Five decades after he earned his MBA at UCLA, Stewart Bainum (’70) still enthusiastically recalls the best course he ever took.
“It was my first year at UCLA, the class was Managerial Psychology and it really had a hell of an impact,” Bainum recalls. The course consisted of weekly, three-hour lectures that fostered a closeness among the students. The highlight was an intense, all-weekend session that took place at, of all places, the home of actress/socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose residence was used by UCLA for various events and functions at the time. (Alas, Bainum reports, Gabor was not present during the weekend in question.)
“Self-awareness is perhaps the most important strength a leader can have, along with a willingness to understand other people and empathize with them.”
“The course involved studying the interconnection between psychology and leadership. That’s what the lectures were about, but the headiest part was that long weekend where we broke into smaller groups, engaged in pretty deep and raw and honest peer-to peer-conversations about our own psychological makeup, our perceived strengths, our self-acknowledged flaws,” Bainum says.
“The things I learned about myself in that course, especially over that weekend, have stayed with me to this day. You go to business school to learn a lot of hard skills in marketing, finance and so forth, but what resonated with me was the development of my soft skills in that class: not just how to receive honest feedback, but how to give it as well, which a leader really needs. Self-awareness is perhaps the most important strength a leader can have, along with a willingness to understand other people and empathize with them, how to give feedback without alienating folks and how to accept criticism and look at yourself. That course got me started on developing a greater degree of self-awareness and beginning the process of becoming a leader.”
During his long and distinguished career, that process has served Bainum well. He has been chairman of Choice Hotels since 1997 and has been affiliated with Choice since 1976. Bainum has overseen the company’s growth from a franchisor of 339 hotels under one brand in the U.S. to a global enterprise with over 6,900 hotels in more than 40 countries. He also served as chairman and CEO of Manor Care from 1987 until 1998, when it merged with Health Care and Retirement Corporation (HCR). His 26-year tenure at Manor Care was distinguished not only by its growth in market value from $12 million to over $3.5 billion, but also by his implementation of a customer-focused culture at Manor Care for both customers and the company’s 50,000 employees. In 1998, Bainum founded Somerford Place Corporation and founded Artis Senior Living in 2013; both are memory care assisted living companies.
Bainum served with distinction as a delegate and as a senator in the Maryland General Assembly from 1979 until 1987. He remains active in politics and in the community, serving on numerous boards. A strong supporter of his alma mater, Bainum is a member of UCLA Anderson’s Board of Advisors. He has been instrumental in connecting Choice Hotels to Anderson’s MSBA program for recruiting purposes and through that program’s capstone data projects. Bainum has established two fellowships at Anderson, including one that supports students interested in not-for-profit, socially responsible work.
In recognition of his career accomplishments, his philanthropy and his generosity toward UCLA Anderson, Bainum is the recipient of the 2020 John E. Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award. The award salutes the achievements of distinguished alumni whose personal lives, professional achievements and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater.
Currently, Bainum is sheltering on the Maryland shore, navigating his companies through the global pandemic. He says the hotel business has been hit hard, and Bainum has been assisting the franchises in managing the crisis.
“We’ve been struggling to help them in every way we can, including helping them borrow funds from the SBA. And then, just communicating with them,” Bainum says. “It’s emotional. These are small business people. The average Comfort Inn has 25 employees. These are entrepreneurs, and their life’s work is in jeopardy and is under a huge threat. So, that’s a hell of a focus. It’s a tough, tough challenge for them.”
Then, there is the memory care assisted living business, a seven-year-old startup. “There, you don’t have the demand shock that you have in the hotel business and the travel business, but you have a group of elderly people — average age 84 — who have dementia, typically Alzheimer’s, and all people afflicted with Alzheimer’s are very active,” Bainum says. “They have to get out. It’s very hard to have them shelter in their room, and that’s been a hell of a challenge in our properties around the country. So, again, it’s communicating with the families in that business, who have loved ones in our residential communities, and communicating with caregivers who are often single mothers who have kids at home.
“We’re trying to be as supportive as we can,” he says. “Our expenses in that business have to go up because of all the PPE. Gloves and masks and so forth cost money, but our first priority is taking care of our residents and our people serving them, our associates.”
“What was important was developing the relationships with these 34 other men and women and staying in touch with them over the years and learning from them.”
