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Alums Return as Winners

Five achievers honored with BU’s annual Alumni Awards

J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler (GSM’68), shown here with his wife, Peggy, and SMG Dean Louis Lataif (SMG’61, Hon.’90), was among the recipients at the BU Alumni Awards Dinner. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Three alumni — including J.Crew CEO Millard Drexler — were the recipients on Friday, January 19, of the University’s highest honor: the BU Alumni Award. At the same event, two Young Alumni Awards were given. The honors were presented by Steve Karbank (CAS’79), first vice president of the Boston University Alumni Council, during the annual Alumni Awards Dinner and Ceremony.

President Robert Brown told the audience that he was struck by the accomplishments of the award recipients, adding that their “achievements say something about the impressive quality of education we hope you received here. The honorees reflect the University’s highest ideals: creativity, innovation, leadership, service, and academic accomplishment.”

Alumni Awards

Philip S. Beck (LAW’76)
A magna cum laude graduate of the School of Law, Philip Beck is cofounder and partner at Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, where his clients include Merck and Co., Bayer, DuPont, Deloitte & Touche, and 3M. Previously he was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. In 2000 Beck was a member of George W. Bush’s trial team, which successfully prevented a recount of the Florida election results. Both the Bush and the Gore legal teams were named Lawyers of the Year by The National Law Journal, which also named Beck runner-up for Lawyer of the Year in 2001.

“For savvy observers and the rest of us,” his citations reads, “you were clearly the best of the best, cross-examining all Gore witnesses with a deceptively casual, Midwestern demeanor that, as the New York Times observed, ‘made the Gore legal team sound like . . . the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Hell’s Angels.’”

“Those of us who were privileged to attend the law school really got to learn their craft from genuinely dedicated professors, one of whom was my mentor and is here tonight, Bill Ryckman,” Beck said at the ceremony. “Professor Ryckman and his colleagues over the years have been teaching law students how to think critically, how to think in disciplined ways, how to argue their positions persuasively, and how to do so forthrightly.”

Millard Drexler (GSM’68)
Millard “Mickey” Drexler started his career at Bloomingdale’s, moving on to engineer a turnaround at Ann Taylor, where he was president and CEO from 1980 to 1983. He then spent 18 years at Gap, Inc., and was named president in 1987 and CEO in 1995. In that time, company sales grew from $400 million to $14 billion. Drexler became chairman, CEO, and an investor of J.Crew Group, Inc., in January 2003. Within three years he and his team took the company public and recently announced two new J.Crew Group companies: crewcuts, a children’s collection, and Madewell, for women.

“Exuberant, demanding, passionate, you oversee every detail, down to catalog copy, fabric-care labels, and store background music,” according to his award citation. “The consummate shopkeeper, you are leading J.Crew back to market leadership by giving customers what they want: the fun of good fashion.”

“I think the things that changed my life here,” Drexler told the audience, “were getting exposed to business, feeling comfortable in the city of Boston, meeting my wife, and getting a job in retail” through the school, which proved to be the springboard to the rest of his career.

Carl A. Olsson (MED’63)
In 1969 Carl Olsson became an assistant professor of urology at the School of Medicine, where he remained until 1980. During his Boston University tenure he became professor and chairman of the urology department as well as director of programs and planning of the surgery department. In 1980 Olsson was named the John K. Lattimer Professor and chairman of the urology department at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, as well as director of urological service at Presbyterian Hospital and of the Squier Urological Clinic. He is now Latimer Professor and urology department chairman emeritus. He received the School of Medicine’s Alumnus Award in 1985 and has been the Annual Fund chairman since 1992.

“A pioneering surgeon and researcher, you have enriched medical knowledge with nearly 300 publications and leadership work on significant discoveries, particularly in developing the blood test predictive of prostate cancer, which often eliminates the use of surgery as the primary treatment,” according to his citation.

“I really do owe everything to Boston University,” Olsson said. “First of all, the School of Medicine gave me my education and my first academic appointment, and that led to the chair at Boston University and another chair at another institution.”

Young Alumni Awards

Jenny Gruber (ENG’99)
Having graduated from the College of Engineering’s dual-degree bachelor and master of science program in aerospace engineering in 1999, Jenny Gruber went on to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a Doctor of Philosophy in engineering science in 2002. While at Boston University, she completed five co-op assignments at NASA, alternating semesters of full-time study with semesters of full-time work at the Johnson Space Center. At Oxford, she was a graduate researcher at QinetiQ. She then returned to the Johnson Space Center, where she is now a member of the Orbit Flight Dynamics Group.

“Thirteen years ago, I was a 17-year-old living in a trailer park in Omaha, Neb.,” Gruber said. “I had big dreams, but no guarantee I could chase those dreams, let alone achieve them. Boston University reached out to me, encouraged me, showed faith in me. And at the risk of sounding like a cliché, now here I am living my dream. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given as a result of attending Boston University. I’m grateful for the investment BU made in me. I hope I don’t let you down.”

Morris DeRhon Robinson (CFA’01)
As a child, Morris Robinson sang with the Atlanta Boy Choir. When he was 10 he convinced his parents to let him give up his music lessons to play football, but he remained serious about both the sport and his singing through college. He earned a B.A. at The Citadel in 1991, where he was twice a Kodak All-American, took a job in sales for 3M Technologies, and continued singing. In 1999 he won a full scholarship to Boston University’s Opera Institute. After entering the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development Program, he debuted in Fidelio and has since sung with the company and with the Florida Grand Opera, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the Boston Lyric Opera, and other companies and in concerts at the Tanglewood Festival and elsewhere. He made his Carnegie Hall debut with the Metropolitan Opera Chamber Ensemble in Stravinsky’s Renard. In 2005 he signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca; his first album will be released this spring.

Robinson noted that when he was singing in a show in Salem, Mass., in 1998, the music director told him that “some people are going to be at this performance who are going to change your life forever.” He met Sharon Daniels, BU Opera Institute director, who suggested that he hire a private teacher, learn five arias in contrasting languages, and come back to see her. Soon he was her student. “You risked and gambled and took a chance on me,” Robinson said. “It was you who realized I had something special to offer.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at tmcneil@bu.edu.