Donald Findley, who transformed a financially ailing Associated Students UCLA into a thriving enterprise with his business acumen and vision for the campus, died Sunday, Nov. 13, of pneumonia as a result of complications of Parkinson's disease. A resident of Loveland, Colorado, he was 83.
During his more than three decades of service, Findley left a distinctive imprint on the campus that can still be seen and felt today. As the executive director of ASUCLA and the first director of the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, he oversaw an era of revitalization and renewal of restaurants, facilities in Ackerman Student Union and Kerckhoff Hall, and other places where students and alumni still gather today. He also came up with the concept of “BearWear,”a UCLA apparel line that has garnered national and international success.
During his tenure at ASUCLA from 1970 to 1981, he quadrupled the organization’s gross sales from $7.3 million to $30.4 million. “By the time he left the organization in 1981, it had vastly improved its service to the entire campus community,” according to the UCLA Alumni Association, which presented him with its University Service Award in 2001.
“Throughout his tenure at UCLA, he helped create and foster a strong sense of community in a large and diverse campus environment,” the alumni association award citation read. “His acute attention to detail and perceptive understanding of people's needs, particularly students, have driven his success and ensured his enduring legacy at UCLA.”
Findley began his career at General Electric where he worked for three years before going to Northwestern to earn an M.B.A. with a focus on marketing. He worked in advertising research and strategy and later took a job as a management consultant for a leading national firm in 1962. In 1970, he joined the staff of ASUCLA as UCLA as executive director.
What Findley found when he first visited the campus “was a prestigious place,” he explained in an interview that was published in the Southern Campus UCLA Yearbook in 1975, “a beautiful place and a place, as I saw it, with great potential.” But he also saw areas in disrepair, outdated cafeterias, old trophies in wall cases, “and a profit and loss statement [that] was almost unintelligible.”
In his first year at the helm of ASUCLA, he sparked controversy when he raised the price of a cup of coffee from 10 cents to 15 cents a cup, a move that the Daily Bruin protested by spearheading a “coffee crusade.”
Developing a food service master plan and long-range facilities development plan, Findley updated the institutional cafeterias with new menus, attractive storefronts and appealing names, including the Truck Farm, La Quicherie and North Venice Noodle Company. Under his management, an old ticket office was transformed into the Kerckhoff Coffee House, which initially served crepes and ice cream as well as coffee.
After doing extensive research to track pedestrian traffic on campus, Findley convinced the student-majority board of directors to approve expansion plans that led to the opening of new locations away from the student union complex. The Bombshelter Deli and Burger Bar was renovated in 1974-75, and the North Campus Student Center opened in 1976. Plans for the complex now known as Lu Valle Commons were approved in 1980-81.
Another example of his marketing prowess was the creation of the “BearWear” concept. Findley revolutionized institutional apparel programs, with the UCLA apparel line becoming a national leader — with a huge assist from Coach John Wooden and the UCLA basketball dynasty. He also blazed a path for BearWear sales in Japan through international licensing agreements.
In 1981, Findley left ASUCLA to become the first director of the 42-acre UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, reporting to UCLA Housing. During his tenure there, he again led a transformation that expanded and modernized the complex.
Working with then-Chancellor Charles E. Young, then-Vice Chancellor Alan Charles and UCLA Housing, Findley expanded capacity by adding “condolets” to house conference visitors during the academic year and campers during the summers.
But his contributions to the campus weren’t limited to bricks and mortar. He was praised for his mentorship of students, including hundreds of Bruin Woods student counselors who learned about character, values and ethics from him.
"Don was a friend to all fellow campers, young and old," said Gloria Stypinski, assistant chancellor emerita, who celebrated July 4 with her family at Bruin Woods for 15 years. "He made Bruins out of everyone. The eight-clap was as much a tradition there as were hot dogs, fireworks and UCLA blue-and-gold T-shirts. Many of us made lifelong friends there, and our common thread was always Bruin Woods."
Findley retired in 1998.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joyce Ricker Findley; daughters Sharon Findley Newman and Andrea Findley; and three grandchildren.