Civic commitment emphasized by business associates
In the midst of ongoing controversy over the naming of Bruce Benson as the sole finalist for the CU presidency, those who have worked closely with Benson agree that success has defined his 43 yearlong business and civic career.
“He enjoys an extremely fine reputation in the Colorado business community,” said Joe Blake, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Benson is currently the owner and president of Benson Mineral Group Inc., an oil and gas exploration and production company. He has headed the company, which has also been involved in real estate, banking, cable television and food service franchises, since 1965.
The presidential finalist created Benson Mineral Group after graduating from CU with a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1964.
His choice to venture into the business world after college was impressive, said Mary Kraus, head of the geological sciences department.
“His company is completely self-made,” she said. “He took the science he learned in this department and was able to translate that into a multimillion dollar company.”
Kraus said she meets with Benson regularly to talk about financial aspects of the department as well as the university in general.
“He’s very successful and not just in oil and gas,” Kraus added.
In addition to his career with Benson Mineral Group, Benson served as president, CEO and chairman of the board of directors of United States Exploration Inc.
CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said Benson’s success in the oil and gas business is a rarity.
“It’s hard work in bad conditions,” Hilliard said. “It involves a lot of luck and working with lots of different kinds of people.”
Over the past 32 years Benson has also served on the board of directors of 15 companies, many of which specialize in banking and investment.
Hilliard and others said Benson has developed valuable skills because of his experience in the business world, many of which they said would be beneficial if he were to become president of CU.
“He is capable of managing a $2 billion industry, which is what the campus is,” Kraus said. “His ability to build coalitions is critical in this day and age.”
Cathey Finlon, chair and CEO of McClain Finlon Advertising, also pointed out Benson’s ongoing dedication to raising money for different causes.
“A big issue for the economic vitality of state is the vitality of CU,” said Finlon, who has worked with Benson on various civic boards for almost 30 years. “The school needs more funding and Benson has a marvelous talent for fundraising.”
Along with his business success, Benson’s peers emphasized his commitment to education and serving the community.
“He has set a whole new standard for how the business community can and needs to support important institutions,” Blake said in reference to Benson’s work with the Denver Zoo and the Denver Public Schools Foundation.
Benson is a member of the steering committee for Denver Public Schools, chairman of the Denver Public Schools Foundation, co-chair of Gov. Bill Ritter’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council and co-chair of the Denver Zoological Foundation’s capital campaign.
Despite positive reviews from Benson’s colleagues, CU students still aren’t convinced that the candidate’s business record qualifies him for the CU presidency.
“Having a good business background is good but it’s definitely not the only thing,” said Evan Pletcher, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. “He needs to have a little more experience.”
Others said they feel that CU needs a president with more of an academic background rather than a business one.
“In this case, his life experience doesn’t fit with what we need,” said Cliff Patterson, a junior dance major. “Just because you work in the field doesn’t mean you have a master’s degree.”
Hilliard and Benson’s supporters, however, said they want critics to focus on the non-academic causes to which Benson dedicated himself.
“He has so much experience in the public service background,” Hilliard said. “It would be a mistake for anyone to view him as simply an oil man and a business man.”
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Emery Cowan at email@example.com.
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