Ken Denman, Joanne Harrell, Brad Smith, Betti Fujikado, Frank Hodge and Mike Katz. Photography by Suzi Pratt.

Experience Foster

30th Business Leadership Celebration honors exceptional leaders, supports experiential learning

The Foster School’s 30th annual Business Leadership Celebration celebrated transcendent leaders while shining a light on Foster’s myriad experiential learning opportunities that develop the next generation of leaders.

Brad Smith, the vice chair and president of Microsoft, delivered the keynote at the October 26 event held at the Seattle Convention Center. Distinguished Leadership Awards were presented to Betti Fujikado (BA 1977), co-founder of Copacino Fujikado and Success Cohorts, and Ken Denman (MBA 1986), general partner at Sway Ventures.

Participants of the event, presented by T-Mobile, raised more than $430,000 in support of hands-on education of every kind at and through Foster—from professional internships to board service to student organization leadership to case competitions to entrepreneurship competitions to consulting projects to international study… to name a few.

Resonant theory, real-world applications

MBA candidate Rebecca Ballweg has experienced all of the above—and more—in her 18 months at Foster. The Forté Fellow recounted one particularly indelible experience: her participation in the inaugural Race, Culture and Business immersive tour of the American South. Learning first-hand the economics and legacy of systemic racial oppression, she took a new perspective and proactive approach to her internship at EY-Parthenon last summer.

MBA candidate Rebecca Ballweg

There, she advised a client in healthcare research that developing partnerships with community groups would be critical to achieving its stated goal of increasing diversity in clinical trial participation and improving access to advanced healthcare. With good ideas, even interns can have impact.

“This is the power of experiential learning at Foster,” Ballweg said. “It forces students to leave the safety of the lecture hall, expand our world and dig our hands into the problems we are hoping to solve.”

Experience where you can get it

“I wish we had had experiential learning opportunities when I graduated in 1977,” opened Distinguished Leadership Awardee Betti Fujikado, in conversation with Dean Frank Hodge.

Fujikado earned a degree in accounting, and spent two decades amassing post-graduate experiential learning by shifting jobs regularly until she found her real passion in advertising. “Advertising is creativity and commerce,” she said. “That’s why I love the business of advertising.”

Inspired by her 92-year-old mother (in attendance), who once worked as an illustrator in the advertising department at Nordstrom and taught fashion illustration at the UW, Fujikado co-founded the agency Copacino Fujikado with Jim Copacino (also in attendance) at the age of 42. As CEO for the next 23 years, she led it to multiple Ad Age awards serving an A-list of clients.

A community leader, Fujikado also co-created Success Cohorts, an organization that coaches first-generation college grads, co-launched the “Democracy Cup” campaign encouraging communities of color to participate in the 2020 census and election, and co-created the oral history project “Our Stories Are Your Stories” with Wing Luke Museum to counteract anti-Asian hate.

Fujikado has mentored Foster MBAs for many years. She recalled how, in moments feeling powerless early in her career, there was always someone kind enough and engaged enough to listen, give advice and offer constructive criticism.

“If I have received any sort of power, my responsibility is to figure out how to share it, how to engage, how to listen, how to share my network,” she said. “You have to give back.”

Investing in the future

Fujikado’s fellow Distinguished Leadership Awardee, Ken Denman admitted he also is an accounting grad who strayed far off course (Dean Hodge made it a trio).

A self-professed “history and tech nerd” who “was into sci-fi and what might be possible,” Denman followed those inclinations after Foster to the global research and development firm Batelle, where he started his career as a financial analyst.

More significantly, he began a pattern of partnering with scientists and technologists. “They taught me the science and I would teach them business problems,” he said. “We’d try to solve hard problems that delivered value to the world.”

This ability to bridge science and business grew as Denman grew—to senior vice president of MediaOne, and CEO of iPass, Openwave Systems and Emotient. Today, he serves on the boards of directors of VMWare, Costco and Motorola Solutions, and works with industry disruptors at San Francisco-based Sway Ventures.

His investment strategy is deceptively simple: look for talented teams with great purpose.

“Fundamentally, I look for missionaries as opposed to mercenaries,” Denman said. “I want people who are really passionate about doing something important, they’ve identified a hard problem and they’re committed to running through brick walls to find a solution.”

