UCLA in the Community

UCLA Anderson presents Boeing's retired CEO with John Wooden leadership award

UCLA Anderson's awards ceremony
Holly Welch/UCLA

An audience of nearly 500 gathered Wednesday under and around the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center to honor James McNerney Jr.

UCLA Anderson recognized Boeing Company’s retired chairman, CEO and president W. James (“Jim”) McNerney Jr., as the 10th recipient of the John Wooden Global Leadership Award. An audience of nearly 500 that included UCLA Anderson supporters and Coach Wooden’s daughter Nan and son Jim gathered Wednesday under and around the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center.

“I’m deeply honored by this award,” McNerney said after receiving it from UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian. “John Wooden — if you’re of my generation, you know who he is, what he meant and what his values were. The prior (recipients) — I know them all, and I’m very proud to be included in that group.”

The distinction is awarded annually to an exceptional leader who espouses and embodies the principles exemplified by the legendary UCLA coach, teacher and leadership expert. Olian expressed admiration for McNerney’s decades of business success, which in 2015 earned him recognition as CEO of the Year by Chief Executive magazine.

In a featured conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the Los Angeles Times Michael Hiltzik, McNerney talked about the current state of manufacturing in the United States.

“Manufactuing, when you look at the numbers, has been down,” McNerney said. “But we are entering a place that should be a sweet spot for us. Technology is unlocking cost improvement, delivery and customization through digitization and automation. We’re exiting a period where we were disadvantaged but entering a period where technology and digitization are taking over. If we can grab that, we have a chance to regain our leadership.”

With dozens of UCLA Anderson students and alumni in attendance in mind, Hiltzik queried McNerney about the qualities it takes to reach the upper echelons of management. “By the time you’re ready for a job at the top, you have a threshold cap on hard skills,” McNerney said, referencing decision-making and investment strategies. “(At that point), the softer skills become more important. How do you motivate people, how do you work with a team to define a new culture, how do you push people [while] motivating them? It’s a lot more leadership, communication, alignment — dealing with gray areas outside the company. It’s more about being able to handle the unstructured environment. Those skills are the differentiators.”

The annual tribute to Coach Wooden was delivered by two-time American Basketball Association All-Star Swen Nater, who played on two of Coach Wooden’s title teams, and UCLA head women’s basketball coach Cori Close.

Close recalled her first meeting with Coach Wooden when she was an aspiring assistant at UCLA in the 1990s. “I was so insecure going into that room,” she said. Yet, she said, “I felt seen, I felt cared for, I felt valued. People were always more important to him than things.”

Nater lauded Coach for the example of humility and respectfulness he set. “When the UCLA team went on the road, we wore blue blazers and blue and gold ties, and we left the locker room cleaner than when we found it.” That resulted in hank you notes from custodians, praising the team’s consideration. “UCLA was the only team that did this,” he said.

Nater has penned at least 100 poems in homage to Coach. Among his succinct observations of what his mentor taught him, Nater said, “Beyond the ‘how,’ I learned the ‘why.’”

Proceeds from the dinner fund four $25,000 John Wooden Leadership Fellowships, given this year to UCLA Anderson students Doug Larratt, Corey McMillen, Datra Oliver and Eric Potocek.

Read the complete story in the UCLA Anderson School blog. A profile of Larratt is available here.

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