CWU News

Eminent Conglomerate CEO Discusses Leadership Principles with CWU Students

Doug Wood addressed CWU studentsDespite changes in business practices and technology, ambition, empathy, honesty, integrity, and grit are still among the distinctive qualities of effective leaders. That was part of the message Doug Wood, the chief executive officer of Tommy Bahama, presented at the CWU Center for Leadership and Community Engagement Leadership Conference.

“Those five things are the basis even for those who aren’t in charge but need to get something done,” Wood added.

A 1987 graduate of CWU, Wood has been with Seattle-based Tommy Bahama since 2001, serving as CEO since 2016. The company owns and operates over 160 Tommy Bahama retail locations worldwide, 17 of which offer a Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar, and has more than 5,000 employees.    

During his presentation, Wood showed a videotape of his 1987 senior project, which he said he shared to indicate that he was able to develop those foundational attributes during his time on the Ellensburg campus. 

“How did I get from that 22-year-old to running Tommy Bahama?” he asked, rhetorically, answering the question by saying, “It was not linear, or step-by-step. It was through people—a lot of people—and it started right here at Central.”  

Wood said that his first job with Tommy Bahama came through contact with a Central classmate who encouraged him to apply. 

“It was that type of contact that got me going in this job,” he continued. “Every opportunity I’ve ever gotten has not, really, come from the people above me or the people I worked for, but the people I worked next to. They pulled me into jobs.” 

Wood told the students that they are laying foundations for those same types of opportunities now through their studies and group projects with their peers, who assess each other’s strengths and know who can get things done.

“There are two types of people in the world: problem identifiers and problem solvers,” Wood continued. “There are a whole bunch of problem identifiers, not a lot of problem solvers. So, as you go through your careers look to be a problem solver.”

Wood also touched on dealing with change, how to produce operational effectiveness, the need for students to develop positive attitudes, strive to be the best in whatever job they have at any point in their career and to always be willing to learn.

Doug Wood at CWU“If you’re ever in a room, and you feel you’re the smartest person in that room get up and leave and go find a room where you can learn something,” he advised.

The CLCE Leadership Conference presents a day-long series of workshops designed to present students with a variety of leadership perspectives. This was the first year that all facilitators were CWU alumni, like Wood. 

A native of Kittitas County and Ellensburg High School graduate, Wood also has served on the advisory board on CWU’s College of Business. He concluded his remarks by telling the students he has high hopes for the future based on the intelligence of those now preparing to enter the workforce.

“You’re so much more prepared than I was,” he continued. “If you set your sites, set your ambition, and set your priorities, you are all going to be successful.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,