Business

Milgard School 2015 leadership winners: Solving military medical challenges and building a small-business niche

Educated in Seattle, both Jane Taylor and Bill Evans have gone on to succeed, prosper, build businesses and create a positive effect in Tacoma.

The Milgard School of Business at the University of Washington Tacoma has named both Taylor and Evans as recipients of the 2015 Business Leadership Awards.

Taylor — named Nonprofit Leader of the Year — has been recognized for her work as founder and chief strategy officer at The Geneva Foundation, established in Tacoma in 1993.

Evans — named Small Business Leader of the Year — owns the Proctor District Pacific Northwest Shop and is a principal in the development of Proctor Station.

And in next Sunday’s News Tribune, look for a profile of the Milgard School Business Leader of the Year, Paul Ellingson, president and CEO of Bargreen Ellingson.

JANE TAYLOR

“I’m kind of the grandmother of the group,” said Jane Taylor.

The group is The Geneva Foundation and Taylor has claims beyond grandmotherhood.

She founded The Geneva Foundation in 1993 and worked as a volunteer until signing on as an employee in 2010. Today she wears the title “chief strategy officer.”

Trained as a nurse, Taylor now helps direct an operation with some 450 employees working at medical facilities across the country and as far removed as Hawaii, Thailand and Germany.

With an annual budget approaching $50 million — and with an estimated annual growth of 18 percent — the foundation aims to build up and improve medical care for U.S. military personnel.

In its literature, the foundation “supports and advances innovative medical research and excellence within the U.S. military. …Geneva connects military investigators to research opportunities in a variety of therapeutic areas.”

It’s about shaping “the future of military medicine.”

For Taylor, the daughter of a former POW, the mission is less prosaic.

“The people who serve this country — if they have injuries, I want to make them whole,” she said last week in her downtown Tacoma office.

“These people who served their country, regardless of people’s views on war — if I can help them, that’s important to me,” she said.

Much of the foundation funding comes from the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the medical industry, and the foundation helps match the money with research projects including clinical trials, and educational outreach. Taylor also coordinates with outside groups including universities, and organizations including, she said, the National Football League.

Projects funded thanks to the foundation are working in areas including Ebola, brain injury, suicide prevention, hearing loss and more.

Her greatest fear these days, she said, concerns viruses.

“Bioterrorism is a risk that really scares me,” she said.

But fear does not define her.

“I was raised in a family where you give back,” she said.

In high school she volunteered at a child-development center and later worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

She was approached in 1993 by officials at Madigan Army Medical Center, she said, and they asked her “to consider starting a foundation to support research in the military.”

The name came when she and her husband, who directs an intensive care unit at a local hospital, were in Switzerland, in fact, in Geneva.

But there is more to the name than a place.

Like Switzerland, she said, “We are bipartisan. We are neutral. Our mission is to support the troops and to advance military medicine.”

“Geneva doesn’t need to be the biggest, but we need to be the best,“ she said.

She recalls a meeting where some 60 employees from the administrative side — finance, human resources, grant writers and such — were shown images of a soldier who had lost both legs.

“Half the room turned green,” she said. “In the last slide, the young man was riding a snowboard. People left thinking, ‘I’m helping people.’ ”

“I’m part of that,” she said.

BILL EVANS

Bill Evans’ career in retail sales began at an oxygen-deprived 11,000 feet in Cusco, Peru.

A student of linguistics — and a former reservations clerk for Pan Am in New York City — Evans had earned a teaching fellowship. During his travels to small villages he would purchase local handicrafts, including dolls and weavings, which he would then send to his mother, who owned a gift shop on Seattle’s Capital Hill.

The Peruvian connection continued when Evans returned stateside and opened a small table at Pike Place Market, where he said he sold “mostly ponchos.”

One September Sunday afternoon in a borrowed car, Evans recalled recently, he and his wife took a drive. After riding to Vashon Island, they continued south to the Talequah dock.

“There was this city south of Seattle called Tacoma,” he said. “I had never been here. We got to the Stadium District, and drove along Stadium Way, and there was this tower, Old City Hall.”

A sign said it was “Opening Soon,” and Evans saw a man locking one of the doors.

“We signed up that day,” he said. “We opened in November. We got an apartment near Wright Park.”

As with many entrepreneurs, Evans said, “We didn’t have any money.” Neither did the first bank he spoke with — at least not for a guy from Seattle with three kids and an ambition to sell Peruvian artifacts. A second banker was more hospitable, to the tune of $5,000.

Incaland opened that November.

But after a year, he said, “everybody in Tacoma who wanted a poncho, had one.”

Folk art from West Africa followed. Evans also opened the precursor of the current Pacific Northwest Shop, which he now owns and operates in Tacoma’s Proctor District.

Hoping to build Old City Hall into a commercial hub, Evans also invited his mother to open a fabric store called “In the Beginning.”

Alas, eventually, Old City Hall began filling with echoes rather than customers, and it wasn’t long before Evans opened his Pacific Northwest Shop in a former TV-repair shop on Proctor.

Other projects, partnerships — and politics — followed.

Evans served on the Tacoma City Council from 2000 to 2008. He helped establish the Proctor Antique Mall, Old House Mercantile and the Old House Café.

Add the Proctor Farmer’s Market and Proctor District Association.

When the Blue Mouse Theater threatened to close if a buyer could not be found at $170,000, Evans marshaled 17 investors, including himself, at $10,000 each.

Evans has lately been focusing on Proctor Station, a $32 million retail and residential project that will offer 171 underground parking spaces and 151 apartment units.

While a member of the City Council, Evans said, he regularly met with a group of sixth-graders.

“We analyzed the word ‘community,’ ” he said.

And he learned, “What we have in common unites us. That’s what started Thea’s Park, the globe and the flag.”

A successful small business, he said, must recognize that it exists within the context of a place, and within the place are people.

“Listen to the people,” he said. “You are what they are. Build your business accordingly.”

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