Billy Watterson ‘96 Puts Leadership to Work
Doing the right thing while people aren’t looking.
That’s, in part, how University of Findlay alumnus Billy Watterson ‘96, CEO of Watterson Brands, describes his brand of business-minded ethical leadership. “We have so many opportunities to take easy paths,” he said, “and weighing and considering different options is crucial as a leader in any business.” As a boss, Watterson is continually working to improve his leadership skills and aims to do his leading by example. “I think that being able to show [people] that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That’s always been something that I’ve tried to focus on – whether it’s financial or employee based, I try to lead with as much grace as I can and with passion for people,” he said.
The path to ethical leadership can be a very confusing one, full of opportunities and difficult decisions that must be carefully navigated through with the knowledge gained by life experiences. Watterson’s advice to UF students, for instance, is to not always take the easy route. “Many will be tempted along the way to make the wrong decision for profit, to elevate themselves, to cheat themselves,” he said. The process of becoming an ethical leader, Watterson noted, is “experiential and comes with being exposed to wisdom, difficult circumstances, and difficult people.”
“The actions of a leader are what dictate how they define ethical leadership; it has to be shown,” said Watterson. Effective ethical leadership is leadership that revolves around the respect for ethical beliefs and values such as trust, honesty, consideration, charisma, and fairness. “The trust that you gain from your people, your teams, when they see you do the right things, are generous, and honest – those are the kind of things that reflect that,” he explained.
After being presented with the opportunity to make a difference on campus and support UF, Watterson decided it was time to, yet again, invest in the University and make a difference in the lives of students. The purpose of the Watterson Center for Ethical Leadership, which will serve as a focal point on campus for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, is to help students confront the challenges we face in the world in regards to ethical leadership. “Small and private universities are under fire and I believe that a building like this allows us to take a stand and say, ‘Here’s what we believe in. Here’s what differentiates the University of Findlay from others,” he said. The Center will include offices, classrooms, and a presentation area for students to showcase their talents, among other things. Watterson’s belief is that this building will “serve as that safe space for people to come and have difficult conversations; to be curious, sit, and listen to the other side instead of just running with soundbites.”
Many future students of the University will pass through the Center – whether it be for a class, to speak to a faculty member, or present to their peers – and have the opportunity to articulate their own views as well as understand and articulate those of others. Watterson said that this building will give the campus community more of an opportunity “to put things like ethical leadership, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of conversations and have a space that allows for open dialogue and debate.”
Looking back on the success and opportunities he’s had, Watterson said, “none of it was possible without the University or the people that gave to make scholarships, buildings, and everything else possible.” The addition of the Watterson Center for Ethical Leadership will build on the strength and vibrancy of the University as it continues to grow and help students lead meaningful lives and have productive careers as ethical leaders. “There can be a healing effect from this building, and there are going to be so many generations of students that are going to come through here and have the opportunity to focus on doing the right things,” Watterson explained.