Remembering Karl Eller's impact on the McGuire Center

March 13, 2019

Entrepreneurship is not something new. There is nothing magical or mystical about it. To the contrary, entrepreneurship is common sense balanced by a mind open to innovative problem solving – tempered with a willingness to take a calculated risk and willingness to accept the consequences of that risk.
  – Karl Eller, A World of Possibilities

The McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship community is deeply saddened by the passing of Karl Eller on March 10, 2019 at age 90.

Karl Eller played a pivotal role in the development of entrepreneurship education at the University of Arizona.  An early believer that entrepreneurs could be developed through education, Eller was a pioneer developing entrepreneurship centers at universities. In 1983, Eller brought the idea to his alma mater and, working with Dean Kenneth Smith and Dr. Gary Libecap, they conceptualized, funded and launched the Karl Eller Center for the Study of Private Market Economy. The center was one of a small handful American universities teaching entrepreneurship education and among the first to offer degree programs at the undergraduate level in addition to master’s level programs. 

His pioneering idea and belief in entrepreneurship education have blossomed into the Chris and Carol McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. The Center has been recognized as a leader in entrepreneurship education across the globe for more than 30 years. The Ellers endowed the Center that bore his name in 1997, and two years later, endowed the College of Business and Public Administration, which became the Eller College one year later in 2000.

Karl Eller and his wife Stevie have left a significant mark in Arizona with their generosity, work ethic and community mindedness. Although he was born in Chicago, he arrived in Tucson at age 9. He attended Tucson High School where he would often mention winning the football city championship under coach Rollin Gridley. He joined the army after graduation and served two years. Upon returning, he enrolled at the University of Arizona where he received his degree in Marketing.

Among Karl’s first “entrepreneurial ventures” was hiring class note takers, reproducing and selling class notes to earn money to buy an engagement ring for Joan "Stevie" Stevens, a fellow Wildcat, whom he wed two days after graduation in 1952. Through their generosity and commitment to the University of Arizona, the Ellers have also established the Stevie Eller Dance School at the UA, one of the top ranked of its kind in the nation. 

The program started through Karl’s vision and has been ranked among the top 10 in the country for 30 years. The Center has served over 2400 students that have launched hundreds of ventures. For more than 30 years, Karl attended the annual year-end competition as a judge, asking tough questions of the student teams who had the chance – unusual in higher education – to present in front of their college's namesake. 

Karl’s influence on entrepreneurship education cannot be overstated.  His unwavering commitment to the students at the University of Arizona has changed lives and his positive impact will carry on forever.  He was a champion for entrepreneurship and his legacy will continue to impact generations of entrepreneurs. 

“Karl became committed to investing in entrepreneurship education as early as the 1960s when Karl had an opportunity to acquire an outdoor advertising region, but needed to create a business plan,” said Sherry Hoskinson, former Center director from 1995-2011. “Not knowing where to start, he gathered a few professional friends, developed a successful business plan and committed at that time, if he ever had the resources, he wanted to create a program at his beloved University of Arizona that would teach students how to be entrepreneurs.”

“Karl was a great friend and mentor, not only to me, but to numerous U of A students over the last 70+ years," said Chris McGuire, VP of Programs and Director of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. "He will always be a giant promoting entrepreneurship.”

“Thousands of students have been directly impacted by Karl Eller’s commitment to entrepreneurial education,” said Rick Yngve, Interim Director of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. “On a personal level, being a graduate of both the Eller College and McGuire Center, I know my professional journey dramatically changed after Gary Libecap came to our MBA classes to recruit for the new venture program. The program experience created my own entrepreneurial mindset and startup skills that I’ve since applied in consulting businesses, serving on nonprofit boards, or in teaching students. I’m excited to see the McGuire Center continue to uphold Karl’s leadership, integrity and commitment to the Arizona community as we work to educate future entrepreneurs.”

We here at the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship owe a great debt of gratitude to Karl and Stevie Eller for the support and investment in the lives of every individual who have been part of the Center for the past 35 years. Let’s all keep the spirit of Karl Eller alive by keeping an open mind to innovative problem solving and making absolute integrity the compass that guides us.