Colangelo awards celebrate servant leadership

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Mathew McGraw
GCU News Bureau

Like so many people, Linda Little had heard about what was happening on the Grand Canyon University campus and its surrounding neighborhood. She had a sense of all the good that was taking place.

Linda Little accepts her award from Todd Graver, Vice President, Human Resources of Operations, for sponsor Freeport McMoran, and Phoenix business icon Jerry Colangelo.

But then the President of iHeart Media Phoenix decided to pursue her master’s degree in Business Administration from GCU … and got it last year.

Then she got involved with the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) … and joined its advisory board … and spoke to an MBA class about her experience … and worked on creating a marketing internship … and was one of the speakers on a recent Women in Leadership panel.

Now she gets what GCU is all about. Boy, does she ever get it.

“I love what’s happening at the school, so I find myself saying yes to whatever they want me to help them with,” she said.

Little was back on campus for a very different reason Tuesday morning. This time, rather than honoring her commitment to the University, the University instead was honoring her – Little was one of four recipients of the first Colangelo Servant Leadership Awards, sponsored by Freeport McMoRan, a global mining company that has its headquarters in downtown Phoenix. 

The other award-winners were David Kimmerle, CEO of Sanderson Ford; Mike Ingram, founder of El Dorado Holdings, Inc., and Sandra Watson, President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority and another CCOB advisory board member.

GCU President Brian Mueller continues to be amazed by what the Colangelo name has done for the University.

It’s another example of the appreciation that CCOB’s namesake, Phoenix business icon Jerry Colangelo, and GCU President Brian Mueller have for servant leadership. It’s how they go about their business, and they wanted to recognize others who operate with the same spirit.

“I think it’s an accumulation of the experiences that I’ve had, that Brian has had, that as we’re building the University and the school of business in particular, it’s important to have people recognized in the community who are making a difference,” Colangelo said.

“We all need to help the next generation of people who are coming along, the future leaders. By recognizing outstanding servant leadership, it’s incumbent upon us to do things to recognize it.”

Back when Colangelo first got involved with the University, Mueller never would have dared to dream that it would turn into what it is today.

“It worked out way better than we thought,” Mueller said. “His connections all over the world are an amazing boost to the University. We were struggling for credibility early on, and having his name here gave us credibility.”

The big turnout for Tuesday’s breakfast at Canyon 49 Grill was indicative of that credibility. Just listening to Little talk about it tells you everything you need to know about what people are saying.

“I was telling my husband on the way over here, I’ve really been in awe of what Brian Mueller and the team have done to take this school from what it was not too long ago and what they’ve done with the community and employing people in the community and scholarships to the employees – it’s impressive,” Little said.

“I’m always talking about them wherever I am. And I’ve got some friends who have kids who are getting ready to go to college, and I have one that got accepted here from San Diego that got accepted for the hospitality program and I actually think he’s going to come. I think it had a lot to do with me saying, ‘You’ve got to look into it. You’ve got to look into it.’”

Mike Ingram offered to match any Students Inspiring Students donation up to $10,000.

Another byproduct of Tuesday’s event was support for the Students Inspiring Students (SIS) full-tuition scholarship program, whose first two graduates last spring were featured in a video shown at the start of the program.

Each year, the University awards full-tuition scholarships to students from inner-city schools who seek free academic assistance in GCU's Learning Lounge and demonstrate financial need. Those students then pay it forward as college students by serving as tutors/mentors in the Learning Lounge to the next generation of students behind them.

Ingram brought with him to the event his book, “The Master Plan: Three Keys to Building a Business and Life with Purpose,” and said if anyone in attendance offered $10,000 for the book – in the form of a pledge to SIS – he would match it. Mueller quickly pledged $10,000, followed by Colangelo soon after.

SIS is designed to make west Phoenix a better place, but Mueller told the audience that there are thousands of people across Arizona seeking to have a similar impact. That’s why Colangelo wanted to create these awards.

“It’s inspiring people to lead in the same way,” he said.

Just as he has inspired other leaders for so many years.

"I am so grateful that he has been a mentor for me," Watson said.

Colangelo was joined onstage by Todd Graver, Vice President, Human Resources for Operations at Freeport, and Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean and the emcee for the event. Graver also is a CCOB advisory board member, and his daughter is in CCOB. Freeport and CCOB have collaborated to create servant leadership training in English and Spanish. 

Gibb had the perfect sentiment to end the event:

"I think the message is clear: If you want to lead, start serving."


David Kimmerle

David Kimmerle's daughter, Paige Cox, accepted the award on his behalf. He was out of town and unable to attend.

David Kimmerle found a successful career through Sanderson Ford after he moved up from sweeping floors to working in parts and service and then later managing the sales department.

David took over as CEO in 1985 and turned their philosophy of “The Dealership that Service Built” to “The Dealership that Community Service Built.”

Kimmerle credits his employees and the dealership’s commitment to giving back to the community for all the success. Sanderson Ford helps raise $100,000 for Special Olympics Arizona every year through the Guardian Games, provides tickets to various sporting games for soldiers, and supports Fighter Country Partnership supporting the men, women, families and mission of Luke Air Force Base.

Their biggest event of the year, Operation Santa Claus, has raised over $10 million worth of food, toys, clothing and cash over the past 10 years. Committed to his employees, Kimmerle closes the dealership every Sunday so they can enjoy time with their families.

Linda Little

Linda Little, President of iHeartMedia Phoenix, has built her career in multimedia entertainment, and is an executive dedicated to leading high performing teams that deliver engaging content to audiences and opportunities for companies to reach that audience.

Little uses her experience in audio broadcasting, digital, podcasting, OTT and event marketing to help create and execute solutions for advertisers that drive attributable results. Since becoming President in 2015, she has created a community impact initiative called #iHeartPhxProject, which incentivizes her team to get involved in the community and support causes that are important to them.

iHeartMedia has partnered with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Mary’s Foodbank, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, Valley animal shelters and many more. Little also sits on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, Workshops for Youth and Families and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

Mike Ingram

Mike Ingram founded El Dorado Holdings, Inc., a Phoenix-based land and development business, in 1987 and as CEO has built the company into one of the largest private land holdings in the greater Phoenix and Maricopa County region.

He is committed to several business and civic organizations and serves on the boards of the U.S. Department of Interior International Wildlife Conservation Council, Arizona-Mexico Commission, the Translational Genomics Research Institute Foundation, Mayo Clinic Arizona Leadership Council, and many more.

He is also actively involved with Pinnacle Forum, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ and its ministries within. A recent inductee to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Ingram has remained committed to higher education and charitable endeavors throughout his lifetime.

Sandra Watson

Sandra Watson receives her award from Graver and Colangelo.

Sandra Watson brings more than 20 years of economic development leadership experience to Arizona in her position as President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA).

She and her teams have worked with nearly 1,000 companies that have committed to creating over 160,000 projected new jobs and making more than $15 billion in capital investments in Arizona.

Watson is a collaborative leader who excels in strategic thinking and relationship building and has worked tirelessly to implement the new vision for the Arizona Commerce Authority. In addition to her work at ACA, she also serves on the Board of Trustees for the State Science and Technology Institute and is a board member of the

Watson is very passionate about everything that Make-A-Wish Arizona does for children battling a critical illness. She is also heavily involved in her children’s schools and supports a range of initiatives to better the schools.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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