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Janine Davidson leverages Pentagon experience to lead MSU

2019 CEO of the Year Finalist: Janine Davidson's career took off in the Air Force but landed her at MSU


Janine Davidson | President

Metropolitan State University of Denver

2019 CEO of the Year Finalist

Janine Davidson's career took off in the Air Force: She flew missions all over the world in the 1980s and 1990s, then retired and worked for the Department of Defense.

She served as U.S. Undersecretary of the Navy — second in command after the commander-in-chief — at the end of President Barack Obama's second term. "The Pentagon is the headquarters of a $700 billion enterprise," says Davidson, 53. "It's highly political and very bureaucratic. To get something done is a darned art.”

Pentagon experience helped prepare Davidson to lead MSU Denver. "You've got to be squeaky clean and transparent," she says. "In order to move a big bureaucracy like that, it's important to have an inclusive decision-making process. It's about diversity of thought, but it's also about stakeholder buy-in."

Davidson says she aims to "reorient the university and double down on career issues." Students are looking at education as a career catalyst, and MSU Denver has invested heavily in career-oriented curricula aimed at aerospace, piloting, brewing, health care and other industries. 

The university recently launched the Classroom to Career Hub to connect students and employers. "They're all looking for talent," she says. "It's a huge issue across Colorado."

Recent validation came in the form of MSU Denver’s No. 5 ranking on U.S. News & World Report's 2020 list of Most Innovative Regional Universities in the West.

Helming MSU Denver is different than running a business. "I'm part CEO and part mayor," Davidson says. "You have to be constantly listening in big public ways."

This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine's annual CEO of the Year feature. Read more about this year's winner John Hayes and the other finalists: 


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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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