When the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame was created 25 years ago to recognize business leaders from the past who had contributed to the economic growth of the region, some quietly expressed concern that the event might soon run out of past leaders to honor.
A quarter century on, as Junior Achievement of Washington and Puget Sound Business Journal prepare to induct four new laureates into the Hall of Fame, it's become clear that the region had no shortage of business leaders to celebrate.
In fact, while the event retains the name "Puget Sound," it has grown in the past couple of years to include Eastern Washington business leaders among those eligible for selection.
Thus at a time when the quest for heroes in business is perhaps more important than it has ever been, the number of business leaders chosen over the years to be honored at this unique annual event passes 100 Thursday evening when the following four laureates are inducted:
Jim Douglas, who created Northgate as the nation's first shopping center designed as a mall, helped launch Seafair as part of the celebration of Seattle's 100th anniversary and and became the "pitchman" for the vision that became the Space Needle, symbol of Century 21.
Edie Hilliard, A radio pioneer as one of the first female general managers of a major market station, who then built one of the nation's largest independent radio networks.
Budd Gould, founder and principal owner, and still president, of Anthony's Restaurants, who brought the essence of waterfront dining to communities from Bellingham to Spokane and Richland to Bend.
William Ruckelshaus, perhaps the nation's leading environmental figure of the past half century. who served two presidents as administrator of the EPA and also fashioned a career in the private sector as CEO of Browning Ferris Industries and senior vice president of Weyerhaeuser Co. He now is strategic director at Madrona Venture Group.
It was the late Jack Ehrig, Seattle ad-agency head and a key supporter of Junior Achievement, who in 1986 approached me, as publisher of PSBJ, about creating a local event that would parallel the national Business Hall of Fame event for which FORTUNE Magazine was the partner of JA.
FORTUNE chose the laureates for JA to honor in those years, producing a special insert in the magazine to introduce them to its readers and JA honored the national laureates at a prestigious annual banquet that cities competed for because it attracted some of the biggest names in business nationally.
In a similar manner, laureate selection became the role for PSBJ and JA produced the first banquet to honor those selected in 1987.
FORTUNE's rule was that honorees had to be retired from day-to-day involvement with the companies where they had built their reputations. That sounded to me like a good way to ensure there wouldn't be any lobbying on behalf of a currently active CEO so that became our rule as well. That also has changed a few years ago with the induction of Eastside business leader and developer Kemper Freeman, still very much active in his business.
From the outset, I populated the selection committee with people who were not only business icons in their own right, but also understood far more about business history than I did. Thus each annual selection gathering became a lesson in local business lore.
And it was the insight of those members of the selection committee, including from the outset longtime community and business leader Jim Ellis, who personally knew more than half a century worth of the prospects, that brought forward well-known and not-so-well-known names from the past.
Because of the prominence of JA Seattle in the national organization, particularly because we had built what many viewed as the best local hall of fame program in JA, it became logical for the Seattle JA leadership to seek to have the national event in Seattle.
That finally occurred in 1992, which happened to be the year that Steve Jobs, then between jobs since he had been edged out of Apple a few years earlier, was a laureate. But Jobs, with typical unpredictability, apparently decided he didn't care to head up to Seattle from Silicon Valley for the event and the word spread the day of the banquet that he wouldn't be there.
But by late afternoon, to the relief of all, it was learned that Jobs had changed his mind and would, in fact, be on hand to accept his award. Only a few insiders were aware that FORTUNE publisher Jim Hayes, a high-visibility figure at the national banquet, had telephone Jobs to advise him that if he failed to show up, his name would never again appear in the magazine.
The business leaders of JA Washington in 2008, led by longtime venture capital executive Woody Howse and wine-industry leader Michael Towers, began building a case for the return of the national event to Seattle.
But it soon became clear, as the Great Recession got its grip on the nation's financial throat, that the world had changed. National gatherings of business leaders for something like a Hall of Fame banquet, and the significant corporate financial support necessary to carry it off, soon seemed unrealistic. None has been held since then.
But the JA Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame remains a viable and important reminder each year of the role successful business leaders can play in representing role models for the business leaders of today and the young people of JA who will be the business leaders of tomorrow.