leadership wasn’t as easy to find outside of her family.

“It was hard for me at first to find a professional woman who loved God and who was serving her family and the community. I had to search for that for a while, and I remember sitting next to somebody a year earlier. I just went ahead and called her up and said, ‘I’m going to learn from you.’ We started a friendship that that has lasted 20-something years. … That’s my advice: Go find them (servant leaders) because they’re out there.”

The beauty of servant leadership, Grove added, is how serving others never is a one-way proposition.

She remembers helping at-risk youth who ended up helping her when she was on bedrest for a time and how people she once helped are now helping her children.

“So here you think you’re doing something to help somebody else, and the Lord just turns it around, and they help you or help others when they need it.”

St. Vincent de Paul’s Steve Zabilski spoke about how GCU doesn’t just speak of servant leadership but lives it.

Steve Zabilski, retiring CEO of St. Vincent de Paul, sees GCU's servant leadership in action when students and campus leaders come to volunteer.

GCU President Brian Mueller and Colangelo have volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room many times. But more importantly, “They were present to our guests, really present, speaking to them, encouraging them, inspiring them, and seeing in each person the face of Christ.”

Zabilski sees the same kind of heart in the University’s students, “who exude the grace and joy that comes from serving others.”

“Servant leadership – those of us that are given that tag, we’re so broken, and sometimes we wonder how we got to where we are,” said honoree Tommy Espinoza. “When you do a self-assessment of your soul and yourself, you just question. There’s not a reason I should be here. There’s not a reason I should be recognized … and yet this beautiful, beautiful Christ of ours opens doors for us, brings people to us … to lift you up when you’re down.

Past President and CEO of Raza Development Fund Tommy Espinoza listens as Jerry Colangelo speaks.

“That’s what servant leadership is about. Allow yourself to see your weaknesses and turn to God,” Espinoza said, then spoke of one example of servant leadership involving Colangelo.

Espinoza and other community leaders were trying to get an organization to come to Phoenix. Its focus was on lending money for low-income housing projects and other types of community development businesses.

The only way to get that business here was to raise $1 million.

“I looked around and said, ‘Oh my God. Who do I tap to raise $1 million so we could bring this operation to Phoenix?’”

That’s when he thought of Colangelo.

GCU President Brian Mueller welcomes guests to the Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards ceremony.

In true Colangelo style, he went around the table at the meeting with Espinoza and other leaders: “Within about 20 minutes, they raised $1 million.”

Colangelo and those other servant leaders didn’t raise that money for themselves. They raised it for their community, and that’s what it’s all about.

Mueller spoke about GCU’s own plan for the west Phoenix community: the partnership with Habitat for Humanity to renovate 800 homes, pairing with the Phoenix Police Department to reduce crime, providing jobs, serving families in need through CityServe, and supporting K12 education through the Learning Lounge and full-tuition scholarships.

“It’s become some kind of a model, I think, for how really successful communities can invest and take care of its most vulnerable. Ultimately, that’s what is going to determine how people view societies — not how successful are the most successful but how do we pour in and take care and raise up the most vulnerable,” Mueller said.

It’s what servant leaders are called to do.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Related content:

GCU News: Colangelo Awards celebrate servant leadership

GCU News: Colangelo Scholars lead the way

GCU News: Colangelo Award winners link service, spirituality

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