Kansas Citian of the Year

Chancellor Leo E. Morton (center) with Chamber CEO James A. Heeter (left) and Kansas City Mayor Sly James (right)

Chancellor honored by Greater Kansas City Chamber

Leo E. Morton, Chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has been named “Kansas Citian of the Year” by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

The honor, presented annually since 1960, recognizes “those persons whose civic contributions and achievements have reflected the insight, creativity and consciousness necessary to build and maintain a quality urban community.” It was presented at the Chamber’s annual dinner gala at the Kansas City Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom. Morton, who was unaware of the honor in advance, was visibly shocked by the announcement.

“You folks can’t know how much I love this city,” Morton told the more than 1,900 guests in attendance. “Every day I ask God to bless me so that I can help others.”

Morton was introduced with a series of video tributes by leaders such as Henry W. Bloch, Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn and former University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee; tributes were also offered by UMKC students and by Morton’s son, Leo Morton, Jr. Morton joined several previous winners of the award on stage for photographs, including Bloch, Shirley and Barnett C. Helzberg, Jr., Robert D. Regnier and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II.

“Leo is the epitome of civic and community leadership, and everything he does is done with grace and style,” said Jim Heeter, president and chief executive officer of the KC Chamber. “He has been personally involved in each of our Big 5 initiatives and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership in what I know will be a successful effort to create a new downtown arts campus next to our fabulous Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Leo is a perfect choice to join the prestigious ranks of Kansas Citians of the Year.”

The “Big 5” is the list of top civic priorities for the region, selected by the Chamber. In addition to UMKC’s Downtown Campus for the Arts, the priorities include “Making Kansas City America’s Most Entrepreneurial City,” and entrepreneurship was the evening’s overall focus and theme. Various speakers cited UMKC’s Innovation Center, Henry W. Bloch School of Management and the School of Computing and Engineering as key elements in the region’s entrepreneurial effort.

Incoming Chamber chair Terry Dunn offered a renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship.

“In 2015 and beyond we will witness the collaboration of education, elected officials, foundations, businesses, and others to develop a common entrepreneurial vision and a greater understanding, to act with clarity and focus, to continue the journey for Kansas City to achieve the Big 5 goal of becoming the most entrepreneurial city in the United States,” said Dunn. “This is our journey and we will travel this road together.”

Heeter also spoke to the vital importance of entrepreneurship to the region’s future – as well as the need for investments in education to achieve the goal.

“If we do this well, we will undoubtedly create the next Hallmark Cards, the next H&R Block, the next Cerner,” said Jim Heeter. “Along with entrepreneurship, though, we need a skilled, educated workforce. Entrepreneurship and education are the keys to success, and that’s the reasoning behind the Chamber’s new Big 5 goal for kindergarten readiness – a strategy to help get more of our young people reading at grade level by the third grade.

“Entrepreneurship and education, together, is the prescription for building a dynamic, growing community.”

Well-known entrepreneur Daymond John offered the keynote address for the dinner. The founder and CEO of FUBU (“For Us By Us”), a company that has amassed more than $4 billion in worldwide retail sales,  John started the company in his mother’s basement and transformed it into a global fashion empire. John appears on ABC’s reality business show “Shark Tank.”

With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s of science degree from MIT and almost 15 years of high-level experience in the corporate world, Morton brings a diverse range of experience and expertise to his role as UMKC’s chancellor.

Morton was named UMKC’s chancellor on Dec. 15, 2008. Prior to assuming the chancellorship, he worked at Aquila Inc., joining the firm in January 1994 as vice president, performance management. He was named senior vice president in 1996 with responsibility for re-engineering, corporate procurement and environmental services. Morton assumed additional duties for the management of human resources in 1997 and information technology in 1998. He was named senior vice president and chief administrative officer in 2000 as he also assumed responsibility for additional corporate services.

Morton has been a UMKC Trustee since 2000 and was in his third year as chairman of the Trustees Board when he stepped down to serve as the university’s interim chancellor. Previously, he was a member on UMKC’s Center for the City board and chaired the community relations committee of the Trustees.

For being named Kansas Citian of the Year, Morton received a bronze statue, titled Dance Moderne VI, by Kansas City-based, internationally acclaimed sculptor Tom Corbin. The KC Chamber commissions local artists to craft the annual award.

Dance Moderne VI epitomizes the cultural renaissance that continues in Kansas City, from the building of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, to the grass roots genesis of the Crossroads Arts District,” Corbin said. “The entrepreneurial spirit knows no boundaries, as it thrives both in the Kansas City arts and business communities.”

|John Martellaro, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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