Executive edge: Don Elliman
Don Elliman has dined with royalty, walked the Oscars’ red carpet, attended countless sporting events including the Olympics and been on stage with 22 supermodels.
But on a fall day in downtown Denver, the chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus gets a charge out of seeing the bustle of students headed for class.
“Having an urban campus university is a huge advantage, so that gets me excited,” said Elliman, who took the reins of CU-Denver last April. “To have a job where you can have some impact or have a hand in CU and the Anschutz Campus is a spectacular privilege. I get inspired by the science at Anschutz every day and by the students and the faculty here.”
When CU president Bruce Benson called Elliman about the job, “It took me about 10 seconds to say yes. I love higher ed, and I love health care.”
Elliman’s arrival at CU comes following a career that included 32 years with Time Inc., where he was publisher of People magazine, president of Sports Illustrated and toured the world as publisher of Time International.
“I had a great time at it,” Elliman said. “You had dinner with Diana and Fergie and would go to the Oscars. But what was really fun about it was that the business was soaring. You’d look in the mirror and say this really isn’t about you but you’re lucky enough to be in this place, so enjoy it.”
Elliman, a native New Yorker, moved for family reasons to Denver in 1997 with his wife, Mary, a Colorado native, and commuted to his job in New York City for 2 ½ years.
He would retire from Time, where he started in a training program after graduating in 1967 from Middlebury College in Vermont. Retirement didn’t sit well with Elliman, who was recruited by Gov. Bill Ritter to head the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“I’m glad I did that because I met some really wonderful folks,” Elliman said. “And we passed some legislation, such as the job-growth tax credits, that are working today.”
Sandwiched between those two roles was a stint as a sports executive from 2000 to 2004.
He got a call from NBA commissioner David Stern asking him to take over Ascent Sports, then owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, which became Kroenke Sports.
“The first couple of years were fun. We won the Stanley Cup. You don’t get to do that in most businesses,” Elliman said. “We had an NBA All-Star game here and doubled the number of event nights we had at the Pepsi Center.”
On retiring from Kroenke, he became chairman of the board of Children’s Hospital and chaired the campaign to build the new hospital on the Anschutz campus.
“I treated my chairmanships like a full-time job, and that was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life,” said Elliman. “Once you get to know that hospital, you realize what a special place it is.”
Today Elliman strives to navigate the changing times of health care and research funding at Anschutz and see graduation rates rise downtown.
“The greatest challenge in this job is how do we educate more people for less money not only without sacrificing quality but improving quality,” said Elliman. “How do we build more partnerships in the community? We are Denver’s major research university. We have an obligation to serve this community.”
He has no regrets about leaving New York where he grew up the son of a banker.
“You couldn’t get me out of Colorado with a crowbar,” Elliman said as he looked out over the mountains. “This is home.”