Husband, father, grandfather, executive, entrepreneur, veteran, Arizonan, alumnus—Karl Eller was born in 1928 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Tucson.
He graduated high school in 1946, enlisted in the U.S. Army and served his country for three years before enrolling at the University of Arizona. Two days after his 1952 graduation, Karl married the love of his life, Joan “Stevie” Stevens ’52 BS (Education).
About a decade later, Eller Outdoor Advertising was born. Eventually, Karl went on to lead the Gannett Company and Columbia Pictures, serving as board chairman and CEO. In the early 1980s, he became chairman and CEO of the Circle K Corporation, building it into the second largest convenience store operation in the country. Later, he became chairman/CEO of Eller Media Company, sold to Clear Channel Communications in 1997. In the course of his career, Karl weathered his share of downturns and setbacks with determination and style, seeing each as an opportunity for transformation.
An early believer that entrepreneurs could be developed through education, Karl provided the founding gift to create the Chris and Carol McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, one of the first centers of its kind in the United States. In 1998, The University of Arizona School of Business was renamed the Eller College of Management in recognition of his enormous impact on the university, the college and the thousands of students who walk through its doors every year.
The pillars of the college reflect his foundations:
- The pursuit of excellence
- An entrepreneurial spirit
- A “relentless pattern of calculated risk taking, innovation and integrity”
Karl was immensely proud of the college that bears his name, and all its programs, activities, initiatives and people. He is survived by Stevie, their two children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Collectively, let us all, every day, act with integrity, think entrepreneurially, embrace change and transform our challenges into opportunities.
In this way, we will honor Karl’s memory, live up to his name and continue his legacy.
Karl Eller enlists in the U.S. Army.
Karl Eller returns to his studies at the University of Arizona.
Karl Eller and Joan Stevens graduate from the University of Arizona.
Karl Eller purchases the Arizona operations of New York-based ad company Foster and Kleiser.
Karl Eller forms Combined Communications, which goes on to be the umbrella company of seven television stations, 14 radio stations, 12 outdoor advertising companies and two daily newspapers before it is bought out by Gannett in 1979-80.
Karl Eller becomes chairman and CEO of Circle K. The Karl Eller Center for the Study of the Private Market Economy opens and later metamorphoses into the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program. Chris and Carol McGuire go on to endow the program as a center.
The Karl Eller Graduate School of Management is officially established.
Karl Eller sells Eller Media to Clear Channel for $1.15 billion.
The entire college is renamed as the Eller College of Management.
Karl Eller is inducted into the American Advertising Hall of Fame.
Remembering Karl Eller
"Karl Eller was a true pillar of this community and an inspiration to the many people whose lives were positively impacted by his generosity, dedication and Wildcat spirit. The University of Arizona is incredibly fortunate to carry on his legacy through our students in the Eller College of Management and programs throughout our campus for many generations to come. His decades of leadership and philanthropy have been nothing short of transformative, and he will be remembered and missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him."
— Dr. Robert C. Robbins, President, The University of Arizona
"Very few times in our lifetime we have the opportunity to meet, work with and learn from someone like Karl Eller. Karl has directly impacted the Eller College in so many ways. His and Stevie’s generosity is unparalleled, but the monetary gift was just one side of it. Generations of students learned about life and professionalism by following Karl’s passion for making things better around him, his entrepreneurial spirit and above all his integrity. Thousands of students, faculty and staff will forever be proud to have their names associated with Karl Eller’s name. Karl has taught us that it’s all about seeing opportunities in challenges, pursuing the highest good and that integrity is non-negotiable. I am so proud of having known and learned from you, Karl. Your legacy lives on in The Eller College!"
— Paulo B. Goes, Dean, The Eller College of Management
“Karl is the consummate University of Arizona supporter. Whether it’s giving of his resources or time, he has led, from the front, the efforts to make Eller and the University of Arizona great, enviable institutions.”
