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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2023 Creating Pathways to Excellence

Alumnus Scott Carson
Imparts Leadership Lessons for Life

By Sue McMurray

Linda and Scott Carson with Butch the Cougar.
Photo by WSU Photo Services

When Scott Carson (’72 Busi. Admin.) comes to campus to speak about leadership, people show up. In fact, anyone squeezing in late to one of his lectures will have a hard time finding a seat, as was the case when he presented “Whole Life Leadership” in Ron Moser’s senior-level business management class in the Carson College of Business.

Though these students were only in middle school when the College of Business was renamed as the Carson College of Business in 2014 in recognition of Scott and Linda Carson’s many contributions, they were highly aware of the couple’s long history of supporting WSU and the college.

During the late 1990s, Scott served as The Boeing Company’s executive contact for WSU. Under his leadership, the Boeing Scholars program was established. He chaired WSU’s $1 billion “Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas” from 2006 to 2015 and served on the WSU Board of Regents and in many other volunteer capacities across WSU. Together, the couple created the Carson Center for Professional Development, later named the Carson Center for Student Success, and helped establish the Boeing Scott and Linda Carson Chair in Marketing in 2005. The Carsons also have supported numerous scholarships and other excellence funds across several WSU colleges and campuses.

Before his leadership presentation, Scott immediately established rapport by greeting students and asking them what they wanted to learn from the lecture. Whether intentional or not, he effectively modeled “building a relationship focused on others”—one of the top 10 leadership lessons he shared with the class.

“We focus so much of our time and energy on ourselves and forget about the people that matter most,” said McKenna Bremer. “Scott embodies this because he came up to every single person in our class and shook hands. All of us wanted to get to know him, but he went out of his way to get to know us. It was such a good reminder everyone needs.”

Leadership lessons for life

Scott’s succinct list of leadership lessons stem from a lifetime of professional and personal experiences. He held several roles over the span of his nearly 40-year career with the company and retired in 2009 as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

During those years, he was challenged by Boeing’s massive layoff in the 1970s, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and finding a healthy work/life balance in a very demanding career.

“My generation prided ourselves on how little sleep we’d get,” he said. “We convinced ourselves of how balanced we were.”

He recalled teaching a very early morning class in St. Louis and being put on the spot when asked how he personally handled work/life balance. He glossed it over—saying it’s different for everyone—but then someone asked, “What would Linda say? Let’s find out.” Things got a little uncomfortable when one of his staff boldly placed a call to Linda on the classroom speakerphone. After several rings, Linda sleepily answered the call and then paused for an uncomfortably long time before she said, “Oh. You want me to lie.”

Her response forever shifted his perspective on the importance of finding equilibrium, and it became one of his top leadership tenets—one that resonated highly with the students.

“Hearing this from Scott Carson was especially meaningful because he is living proof that maintaining your boundaries and prioritizing family and other non-work aspects doesn’t have to mean you must sacrifice professional success,” said Soho Divers.

Self-improvement, positivity, and giving back pay off

Scott shared additional insights about self-improvement, adaptability, and being a positive influence during his career, especially during times when he had to take risks or manage unforeseen circumstances. He recalled when his career changed abruptly, and he moved to Houston without his family for two years to serve as deputy program manager at the Space Center. Though a difficult transition, it turned out to be a highlight that shaped everything in the last decade of his career, he said.

He later ran Connexion by Boeing, a service that pioneered in-flight, online internet connectivity, until 9/11 prompted a severe drop in airline travel. Scott then worked in sales until he got an unexpected call from his boss telling (not asking) him to serve as CEO of commercial airplanes for The Boeing Company.

“All of these work events caused me to grow,” he said. He focused on leading teams with positive energy, respect, and a solutions mindset. “We won or failed together,” he said. “I always valued friendship over forcing an employee to do something or be fired.”

One final leadership quality Scott strongly imparted to students is giving back to an organization, community, family, and yourself. “Find opportunities to invest in the institution you believe in,” he said. “Relationships matter.”