August 12, 2011

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.     

- Book of Ecclesiastes

Celebrating the Lives and Contributions of Three Northwood Stalwarts

To borrow from William James, life is full of flights and perchings. This past week the Northwood family witnessed the flight of two of its stalwarts – Eleanor Josaitis and Charles Wyly – who departed this world and the perching of another – Bob Rossiter – who has been and will continue to be a pillar in new and exciting capacities as he steps down from the helm at Lear Corporation.

Eleanor Josaitis (1932-2011)

It has often been said that the greatest leaders emerge out of the most demanding of times. Eleanor Josaitis was one of those leaders.

In the wake of the riots that riveted Detroit, Michigan in 1967, and dedicated to the proposition “that it is the differences among us that make us interesting and useful to each other,” Eleanor partnered with Father William T. Cunningham (1930-1997) to found Focus: HOPE, a civil and human rights organization dedicated to the elimination of racism, poverty and injustice by helping marginalized persons actualize their full potential, especially within the marketplace.

A long-time supporter and friend to the University, Eleanor was named to the 2007 Class of Distinguished Women and was a frequent visitor and speaker on Campus and a past presenter at our Annual Freedom Seminar. Indeed, her work at Focus: HOPE embodied many of the principles found within The Northwood Idea, including the indispensability of the arts and humanities as a primary source of human enrichment and the notion “that education is…something two people do together.”

In the course of its 43 years, Focus: HOPE has emerged as a nationally celebrated civil and human rights organization whose food and career training programs and HOPE Village Initiative serve as models for similar programs throughout the U.S. To date, 21 million people have directly benefited from its food programs, over 11,000 men and women have launched stable careers and helped break race and gender barriers, and countless citizens have enjoyed a higher quality of life through its community development and community arts programs.

Charles Wyly (1933-2011)

Charles Wyly had many appropriate and well deserved titles: entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, husband, father and grandfather. To us he was, and always will be a member of the Northwood family.

Together with his wife Dee, Charles was a major donor at Northwood who not only supported numerous causes within our community but also served as generous and gracious host for a Distinguished Women event in 2008 when Dee was inducted as a member of that year’s class. And when he gave, he took the opportunity to honor others such as Paul Crum, son of Yvonne Crum (Distinguished Women Class of 2001 and an Honorary Doctorate recipient in 2009) and his brother Sam Wyly who was our Founders’ Day speaker in Texas in 2010 and is the author of 1000 Dollars & An Idea, one of our past Omniquest selections.

It was in partnership with his brother Sam that Charles founded a diverse and burgeoning business that included some of the most widely recognized and respectable brands in today’s market, including Bonanza Steakhouse, Michael’s, Maverick Capital, Sterling Software, and Green Mountain Energy.

An exemplar of The Northwood Idea, Charles was a fan and supporter of fine arts who, together with Sam and their wives, helped build the Performing Arts Center in Dallas, Texas. And, like many within our family, he was not afraid to take tough, public stands in defense of free markets and economic opportunity for all people.

Robert (Bob) Rossiter Retires as CEO of Lear Corporation

“I absolutely believe that delegation and empowering people is critical to the development of leaders,” he remarked in an article he wrote for the Spring 2006 issue of Northwood IDEA Quarterly. “However,” he continued, “it is important for the leader to pull his or her own weight and consistently support the efforts of the team.”

A proud Northwood alumnus and member of the Gallery of Distinction (class of ’99), Bob announced his retirement as Lear CEO earlier this week following 40 years of service and leadership at the firm. And it is the kind of balance and forthrightness he expressed in the statement above that he utilized to lead the Lear Corporation through one of the most challenging and topsy-turvy periods in the history of the American auto industry. While so many companies struggled just to survive, Bob led Lear through a leveraged buyout and bankruptcy reorganization into one of the most successful seating and electronics suppliers in the world today, employing 87,000 employees globally.

An ardent advocate of Northwood University and The Northwood Idea, Bob’s life and career typify the American Dream and are a testament to the place of hard work, sacrifice, and enduring vision. He started at the then Lear Siegler Seating Corporation in 1971 as a production scheduler. 17 years later, using his home as collateral, he participated in a leveraged buyout of the company. As a member of the executive leadership, Bob helped lead the company through an IPO in 1994 and the boom expansion of the 1990's. In 2000, he assumed the mantle CEO succeeding his longtime boss Ken Way.

True to his nature, he will mark no “lame duck” period on his watch. In addition to leaving Lear in a position of strategic and financial strength he will continue to mentor his successor Lear CFO Matt Simoncini as he succeeds Bob as CEO.

We Celebrate Their Success

While many will naturally mourn the earthly absence of Eleanor Josaitis and Charles Wyly and the immediate absence of Bob Rossiter from the workplace, we at Northwood will celebrate the lives and contributions of three individuals who are archetypes of Aristotle’s magnanimous person. The world, including and especially Northwood University, is better because of them.

It is in this spirit of commemoration and praise, therefore, that we extend our deepest condolences to the families of Eleanor and Charles as they journey to the other side of the veil and our heartiest congratulations to Bob as he enters the next phase of his exemplary life.

Have a great weekend.


Keith A. Pretty, J.D.
President and CEO
Northwood University
4000 Whiting Drive
Midland, MI 48640
989.837.4203 (phone)
989.832.9590 (fax)