W. A. Franke

Bill FrankeThe Man & His Commitment

Bill Franke is managing partner of Indigo Partners, a private investment firm, and former CEO of America West Airlines and other Arizona-based companies. In 2007, Mr. Franke made a $25 million commitment to Northern Arizona University's College of Business. His son, David and family stay involved and in touch with the FCB to insure their own commitment to Excellence continues to be demonstrated in the College's curriculum and its vision for the future.


In His Own Words

Undergrad education is key to Arizona economy
Bill Franke
Indigo Partners
Arizona Republic Editorial
Nov. 25, 2007 12:00 AM

I have been very fortunate in my career. In May, I shared that good fortune in support of an objective that is very important to me. A gift to Northern Arizona University's undergraduate College of Business will, I hope, influence young people who are the first in their families to go to college and to support those who need a chance to participate in Arizona's economy.

If this all plays out right, over time this investment will help strengthen the economy and the resulting quality of life in Arizona, a place I have called home for almost four decades.

After the announcement of the gift, I have been asked why I didn't choose a graduate school of business instead of an undergraduate college. The reason is straightforward: Arizona needs more ready-to-work college graduates who can complete their "graduate" education on the job - from doing it, from living it.

Arizona employers inherently understand what is needed: employees with high energy, common sense, ability to prioritize, and good communication skills. You don't need a graduate degree to fill this bill. And, of course, not everybody is meant for graduate school. Some aren't suited for it, some can't afford it, and I believe many don't need it. Working five days a week and learning practical skills from on-the-job mentors, customers, clients and competitors is ultimately what most young people want and need. And, Arizona needs a pool of talent with a good foundation, good basics, from their undergraduate education.

Undergraduate education is crucial for Arizona's long-term economic health. Our economy's future success depends on college graduates entering the job market prepared to thrive in a wide array of fields, many not yet developed in Arizona the way they need to be - engineering, financial services, business services, cultural arts, aerospace, to name a few.

As the sizzle cools in the state's unparalleled real estate, construction and development boom, we need to make diversification of our economy a priority. No news here - we've been saying this for years, particularly at each real-estate market downturn. But, in the end, we do little to prepare our state for that diversification and simply wait for the next real estate up cycle.

One thing we don't do is create the employment raw material needed to attract new business to Arizona - educated young people. The numbers speak for themselves. According to a recent Science Foundation Arizona report, 35 percent of the nation's 25- to 34-year-old students attain an associate's degree or higher, while only 30 percent of our state's students do.

And the report finds that young educated migrants make up a small share of the state's overall educated workers. According to Arizona's Department of Education, Native Americans had the lowest high-school graduation rates in 2003, 58.5 percent, followed by Hispanic students at 63.1 percent. We have one of the lowest college-going rates in the country, with only 12 ninth-graders out of 100 earning a college degree

Arizona is ranked 43rd in percentage of high-school graduates going to college and 39th in younger population with a college degree. These statistics send a less-than-rosy message to business leaders looking to locate here and hire a quality workforce.

Indeed, one key reason I selected NAU to receive the gift is the college's focus on service to minorities and first-generation students. A smaller college that nurtures individual students, NAU embraces Native American, Hispanic and rural young people whose families have had limited opportunities. The majority of these students remain in Arizona after graduation to work and raise their families.

The state must focus on preparing students from our multicultural heritage for leadership. My hope and expectation is that NAU's College of Business will enhance and expand the opportunity for young men and women to achieve a fair shot at economic success. But NAU, and for that matter, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, cannot alone make it happen. We all have a role to play.

William A. Franke | Bio

William A. Franke
Managing Partner
Indigo Partners and Newbridge Latin America
Post date | November 2007

William A. Franke is the managing partner of Indigo Partners and Newbridge Latin America, private equity funds focused on worldwide investments in air transportation and Latin America, respectively. A longtime resident of Arizona, he has offices in Phoenix, Singapore and Buenos Aires.

Mr. Franke was born in Texas and raised in Latin America and has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University.

During Mr. Franke’s business career, he was the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 forest products company, Southwest Forest Industries, Inc. (now Smurfit-Stone Container); chairman of the executive committee of a large regional bank, Valley National Bank (now Chase Bank); and chairman of the Circle K Corp., a large U.S. convenience store company, which he restructured through bankruptcy.

