When you put your life in perspective, you realize how little
time there is to make something
truly significant out of it.
To some people this might mean acquiring a lot of possessions,
building a business, or owning
property. There's nothing wrong
with these aspirations, but for me
they pale in comparison to
individuals who want to leave
something more consequential
as their legacy.”
Bill Daniels was a born entrepreneur, widely considered one of the great business visionaries of the twentieth century. He achieved phenomenal success by working hard, passionately following his instincts, acting with ethics and integrity, and treating everyone around him with respect and fairness. His word was as solid as any contract. His brilliance in business was matched by his sincere compassion for people and his desire to help those in need. In many ways, Bill Daniels truly was "larger than life."
Born in Greeley, Colorado in 1920, Bill spent his early childhood in Omaha, Nebraska and later, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. As his family struggled through the Great Depression, many of Bill's values related to work and personal responsibility were formed.
When Bill was a teenager, his family moved to Hobbs, New Mexico. Bill was driven and popular, but his unruly nature prompted his parents to enroll him in the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in nearby Roswell. Initially reluctant, he quickly embraced cadet life. He was a natural athlete and developed remarkable leadership skills. For two years running, he was New Mexico’s Golden Gloves welterweight boxing champion. After two years each of high school and college at NMMI, Bill was a disciplined young man, with newfound appreciation for teamwork, etiquette, respect, and the chain of command.
The man Bill had become would prove himself a fine naval officer and fearless combat pilot in World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for “heroism, courage, and devotion to duty” making repeated trips to rescue wounded shipmates after a devastating enemy attack on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Bill also served during the Korean Conflict, was instrumental in pilot training for the U.S. Navy during the transition to jet aircraft, and retired a decorated Commander.
Bill began his business career by opening an insurance agency in Casper, Wyoming. On a drive home after visiting family in New Mexico, Bill stopped for lunch in Denver. A boxing match flickered on a small black and white screen behind the bar. It was Bill’s first encounter with television, and he was captivated. He learned that many small towns — including Casper — did not have access to TV. As a result, Bill started building Casper’s first cable system in 1952.
As one of the earliest pioneers in cable TV, Bill owned and operated hundreds of systems across the country. The firm he founded, Daniels & Associates, operated these properties and brokered many of the deals that shaped the industry. Bill’s leadership attracted many technology and communications companies to the area, making Denver the recognized “cable capital of the world.”
An avid sports fan, Bill was one of the first in his industry to focus on generating sports programming, clearing the way for today’s regional sports networks. He sponsored a number of professional boxers, served as president of the American Basketball Association, was a founder of the United States Football League, and was an owner of professional sports teams, including the Utah Stars and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Like anyone, Bill was not perfect. But he was surprisingly open about his failures and mistakes. He struggled with alcoholism, but was able to maintain sobriety after receiving treatment at the Betty Ford Center in 1985. His devotion to work led to four divorces. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Colorado in 1974. And along the way, Bill made plenty of money losing business investments that went nowhere.
During the course of his life, the respect Bill earned for his achievements in business was matched by the admiration generated by his philanthropy. Bill believed that successful people should maintain compassion for those in need. He also emphasized that for those capable of overcoming their circumstances, his help was not a hand-out, but a hand-up.
Over the years, Bill made countless charitable contributions and supported his community in innovative, meaningful ways. With his plane, he set a new round-the-world speed record for business jets while raising $300,000 for education. He opened his home, Cableland, to fundraising events for nonprofits dozens of times per year, and donated the house to the City of Denver as the official mayoral residence.
Bill provided significant support to innovative education efforts. Recognizing the value of learning financial responsibility at a young age, he founded Young Americans Bank in 1987. It remains the world’s only chartered bank exclusively for kids. Bill was also concerned that young people were not learning the value of ethics, especially at the college level. He collaborated with the University of Denver to incorporate ethics, values, and personal integrity into the business school curriculum. In 1994, the school was renamed Daniels College of Business in Bill’s honor.
Bill’s concern for those in need, and the organizations that help them, motivated his personal involvement. He did more than just sign checks — he spent time with people facing life’s challenges and wanted to understand their situations. While money was an important part of his contributions, his visible support of charitable causes also served as an inspiration for others. He was devoted to helping our most vulnerable or disadvantaged neighbors achieve happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
Bill spent his final years planning the Daniels Fund, and providing the specific direction that guides its operation. When he passed away in 2000, Bill’s estate transferred to the Daniels Fund, forming its base of assets and making it one of the largest foundations in the Rocky Mountain region.
The Daniels Fund continues Bill Daniels’ legacy of compassion and generosity by providing grants to outstanding nonprofit organizations, and scholarships to deserving students, in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Learn more about Bill Daniels’ life and his contributions to business and philanthropy by downloading The Life & Legacy of Bill Daniels, offered to you with our compliments.