— Olden Lee ’68 BSBA (Management)
"Karl Eller was a man with so many facets…he was a man of vision, a man of passion, a man of dedication and, always, a man of integrity. Karl was a gifted and cherished son of both the University of Arizona and the State of Arizona, and his support and impact cannot be fully articulated nor overstated. I am honored to have known him and had him as a role model and mentor, and I am so proud to be a part of the academic brand that bears his name. Rest in peace, Karl."
— Jeff Schatzberg, Director, School of Accountancy and Lou Myers Professor of Accounting
“Karl Eller created a foundation that allowed any human being no matter their race, gender, age or lifestyle to turn their dreams into opportunities. Eller has offered me an array of opportunities that has allowed me to embrace my Hispanic culture, learn about other people's cultures and bring value to the College. When I began at the University of Arizona, as a pre-business student, Eller embraced who I was as a person and allowed me to showcase my talents to the best of my ability. Karl Eller not only taught me skills that made me successful in college, but skills that I will use in my career and the rest of my life. I firmly believe that I would have not accomplished what I had if it had not been for what Karl Eller began.”
— Andreina Valenzuela Robles ’19 BSBA (Marketing and Entrepreneurship)
“Karl's dedication to the Eller College and our students and the integrity he showed us all in his lifetime of work is unique and worth emulating for each and every one of us.”
— Mrinal Ghosh, Soldwedel Professor of Marketing and Marketing Department Head
“Thank you, Karl and Stevie, for an amazing legacy that will transform students into very successful business people throughout time. We love our Eller College and are very sad to hear of Karl's passing. I want to thank Karl for regularly interacting with students, attending meetings and advocating for the success of the College. Having had the pleasure of attending special recognition programs for Karl over the years, he is more than a Tucson kid that devoted his life to his beloved University of Arizona and the Eller College of Management. Karl is one of Arizona's most important businessmen running solid businesses ethically, attracting new sports teams, thinking about innovation and putting Arizona on the map as a progressive and innovative state. Thank you, Karl, for your many legacies: thank you for your book full of terrific lessons, thank you for your passion, thank you for being you. Karl, you will be missed and we are blessed having learned from you and earned your support.”
— Pam Perry, Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs
“Dear Karl: I wanted to let you know that the support you have generously provided to my research and teaching activities at the Eller College has been immensely valuable. They helped me make stronger contributions to the College and the University of Arizona in many ways. The appreciation is beyond words… I’m very proud of the affiliation with you and your family!”
— Yong Liu, Eller Professor of Marketing
“Eller has prepared me with the pertinent knowledge and skills to go out in the workforce and excel no matter the task or environment with the innovation and integrity Karl Eller lives by.”
— Lelan Aaron Thomas Simpson ’19 BSBA (MIS)
“Karl Eller was a business icon and a pioneer in the fields of entrepreneurship and advertising. Of course, he is also the most important person in the history of the Eller College of Management. All faculty, staff and students of the College have benefited from Karl’s enduring generosity.”
— Jerel Slaughter, Eller Professor of Management and Management and Organizations Department Head
“I have had the fortune of being supported by a Karl and Stevie Eller Professorship since I came to the University of Arizona from Stockholm in 2003, and I am so grateful to them for supporting me. Beyond that, Karl Eller has inspired my research more directly. In 2017, together with two former Eller College PhD students, I published an article called 'Honesty and Informal Agreements' concerning the shape and impact of deals that honest folks strike. The introduction of the paper says, ‘Bargaining theory … focuses on binding contracts. Much less attention has been given to informal (non-binding) agreements. A likely reason is that if people maximize own income, a common assumption, then there is limited scope for informal agreements to have impact. A selfish agent would simply renege if this were in his interest. Humans have tendencies that curb such opportunism. Successful entrepreneur Karl Eller, for example, wrote his book Integrity Is All You’ve Got (2004) in which that message is clear. ... Eller writes about 'the happiness that comes with knowing you’ll never be ashamed to face yourself in the mirror' (p.103). […] We develop, and then experimentally test, relevant theory.’ Thank you for writing your very nice book which inspired us greatly, Karl!”