From 1993 to 2001, Mr. Franke was chief executive officer of America West Airlines, the eighth largest U.S. airline, which he restructured and repositioned as a low-cost carrier (now U.S. Airways).

Mr. Franke served as the founding chairman of Airplanes Group, Ltd., a $5 billion aircraft finance vehicle created from the aircraft portfolio of GPA Group, the Irish aircraft leasing company, and supported by GE Capital Aviation Services. He was involved in the acquisition of GPA (then renamed AerFi Group) by Texas Pacific Group and served on AerFi’s board of directors until it was divested in 2000 to Debis Airfinance.

As part of an investment group, Mr. Franke was an early investor in Ryanair and was an investor and director of the airline catering company, Gate Gourmet, of Beringer Wine Estates, and of ON Semiconductor. He is currently a director of Alpargatas SAIC (Argentine shoe and textile manufacturer) and chairman of the board of Bristol Group SAIC (Argentine insurance company).

Mr. Franke is chairman of the boards of Tiger Airways (Singapore), Wizz Air Limited (Hungary) and Spirit Airlines (USA) and is commissioner of Mandala Airlines (Indonesia), all Indigo investments.

Mr. Franke has been active in the charitable and civic community and has in the past served, by way of example, as chairman of Phoenix 40, member of the International Board of Barrow Neurological Institute, chairman of COMPAS (arts funding), member of the Dean’s Council, Arizona State University business college, and the Dean’s Circle, Stanford Law School.

The Franke family has been financial supporters of Sojourner Center in Phoenix, the United Way, Stanford (endowed professorship), and established minority student scholarships at Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona, among others.

He is married to Carolyn D. Franke and they have five adult children.

Press Release

A $25 million vote of confidence and a challenge to others

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (May 15, 2007)—One of Arizona’s most prominent business leaders has made a “transformational” contribution to Northern Arizona University with a $25 million gift to the College of Business.

William A. Franke, managing partner of Indigo Partners and former CEO of America West Airlines and other Arizona-based companies, and NAU President John Haeger announced the gift May 15 at press conferences in Phoenix and Flagstaff.

The $25 million gift is the largest in Northern Arizona University history and will be used for scholarships, faculty development and program development in what will become known as The W. A. Franke College of Business. Franke is especially interested in recruiting and retaining underrepresented and first-generation students into the business college.

“I have sympathy for this issue,” said Franke, who grew up in Latin America and graduated from high school in Brazil. “We are a country that since our founding has integrated immigrants and the underrepresented into our society. In today’s world, to successfully achieve that integration…you need education.”

Franke added, “Business education is a force for economic development and social change. Educating future Arizona business leaders with the right skills can only strengthen the state.”

Franke has strong ties to Arizona and the Flagstaff area as former CEO of the Fortune 500 company Southwest Forest Industries and former owner of KNAZ-TV Channel 2. Though he has close ties to the Flagstaff area, he had no formal connection with Northern Arizona University until this commitment.

“When you get to know NAU and the residential experience it offers to students living on campus, you understand how NAU is different and is not a one-size-fits-all university,” Franke said. “We hope this gift will take what NAU already has and strengthen it.”

“NAU is unique because of our concentration on undergraduate education,” Haeger said. “This undergraduate residential institution is a gem in this state, and I don’t think anyone equals it.

“This gift is transformational for the university at large,” Haeger continued. “It raises the bar across campus—both in fundraising and in reinforcing the quality of undergraduate education.”

It was a former NAU undergraduate who set the wheels in motion for the gift. While a business student at NAU, Scott Coor hosted Franke, then CEO of Southwest Forest, as a guest lecturer. Coor asked Franke about a job upon graduation, and Coor was subsequently hired by Southwest. Having remained in touch through the years, Coor approached Franke for a major gift to the College of Business.

Mason Gerety, dean of the College of Business, described the contribution as an “investment in excellence.”

The gift will fund scholarships for underrepresented students, support eminent scholars at the college, allow the college to maintain a lead position in technology, support ethics education and promote the college’s emphasis on written and oral communication skills.

In his career, Franke said he has seen too many college graduates with “poor basic communication skills and writing skills that are at the margin.”

Gerety said the college is committed to graduating students who understand the necessity of strong strategic business planning and who graduate with “a sense of knowing what the right thing is to do in the business community.”

