Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, founder & CEO of Pace Communications, on Wednesday received the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
One of the nation’s most successful business leaders, whose North Carolina-based publishing company will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, was honored April 10 with the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter was the fourth recipient of an award created in 2009 to recognize an entrepreneur who is a leader in his or her industry and who exemplifies the values of Elon University, including integrity, innovation and creativity, passion for lifelong learning, and a commitment to building a dynamic community.
“I’m deeply honored to accept this,” Hunter said after receiving the medal from Elon University President Leo M. Lambert. “I will wear this proudly and I just want to tell you that I never expected to be acknowledged for entrepreneurism. It’s something I do without even thinking about.”
In her address, Hunter described “pearls of wisdom” learned from her mother. “Time is precious. Use it wisely,” she said. “Mediocrity is the greatest sin. Work is the greatest privilege. Failure is only a comma, never a period, and ‘can’t’ is a word that does not exist.”
The most important challenge facing the world today is the need to create more jobs, not just in the United States, but around the planet. Hunter said that people long for work, which gives them purpose in life, and that commerce itself leads to improvements across all areas of life.
“I am totally biased,” Hunter said. “I believe that commerce is the most critical force in the world today. I think it’s what ushers in social, economic and political change. It’s what raises and improves the lives of men, women and children here, and around the world.”
Hunter praised the university for the reputation it is forging across the country.
“I cannot go to New York without someone saying, ‘Oh, you live in North Carolina? I live in Connecticut and my son is dying to go to Elon. Do you have any pull at the university?’” she said. “All of a sudden, the big name is Elon University. I’m not sure I’m that good a connection but I always offer!”
Pace Communications is the largest custom content agency in the nation, serving Fortune 500 and other market leading companies such as Southwest Airlines, US Airways, Carlson Rezidor Hotels, Wells Fargo, Toyota, Verizon Wireless, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and USAA, making Hunter one of the nation’s most successful women entrepreneurs, ranked by Working Woman Magazine as one of the top 175 women-owned businesses in America.
During a term as U.S. Ambassador to Finland, Hunter led several initiatives to success, including the Women Business Leaders Summit in Helsinki in 2002 for women from the Baltic Region and Russia. Another successful summit was held two years later in Riga, Latvia, and a third in 2007 in Amman, Jordan for women from Iraq, Palestine, Syria and other Middle East nations which continued into Bahrain and Dubai in the fall of 2008.
Hunter was originally appointed by President George W. Bush as national chairman of the board of the American Red Cross in 2004, which marked the first time a woman has been named to that position, and is now serving her third three-year term. In 2007 she co-founded The Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders, which has grown to include 63 chapters nationwide.
As a long-time philanthropist and charitable-cause activist, Hunter has served as a member of the International Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity, chaired the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, served on the United Way of America Board as a member of its National Leadership Council, and founded the United Way Billion Dollar National Women’s Leadership Initiative which to date has raised $1 billion.
She currently serves on numerous boards, including the Blair House Restoration Fund, the Kennedy Center National Committee for the Performing Arts, the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts, Washington National Opera, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Hunter has supported Elon University in a variety of ways, including service as an inaugural member of the Elon University School of Law Advisory Board. Hunter was a featured speaker in February 2008 as part of the Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series.
Love School of Business Dean Raghu Tadepalli welcomed guests to the program and acknowledged the philanthropy of Elon Trustee Ed Doherty and his wife Joan, whose $1 million gift to the university in 2007 established the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. The Dohertys were unable to attend the presentation and Tadepalli spoke about their vision for entrepreneurship education.
Tadepalli also shared what he considers to be the defining qualities of entrepreneurs such as the Dohertys, owners of Doherty Enterprises, Inc., one of the nation’s leading franchisee operators of quality family restaurants.
“Entrepreneurs don’t wait for opportunities, they create opportunities. They solve problems, even problems people don’t know they have,” Tadepalli said. “They’re able to prosper under conditions of ambiguity. Ambiguity is what all of us face, especially when you’re in business. … And entrepreneurs lead through persuasion. They focus on execution, because that’s what it takes.”
Past recipients of the Elon University Medal for Entrepreneurial Leadership include:
2009 – Jim Goodnight, CEO and Founder, SAS
2010 – Bernard A. Harris, Jr., CEO and Managing Partner, Vesalius Ventures, Inc.
2012 – Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Founder of the Grameen Bank and Chairman of the Yunus Centre