While dealing with the crisis is his current focus, Bainum is less worried about the impact COVID-19 will have over time on his businesses. “We’re long-term investors, we’re not like a private equity fund that thinks in terms of five to seven years,” he says. “We think in terms of decades more than from quarter to quarter. We’re certainly not day traders. Our view of this crisis from an economic standpoint is that we think there’ll be a vaccine. We plan for the worst and hope for the best. And our financial projections assume that this is going to be a very difficult situation for a good two years, maybe two and a half years, before a vaccine will be not just developed, but widely distributed throughout this country, at least. If it goes beyond that, it goes beyond that. But that’s what we’re planning on, and if it’s shorter than that, then, hell, that’s great.”
As a dedicated philanthropist, Bainum has developed a specific philosophy in terms of giving, choosing causes for which he can make the biggest difference and focusing on results-oriented, data-driven, well-governed organizations with high-caliber leadership. He and his family also have a bias in favor of organizations that are saving or transforming children’s lives. “My wife, sons and I have a whole list of criteria,” Bainum says.
The Bainums are also open to organizations adept at bending government policy in the direction of the underserved in this country. This approach has led them to organizations that change lives in developing countries as well. The family has become personally involved in NGOs fighting malaria and providing financial support in Africa, and they take the time to travel to that continent to meet villagers and get a firsthand look at how such charitable organizations are making a difference.
When he was a student at what was then known simply as the Graduate School of Management, Bainum took part in an integrated MBA program, a cohort of about three dozen that was a subset of the overall MBA class. The group took all their courses together, creating a bond that lasts to this day. Bainum continues to host reunions for his classmates. His relationship to UCLA remains equally close.
“I certainly don’t deserve this kind of recognition. I mean, I just don’t. There are a lot of others that have done a lot more,” Bainum says of receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award. “But it means a lot. The business school changed my life. They accepted me when I wasn’t the greatest student and I owe them quite a bit. Even if I had not had that one managerial psychology class, I would have owed the school a lot. That course was the standout, but also what was important was developing the relationships with these 34 other men and women in the class and staying in touch with a number of them over the years and learning from them. I liked it. I liked it a lot, having a close-knit group like that.”
What They’re Saying about Stewart Bainum:
Caroline Nahas (B.A.’70), Vice Chairman, Board and CEO Services, Korn Ferry; and Vice Chairman, UCLA Anderson Board of Advisors: There are many qualities I admire in Stewart but one that stands out is humility coupled with the genuine interest he shows in others. He is direct when he asks questions in a supportive way. His objective is to be helpful in the best interests of Anderson. He has a great sense of humor! Board members like and respect him.
Judy Olian, President, Quinnipiac University; and Dean Emeritus, UCLA Anderson School of Management: Stewart grew up in a house of privilege, and yet he devoted himself to public service, from very early on. He is by any measure an iconic business leader, and yet when you meet him, he is the most grounded, regular guy who can relate to every person with empathy and genuine interest. Stewart has a wicked sense of humor and you see that in his very kidding and fun relationship with Sandy, his wife. They are a unique blend of light-hearted as well as cerebral jousting partners, two people who have never lost their cravings for learning. That’s what’s been such a gift for UCLA Anderson — he has been there to learn, but in reality UCLA Anderson has been the beneficiary of his counsel and wisdom. This award couldn’t be given to a more unique or more deserving person.
Gordon Smith, Co-President and Chief Operating Officer, JPMorgan Chase: Stewart is one of the most talented business executives I have had the opportunity to partner with. He has the rare combination of intellect, pragmatism and an intense focus on execution. For such a successful man, he is always extremely humble. I am reminded of a story in approximately 2010 when we were leaving the office late for dinner. He jumped into an early-1980s Volvo, one that didn’t look particularly well maintained, and when I made fun of him about this, he was steadfast in his point of view that he had no need to waste money on a new one while this one was still running! In business, Stewart’s advice was always to care for the customer, the employee, and as a result, shareholders would be taken care of. My observation was, he never stopped listening to each of these constituents, a man who is always learning.
Past recipients of the John E. Anderson Distinguished Alumni Award:
2019: Joel Fried (’86)
2018: Bernard Briskin (’49)
2017: Robert Murley (’74)
2016: Jim Moffatt (’87)
2015: Lonnie Ali (’86)
2014: John E. Parker (’50)
2013: Robert D. Beyer (’83)
2012: Marshall Goldsmith (Ph.D. ’77)
2010: Ambassador Lester B. Korn (’60)
2009: Richard C. Crowell (’80)
2008: Louise L. Francesconi (’78)
2007: Laurence D. Fink (B.A. ’74, ’76)
2006: Kip Hagopian (’66)
2005: Ric Kayne (’68)
2004: Jeff Henley (’67)
2003: Eugene Rosenfeld (’56)
2002: John E. Anderson (B.S. ’40)