He’s a big fan of interdisciplinary training and teams—with emphasis on teams.

“Nothing important happens without great teams and great teamwork,” said Denman, a past Fritzky Chair in Leadership who serves on the boards of Foster, the UW Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Early on, the most important things that get a fire lit under them are typically the product of a team that is strong and interdisciplinary. And I’ve always felt that the Foster School can be the catalyst.”

Innovation and optimism

In a keynote conversation with Joanne Harrell (BA 1976, MBA 1979), this year’s Fritzky Chair in Leadership, Microsoft’s Brad Smith discussed the pressing need for catalysts in the world as humanity faces the economic and existential challenge of climate change.

“The world’s climate transition is going to be perhaps the single most important factor to shape the rest of our lives,” he said, comparing carbon to Covid as an unavoidable agent of societal change. “For the next 30 years, as a planet, we’re going to be going through this incredible transformation to build a net-zero economy.”

Smith chooses to meet this challenge with innovation and optimism. Why? He’s seeing a serious commitment in the private sector. Microsoft is a leader among 3,868 companies around the world that have signed climate pledges in the last three years. His company is working toward becoming carbon-negative and water-positive by 2030. By 2050, it aims to have removed all of the carbon it has emitted since its founding.

“It is such a good thing that the business community has signed up for this level of ambition,” Smith said. “I always analogize to the moonshot. When John F. Kennedy said in 1961 that the United States would go the moon and come back safely by the end of the decade, no one had designed a lunar lander. That’s where we are. It’s 2022, and we have so much innovation in our future.”

How do we get there? First, by recognizing and closing the sustainability skills gap. Second, by making the challenge another moonshot—engaging the public, private and non-profit sectors in collaboration to invent, innovate and create new markets.

“If we can build a net-zero world by 2050, we can build a carbon-negative world every year after. Taking more out than we put in means that we can reverse some of the impacts of climate change,” Smith said. “It will take great leaders in government and in nonprofit and in business. When you look at the Foster School—this is one place where you can change the world.”

Shared values

This year’s Business Leadership Celebration may have featured a clash of Husky purple and T-Mobile magenta, but those colors turn out to be more complementary than they might at first appear.

“T-Mobile is very much a values-driven company,” said Mike Katz, chief marketing officer of the evening’s presenting partner. “And we share a lot of those values with the University of Washington and the Foster School of Business.”

Among them are the values of equal opportunity and diversity. “We believe organizations that have more diverse peoples, more diverse thought, more diverse talent, more diverse experience—those are better organizations that have a bigger impact, both in business results and in societal results,” Katz added. “And we know that’s a common DNA we share with the school.

“We’re excited to continue to partner with the Foster School of Business, because we know it’s bringing up the next generation of innovators and disruptors. We know the entire community benefits from that.”

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Business Community

Foster’s success is powered by many invaluable corporate and individual partnerships, many of which were on display at the Business Leadership Celebration.

Presenting Partner – T-Mobile
*In addition to their six-figure philanthropic commitment, up to ten T-Mobile employee volunteers will participate in key Experiential Learning opportunities helping inform the business education of our students throughout the academic year.

Experience – Costco, EY
Partner – KPMG, Gary & Barbara Wipfler, Zevenbergen Capital Investments
*Each made five-figure philanthropic commitments to Experiential Learning and also committed employee volunteers this academic year.

Contributor – Alaska Airlines, Amazon, American Piledriving Equipment, Inc., Susan Bevan, Jason & Stephanie Child, Copacino Fujikado, Crowley Maritime, D.A. Davidson, Deloitte, Neal & Jan Dempsey, Ken & Mary Denman, First Choice Health, Sunny & Prerna Gupta, Charles & Nancy Hogan, Lexdon, LLC, LMN Architects, Microsoft, The Mark Peek Family, Premera Blue Cross, PwC, Shelley Reynolds, Don & Karin Root Family, Success Cohorts, Wells Fargo

Ensured our fundraising success with five-figure philanthropic commitments, all proceeds from the Business Leadership Celebration will help foster leaders at the University of Washington through the many experiential learning opportunities that enhance their course and classroom work.

If you are considering a gift to Foster, please visit

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array of people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.