With the Wasatch Front becoming known as Silicon Slopes and a preponderance of technology companies springing up in Utah County, Curtis Blair sees the county as an entrepreneurial incubator. And that makes for a perfect partnership with Utah Valley University. UVU has more potential to produce entrepreneurs than any other school in the west, he says.
“Companies are setting up programs specifically to recruit, train, and cater to the UVU student coming out of the College of Technology and Computer Science,” says Blair. “I think you’ll see internships spin out from that.” He sees opportunities for UVU to join forces with the business community in ways that will improve Utah County’s ability to recruit more businesses. “Employers will find a very skilled, ready-to-work workforce coming out of UVU, and 85 percent of UVU alumni stay in Utah after they graduate.”
In addition to businesses, UVU benefits the local community more than any other school because it draws on business techniques to find solutions to social problems, says Blair. “Social entrepreneurism is alive and well at UVU, more so than at other institutions. And the immediate benefit goes to the community where I live, where I’m hiring, and where my kids go to school,” he says.
With his latest venture, Hoodoo Capital, Blair is fostering entrepreneurship himself. The holding company is an incubator for small businesses, but it differs from the traditional model, which takes control of management and places high expectations on returns in exchange for its involvement and funds. “We are not as aggressive on that side because we’re looking at the next generation of leadership and trying to grow them into being business leaders and CEOs of their own firms. It’s an incubator for ideas and for people,” he says.
Blair is invested in running businesses that have a high level of culture. “I believe that a company takes on the attitudes and behaviors of its shareholders, its owners, and its founders. A healthy climate inside a business is tantamount to making that business succeed,” he says. He loves connecting people with one another, and marketing and branding is the currency with which he does it. It’s more than branding, he says; it’s bonding.
“You can tell I’m a humanist, right? Have you taken the Myers Briggs personality profile? I encourage all business associates and partners to find out what their personality profile yields. It can help establish your foundational strengths, discover your most effective team style, and enhance your company culture. What bonding is to marketing, captivation (attracting the right partners, employees, and customers) is to culture,” he says.
Blair has brought his efforts to empower the next generation to his position on the UVU Foundation Board, as well. When he worked with the Foundation ambassadors to plan an activity for the board’s retreat, he left it to them to do much of the planning: “I wanted to paint the vision and let them paint the steps and strokes on how we get there,” he said. “All too often we underwhelm our UVU students, but they’re very capable.”
Additionally, at Blair’s suggestion, each ambassador was assigned to a Foundation committee and now attends committee meetings. “That way they can get a sense of what it’s like to be in a meeting where resolutions are being passed, where they can hear and participate in meaningful discussions and see the direct impact these meetings have on their University.
The Foundation Board considers everyone’s input, including that of the student body president, says Blair. “It’s a very cohesive group. We all want to add value, and I think our hearts are aligned on growing the University. If there are concerns, questions or dissension, it’s brought forward. You don’t have people saying yes in front of everybody and no behind their backs. There’s an open dialogue and transparency. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a successful board,” he says.
The Foundation has demonstrated its vision for the future by acquiring property that will be needed for future expansion in Vineyard, Thanksgiving Point, and potentially Payson, says Blair, who also serves on the UVU Board of Trustees. “One of the things I like about President [Matthew S.] Holland is that he has enough foresight to see the role UVU is going to play in the Valley. He has a long-term view. In 20 years we’re going to be the major educator in the state for students age 18 to 25,” he says. But that’s in addition to the large number of older and nontraditional students. “At UVU our traditional student is everybody. We embrace our diversity.”
Blair stands 110 percent behind the University’s effort to raise money for an arts building. “I know how important STEM is, I know how important critical thinking is, but there has to be a root deep into the fine arts in our community,” he says. As an indication of the depth of his conviction, at the 2014 Feast on the Fairway, which raises funds for UVU Culinary Arts Institute scholarships, Blair was selected to participate in a hole-in-one competition. Just before hitting the ball, he turned to the camera and declared that if he won the million-dollar prize he’d donate the entire amount to UVU’s arts building campaign.
He came close to being able to fulfill that promise. “At Talons Cove, they have a balcony right on the 18th green, where people can watch. And there’s nothing more exhilarating or deflating than to hear your ball hit the green and the whole crowd rise in anticipation and then deflate as the ball goes right past the hole. A great shot—would have won closest to the pin—but not a hole in one,” he says. That didn’t stop him from making a donation for the arts building. “A school curriculum that embraces the arts not only contributes significantly to a student’s education and development but has the power to inspire, motivate, and educate today’s students in ways that no other program can,” says Blair. “And that includes having a football team,” he adds with a laugh.
Although Blair was born in Provo, his father’s job with a food services company took him to a different state every couple of years. But he returned to Provo to earn a degree from the College of Humanities at Brigham Young University. He and his wife, Lisa, who hails from San Francisco, have four boys and one girl. Their oldest boy recentlyreturned from a mission in Brazil, and the second returned from a mission in Tallahassee, Florida. Their third son is still in high school but is taking concurrent enrollment classes at UVU. Curtis describes his teenage daughter as the princess of the house and the most like him—strong willed, entrepreneurial, and a little stubborn.
Blair’s advice to the next generation? First, relationship capital is the most important capital. Second, you’d better know the reasons you’re in business, because they determine not only the destiny of your company but its culture. And third, fill your social circles with people you want to be like, and you’ll find out that, by the law of association, you become like them and they become like you. “The law of association is as real as the law of gravity,” he adds.
As we get a little older, we start thinking less about how we’re going to get ahead and more about how we’re going to pay it forward, says Blair. In planning his legacy, he puts his family first. Next in line are trust relationships, including serving his community, followed by Hoodoo Capital and education, particularly UVU.