Karl Eller passed away a week ago. Karl, the namesake of the University of Arizona’s business school, would have turned 91 years old in June. The ripple effect of Karl’s presence in Arizona is felt by all of us every single day.
I would regularly take Karl to lunch at Keegan’s Grill in Phoenix. Our lunch routine was the same every time. I would get Karl in the car and head off to Keegan’s on Camelback Road. On our way, Karl would say, “Can you believe how many cars there are? Where did all these people come from?”
My reply to Karl was, “This is all YOUR fault.” This is what happens when, in 1961, you buy a billboard company and build it into a national, multimedia conglomerate that eventually sells to Gannett for almost $400 million.
This is what happens when, in 1967, you have the vision to apply for an NBA franchise to come to Phoenix and you hire Jerry Colangelo to run the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are now in their 51st year and with Jerry’s help, we now have the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals and the Coyotes.
This is what happens when you help start the Fiesta Bowl, which has grown into one of the premier college bowl games. The Fiesta Bowl has decided multiple National Championships and exposed our beautiful winter weather to millions of freezing football fans watching on TV.
This is what happens when you return to outdoor advertising. Within five years you move the company headquarters to Phoenix, grow the business and sell it to Clear Channel for $1.15 billion.
This is what happens when you donate not only millions of dollars, but also countless hours to the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, attracting students from all over the world.
The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Karl’s impact on the growth of Arizona is beyond calculation. All in all, Karl has led four different companies that were worth more than $1 billion and he has been extremely generous donating his time and treasures for many causes that have helped shape the Grand Canyon State.
Karl and his lovely wife Stevie, his devoted partner for over 66 years, have donated to causes ranging from education to science to health care. While his achievements have been recognized (I often joked with Karl that he should receive the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for receiving “Lifetime Achievement Awards”) I fear that his contributions are overlooked with so many new players in the state.
Karl was the classic entrepreneur and over his career he had his share of defeats, but even in the face of devastating circumstances he never lost his optimism and ability to see the big picture. Karl was my partner in a real estate venture that was very successful up until we got caught in the crash in 2007. It was when things got tough that Karl constantly called me, not to question one of my questionable decisions, but rather to encourage and support me. He would call just to say, “Hang in there, you’re doing great!” The effect of his optimism and support is still felt to this day.
After our lunch, I would take Karl back to his house, requiring us to again brave the traffic on Camelback Road. Once in the car I hear right on cue, “Can you believe all these cars?”
Yes Karl, I can believe it — and thank you.