— Martin Dufwenberg, Eller Professor of Economics
“I am proud to be the 'Eller Professor' in MIS in the Eller College of Management. Quite an honor.”
— Joe Valacich, Eller Professor of Management Information Systems
“My college experience here has been heavily influenced by the professional atmosphere that Eller provides. As students, we are expected to not only excel in our classes but are encouraged to be involved in extra-curricular activities that suit our interests. Through case competitions and group projects, we are put in situations that mirror real-world professional environments to help prepare us for our plans after graduation. This is evident through the countless successful internships my classmates have completed. Karl Eller's impact means being both academically and professionally prepared for whatever our future career entails. He has created a foundation here at Eller that motivates and inspires students to achieve incredible things during and after leaving the university.”
— Ipsita Chatterjee ’19 BSBA (Accounting and MIS)
“When you think of the success of the business school at the University of Arizona you have to credit namesake Karl Eller. A visionary in the advertising and media fields, Karl exemplifies business through hard work, integrity, community and entrepreneurship. The Eller College of Management has been lucky to have such a great friend and donor throughout the years.”
— Rob Ross ’88 BSBA (Finance)
"I have any positive memories of Karl’s leadership at Eller. He had a strong entrepreneurial spirit as shown in his daily life and in his many business endeavors. He exhibited a thoughtful and humble leadership style that was very effective in attracting talented business deans and business leaders to the Eller College experience. Karl was always very student focused. He encouraged academic leaders and board members to find effective new ways to help the students be more competitive in finding and building careers. Examples of this include teaching entrepreneurial thinking through business plan preparation and competitions and helping the students improve their communication skills. He also encouraged finding more internship opportunities to help students gain first hand knowledge of how businesses plan and implement plans prior to their graduation. Karl has been an inspiration to me and many others involved with the Eller College. The students have benefited from their business education and know Karl was instrumental in providing this exceptional educational experience. A JOB WELL DONE, KARL."
— Jon Underwood '64 BSBA (Marketing) and Tammy Underwood '65 BS (Home Economics)
"When I was Communications Director for the UA Foundation, I did an interview with Karl for a story that ran in one of our magazines. He was less than a month from having had hip replacement surgery and he was getting around fine without a walker or cane. This was a man in his 70s who had just undergone surgery and I could hardly see any signs of it. It was pretty amazing."
— Rodney Campbell, Communications and Marketing Manager, The American Board of Radiology.
"I owe my education and career to Karl Eller. He will forever be a part of my life. His generosity was unmatched. He will be greatly missed."
— Sarah Diaz, Assistant Dean, Career and Professional Development
"Act with integrity, think entrepreneurially, embrace change and transform our challenges into opportunities #ThankYouKarl"
— Haobo Zhang '18 MSMIS
"I graduated from the U of A College of Engineering in 2007 and I met my wife Hillary (then Hillary Serie) at the U of A in 2002; she graduated in 2005 from the Eller College of Management. She helped to start the Eller College International Ethics Case Competition in 2003 with Paul Melendez and Pam Perry. She absolutely loved the Eller College and she had a fantastic college experience. Thank you, Karl, for your investment in people and education. My wife and I now have three girls and wonderful jobs in industry. I am battling six diseases and have had four organs removed. I also have a love for the military and after graduation, was a lead engineer for Lockheed Martin (on the F-35 jet) and currently work as a PM for Boeing Phantom Works. Thank you for your service in the U.S. Army. Due to my health, I will never be able to physically serve our country, so I became an engineer to help our soldiers and warfighters with products to succeed in the airspace and battlefield. God bless you, Karl. Thanks for all you have done for past, present and future students of U of A!"
— Jake Thye '07 BS (Engineering Management)
"May God (Allah) bless Karl Eller and include him in His mercy, and grant patience to his love ones. Karl's legacy in helping so many Americans and non-Americans to follow his path will go on."
