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Wooden Award Goes To Zamperini

Published: March 16, 2015


At the presentation of the Nell and John Wooden Ethics in Leadership Award were (l-r) Greg Wooden, Luke Zamperini, Louise Ukleja, Michael Solt and Lindora CEO Cynthia Graff.

The Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at CSULB honored the late Louis Zamperini with its 2015 Nell and John Wooden Ethics in Leadership Award.

The award presentation took place on Feb. 27 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach during “Living Ethics Every Day,” a business ethics seminar offered by the Ukleja Center and Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Accompanied by a $10,000 check, the award was presented by Louise Ukleja, chair of the Ukleja Center’s advisory board, and Greg Wooden, grandson of Nell and John Wooden, to Zamperini’s son, Luke, accepting on behalf of his family.

Almost 500 people attended the seminar with Luke Zamperini delivering a keynote presentation on “Embodying Resilience and Forgiveness in Leadership.”

The award is named for Nell and John Wooden to promote their practice of ethical leadership and to celebrate leaders who embody the Ukleja Center’s core values of integrity, excellence, empowerment and servant leadership. It is designed to honor a person or organization whose contribution is built on ethical behavior and visionary leadership. John Wooden, who passed away at the age of 99 in 2010, was a long-time and highly-successful basketball coach at UCLA best known for his ability to instill confidence and transmit the values of his “Pyramid of Success” to the on-court behavior of his players.

“Nell and John Wooden represent the highest standards of personal behavior. I am sure they would be pleased with this year’s award recipient, Louie Zamperini,” said Michael Solt, director of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership and Dean of CSULB’s College of Business Administration. “Louie’s story, as eloquently told by his son Luke, is about perseverance, redemption and forgiveness. Luke spoke from the heart about his father and everyone in the room was spellbound. This was truly a memorable event.”

The story of Zamperini’s life has become known worldwide through the recent release of the movie, “Unbroken.” Directed by Angelina Jolie, the film is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book of the same name.

Raised in Torrance, Zamperini first made a name for himself as a trouble maker. After his brother encouraged him to turn running from the law into something positive, Zamperini became an award-winning high school miler, a USC track star and the youngest distance runner on the 1936 USA Olympic team.

Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. When his plane was shot down in 1943, he spent 47 days on a raft before reaching land. Captured by the Japanese, Zamperini was sent to a prison camp and repeatedly tortured for more than two years. When the war ended, he came home a hero but was plagued by horrific memories.

Heading in a downward spiral, he turned his life around after hearing a talk by evangelist Billy Graham. From then until his passing at the age of 97 in 2014, Zamperini inspired millions by sharing his story about the transformational power of forgiveness. His leadership legacy will live on for years to come.

Past recipients of the Nell and John Wooden Ethics in Leadership Award include Mohamed El-Erian, former CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO, a global investment management firm (2014); George Deukmejian, 35th governor of California (2013); USC Director of Athletics Pat Haden (2012); Ken Blanchard, chief spiritual officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies (2011); Special Olympics Southern California to honor the legacy and visionary leadership of its founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (2010); and John Wooden, who received the inaugural award in 2009.