Franke has been active in the charitable and civic community and has served as chairman of Phoenix 40, member of the International Board of Barrow Neurological Institute, chairman of COMPAS (arts funding), member of the Dean’s Council, Arizona State University business college, and the Dean’s Circle, Stanford Law School.

The Franke family has been financial supporters of Sojourner Center in Phoenix, the United Way, Stanford (endowed professorship), and established minority student scholarships at NAU, ASU, the University of Arizona, among others.

Franke noted he does not contribute money to bricks and mortar. “I’m interested in touching the lives of the students.”

Q & A About the Gift

Q & A—$25 million contribution to Northern Arizona University
QUESTION: Who is the donor?

ANSWER: William A. Franke. Bill is the managing partner of Indigo Partners and Newbridge Latin America, private equity funds focused on worldwide investments in air transportation and Latin America, respectively. He was the chief executive officer of America West Airlines from 1993-2001. Bill has strong ties to Arizona and the Flagstaff area as former CEO of the Fortune 500 forest products company, Southwest Forest Industries, and as the former owner of Flagstaff’s KNAZ-TV Channel 2.

Q: What is the amount of the commitment?

A: $25 million.

Q: How does this contribution compare to other contributions made to the university?

A: This is the largest contribution in Northern Arizona University history, more than 12 times NAU’s previous largest contribution.

Q: How will the contribution be used?

A: The College of Business will invest the contribution in programs that inspire, challenge and prepare students for the future. Specifically, the funds will be used for scholarships, faculty development and program development within the NAU College of Business. Bill is especially interested in recruiting and retaining Native American, Hispanic and first-generation students into the business college. The contribution will allow the college to strengthen its focus on an undergraduate core centering on strategic business planning.

Q: Why is he making this contribution?

A: Bill is dedicated to investing in the economic future of Arizona. Through the many successes of his own business career, he knows that higher education is the way to influence that future in the broadest sense. In particular, Bill recognizes business education as a force for economic development and social change.

Q: What does he want to accomplish with this contribution?

A: Bill believes in the power of an undergraduate education. He intends this contribution to be transformational to Northern Arizona University, the College of Business, and subsequently business in the state of Arizona. He understands that Arizona faces many important challenges inherent with managing growth: land use, resource distribution and immigration issues. Educating future Arizona business leaders with the appropriate skills and knowledge to address these challenges will strengthen the state. Following his own formula for success, Bill is investing in a curriculum that focuses on oral and written communication, problem solving and strategic business planning. The contribution will be used to prepare students to enter the workforce with a stronger foundation in order to achieve success.

Q: Why the Northern Arizona University College of Business?

A: NAU’s College of Business possesses attributes and distinctive features that align with Bill’s vision. NAU’s mission focuses on undergraduate education and service to minority and first-generation students, and 86 percent of NAU business students are from Arizona with roughly that same percentage staying in the state upon graduation. He made his choice knowing that NAU provides a means to deliver an impact where he most intends.

Q: How did this gift come about?

A: Scott Coor, a 1976 graduate of the College of Business, coordinated the initial meeting with Bill. While a student at NAU, Scott hosted Bill, then CEO of Southwest Forest Industries, as a guest lecturer. Bill told Scott to call him after graduation, and he subsequently was hired by Southwest. Having remained in touch through the years, Scott suggested approaching Bill for a transformational gift to the College of Business.

Q: How does this benefit NAU as a whole?

A: An investment of this magnitude in Northern Arizona University will truly transform the university as a whole, drawing attention to the institution’s premier undergraduate and graduate programs and its solid reputation for providing higher education with a personal touch. The gift also can have a considerable ripple effect as well. It is a third-party endorsement of the direction of the university, providing a powerful validation of the university’s undergraduate focus, specifically at the College of Business.

Q: Does the donor have a message for prospective and current students and alumni?

A: Although he has no formal ties to Northern Arizona University, Bill made this investment in NAU demonstrating his commitment to providing educational opportunity. This contribution will instill a sense of pride in students, faculty, staff and alumni and will challenge other Arizona business leaders to support higher education, especially to Northern Arizona University.

Q: Will the College of Business get a new name?

A: Yes, at the university’s request, it will be named The W. A. Franke College of Business.