— Bajis Dodin, Dean, College of Business, Alfraisal University, Riyadh, Saudia Arabia
"My youngest daughter graduated from Eller College. What an amazing school and an amazing man. His life was full and admirable. He left quite a legacy. Someone for generations to look up to. RIP, Karl. You will be missed but never forgotten."
— Ellie Hundshamer, President, Kachina Sign Center
"What a wonderful legacy. Thank you!"
— Elizabeth Watson, Vice President, APAC
"Karl donated 10 billboards to be used to help advertise the first Spring Fling in 1975 when he was the head of Eller Outdoor."
— Scott Nation '74, Co-founder of Spring Fling and Alum Phi Gamma Delta
"Thank you, Mr. Eller, for contributing so much to our college and our country. It is a great honor and privilege to learn in the very same institution that you were a part of. Godspeed, sir."
— Carl Cue '21 BSBA
"Karl and Stevie have been friends ever since he captained my coed touch football game circa 1964 when I was first elected to the Arizona State Senate, thence our friendship grew as we shared common purposes. He was always admired for avoiding politics per se and giving back to the greater community, including his church."
— Orme Lewis Jr. '58 BSBA (Business Economics), Owner, Select Investments
"I will always be proud to have attended a college with Karl Eller's name on it! He and Stevie are the consummate champions of business students, the University of Arizona and education in general. I will greatly miss Karl’s presence at so many functions. While the financial gifts he and Stevie have given are very important, his presence and volunteerism are invaluable! He was always there in person to show his support and give advice. I am glad he left his mark not only with his name but also on the stairs at the Karl and Stevie Eller Professional Development Center. But most important he gifted us with the importance of INTEGRITY. It may not be all we’ve got from Karl, but it’s the greatest gift of all."
— Nicollette Daly '08 BSBA (Accounting) '10 MaCC, Chief Financial Officer, Primavera Foundation
"I had the pleasure to meet and know Karl when I was enlisted to serve on the MBA Board by then Dean Mark Zupan, another great part of the university. There never were any people of greater leadership quality than Karl who exuded energy, caring and demand for the same of all those in the college that carried his name. It is more to celebrate a life so fulfilled beyond any imaginable boundaries than to mourn his loss because of his gifts to all that will be his legacy to those whose degrees will bear his name."
— John Honick, GMA International
"It was my great privilege to be the dean of the Eller College of Management when it was named in Karl's honor and to be a part of the team that helped him with his autobiography Integrity Is All You've Got, and Seven Other Lessons of the Entrepreneurial Life. My most memorable meeting with him involved a lunch in Phoenix in 1998 that was anticipated to last only an hour but turned into a two-hour affair notwithstanding the press of other business matters on his end. The reason for the unanticipated length was the fact that I had asked Karl (prior to the College being dedicated in his honor) which words he ultimately wanted to be remembered by. Karl was crystal clear but expansive in his reply, noting that in the end it all boiled down to integrity. He shared some specific thoughts on integrity that he had penned: "Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with the other qualities. Make absolute integrity the compass that guides you in everything you do. And surround yourself only with people with flawless integrity." Karl lived the foregoing words in both his personal life and distinguished professional career. And I will always treasure the opportunity to have gotten to know, learn from and be friends with a man who so completely made integrity his north star."
— Mark Zupan, President, Alfred University
"My interactions with Karl started more than 30 years ago and his impact on the University of Arizona is unparalleled. I've enjoyed my interaction with him as an Arizona Football letterman and an Honorary Bobcat. Most recently, he welcomed me into the Eller family when I joined the Eller College of Management. I have seen first hand the impact he and Stevie have made on the students, faculty and staff. It is now my honor to continue to promote his legacy. Thank you Karl for all you have done and thank you Stevie for being his partner in this adventure called life. He will continue to live on in you. God Bless you and your family."
— Phoebe Chalk Wadsworth, Senior Director of Development and Alumni Relations