For more than three decades, the Century Club speaker series has brought business leaders to the school to share their insights and knowledge with the Olin community. According to Sandy Jurgenson, “The Century Club name derived from the fact that the invited guests had donated $100 or more to the business school.” Jurgenson, a longtime member of the Alumni & Development staff, possesses priceless institutional knowledge of all things Olin. Not only is she an Olin alumna (BSBA ’81), but as the producer and director of the annual Distinguished Alumni Dinners for the past 23 years, she really does know everyone at the school, past and present.
The speaker series launched in 1979 with a talk by Bill Emory, a marketing professor who also served as the first director of Olin’s Executive MBA program. Only 50 Century Club members attended that first gathering, but over the decades the audience has steadily grown. Originally held in the living room at the Alumni House, Century Club moved to Simon Hall’s May Auditorium for many years before relocating to Knight Hall’s Emerson Auditorium in 2014.
“I remember in the early 1980s when Sam Fox (BSBA ’51) and John Wallace (MBA ’62) were leading the Century Club committee. They challenged, ‘We can do better. Instead of vice presidents and division heads, let’s make these meetings a forum for CEOs.’ You know what happens when Sam Fox and John Wallace issue a challenge? You meet it!”
– Dean Emeritus Bob Virgil
On several occasions, Century Club events have been held in Graham Chapel to accommodate extraordinarily large crowds. When Carlos Brito, the new CEO of AB InBev, came to speak in 2010, it was standing room only in Graham Chapel, with more than 700 in the audience.
According to the official records, there have been more than 200 Century Club speakers over the years, including annual State of the School presentations by the dean. Many of these speakers have been notable alumni, corporate leaders from a wide range of industries, and CEOs of top companies in St. Louis.
One speaker, who attracted some of the largest audiences in Century Club’s history, does not fit the typical CEO profile. Intelligence was the coin of his realm and the topics he addressed in his first appearance in 1983 sound very familiar today: computer-assisted crime, technology transfer, and industrial espionage. The speaker was William H. Webster, then Director of the FBI. Webster was a graduate of WashU Law School and member of the University’s Board of Trustees. In 1987, Webster was appointed Director of the CIA by President Ronald Reagan.
Webster warned the business school audience about threats to corporate security and gave several examples of cases the FBI had worked on, including one involving a new breed of criminal, called a “hacker”—a new term in 1983.
The list of Century Club speakers is long and distinguished. Here are just a few names of the top executives who have spoken over the past three decades:
- Margaret Bush Wilson, St. Louis attorney, WashU Emeritus Trustee (1981)
- August A. Busch III, Chairman and President, Anheuser-Busch (1982)
- Richard J. Mahoney, Chairman and CEO, Monsanto (1989)
- John S. Reed, Chairman and CEO, Citicorp and Citibank (1994)
- Herb Kelleher, Chairman, President and CEO, Southwest Airlines (1994)
- W. Marriott Jr., Chairman and President Marriott International, Inc. (1996)
- Jerry Kent, President and CEL, Charter Communications, Inc. (2000)
- Maxine Clark, Founder and then-CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop (2001)
Century Club’s Centennial Year series launched Oct. 4, 2016 with Sharon Price John, President and CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
Photos courtesy of WashU Archives.Read more stories