A gust of palpably positive energy sweeps into Indaba, swirling into the espresso air to create something of a blissfully caffeinated breeze.
Most eyes look up. As the door closes, there stands a woman clad in stylish jacket, hat and scarf, confidently beaming at everyone in the room like a Spokane Mary Poppins. As she makes her way to the counter, she greets half of the patrons by name before ordering a spicy chai tea. The barista straightens, seemingly inspired to give this his best 8 ounces of the day, and now she is introducing me to the guy working at the backbar who is “just the best.”
In preparing for this interview, I reminded myself of this happy whirlwind that is Katherine Morgan. I was on the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce selection committee that hired her to become its president and CEO in 2014, and I witnessed firsthand the force of enthusiastic will that helped that organization thrive during her tenure. For the past two years, she has served as senior vice president and Spokane/Boise market manager with Bank of America.
But on this day, I’m here because it’s Zag-uary, those months when Spokane exorcizes its gray days with basketball nights, and I know of no bigger Gonzaga fan than Katherine. She received a business administration degree from GU in 2006 and was Outstanding MBA Student of the Year while earning her graduate degree in 2014. She was a Kennel Club member then and is an occasional adjunct marketing professor now. She leaves space in her schedule each March for every possible Gonzaga tournament variable.
With Katherine, there is purpose behind everything. She is no frivolous fangirl, and I ask her for a glimpse at the deeper reasons behind her passion for all things Zag.
In typical fashion, she responds with a “Final Four” — a quartet of the best life lessons she carries with her as a proud Bulldog.
No. 1: “Have faith”
For Katherine, the link between faith and Gonzaga goes beyond a Jesuit tradition but lies in the values and purposes that make up one’s identity – truly a faith or belief in one’s self.
A huge fan of men’s basketball coach Mark Few, she pointed to his halftime talk on Feb. 20, when Gonzaga scored a paltry 22 first-half points against San Francisco.
“What did Coach Few say in the locker room?” Katherine recalled. “That’s an opportunity he could have just ripped into them. But instead he kept it simple, and he said, ‘Be us. Be us.’ That really caught me off guard because he articulated in two words one of the most important lessons in my own life. Those moments we begin to compromise or take our eye off of who we are or try to be someone we’re not is the times we will never win.”
Gonzaga scored 49 second-half points and won by 17 — which is great, but how is Katherine able to locate and flip that “be us” switch in her everyday life?
“I have never been able to do it on my own,” Katherine said. “I have had a handful — a very, very close circle — of people that stood alongside me in those dark moments, that would take the call, that would remind me who I am. … In my own way, I feel that close circle is my own little Zag Nation. I’m sure the parallels are there for everyone. I think we all have our, quote, fan club who is going to be real for us and help us get out of those moments, help remind us who we are.”
Katherine Morgan at a recent GU game in Spokane
No. 2: “Put in the work”
With 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and five consecutive Sweet 16s (the longest active streak in the country), Gonzaga has become a model of consistency. Katherine said what’s often overlooked is the work required for such lofty achievements.
“It’s a reminder for me, for those days when I’m in the arena, did I do the work?” she said. “Have I remained disciplined, because it’s going to show if I did or if I didn’t. Gonzaga has shown day in, day out, season after season, that they show up and they get it done every single time because they do the work, unwaveringly, every single day.”
The tough part, of course, is in actually pulling this level of execution off on those days it’s the last thing you want to do.
“Put your shoes on and take that first step whether you want to or not,” she coaches. “I go back to my ‘why.’ What am I trying to achieve here? Why did I accept this role? What’s the greater purpose this team is trying to accomplish? And lace up, get outside and start walking. And eventually, I’ll start to run.”
Oh, and don’t forget about your people.
“In those times I’m vulnerable, I go back to my tribe,” she said. “(When I) come alongside others, eventually that motivation comes, and then I’m unstoppable.”
Attending the 2017 Final Four in Phoenix
No. 3: “Know who you are”
Katherine admires the way Coach Few builds self-awareness in his players and helps them see how their individual role fits into the greater team.
“Every team is different, and every individual on those teams brings forth different gifts, different purpose, different drive and desire,” she said. “If you really take the time to acknowledge that and understand that and listen, it’s amazing the magic that happens.”
She said early in her career, it was tempting to make the mistake that to interview for a job meant to pretend like “I had it all figured out,” as if she could expect to expertly guard the 3-point shooter and block out the big man on the paint in the same play.
“I quickly learned, and how very Shakespeare: ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,’” said Katherine, quoting “As You Like It.” “I was happier when I was brought onto teams when they knew exactly who I was and where my abilities were.”
“Every team is different, and every individual on those teams brings forth different gifts, different purpose, different drive and desire. If you really take the time to acknowledge that and understand that and listen, it’s amazing the magic that happens.”Katherine Morgan
So, for instance, when she interviewed at Bank of America she didn’t pretend to have financial industry expertise and experience. With the Chamber, she didn’t gloss over her then lack of executive experience.
“(It was about) really just owning where I’m at: This is what I’m wanting to do and what I’m willing to do if I’m supposed to be the next person to fill the role,” she said. “And that taught me that it was OK to be myself and be comfortable in my skin.”
No. 4: “Never give up”
Last March, Gonzaga bowed out of the Elite Eight to Texas Tech. In that final game of the season, only 3 of Gonzaga’s 69 points were scored by players who are back fighting for another deep run in 2020.
Katherine finds this type of personnel turnover from year to year a testament to the power of resiliency.
“I know we’ve all faced those seasons where we’ve tried and tried again and gotten so close to, as some might say, capturing the gold ring,” she said. “It can certainly be discouraging, sometimes causing yourself to question why you are even trying and if it’s worth it again.”
She said she has taken inspiration in her own professional career from the way Gonzaga recommits to excellence after each season.
“I’ve been in roles I have loved and been so honored to serve in, (a part of) teams that were magical,” she said. “To hope to make that transition to the next chapter for all the right reasons can be very difficult and emotional and discouraging.”
And then she remembers that Coach Few got up the morning after losing the 2017 National Championship game and started working on reaching even greater heights the next season.
“You’re going to try and try again, because that’s your why, that’s your purpose — it’s who you are,” Katherine said. “That’s what Bulldogs do. When the world zigs, we Zag.”
Katherine and I met for this conversation at Indaba Coffee‘s Riverside location in downtown Spokane, one of Katherine’s go-to spots within walking distance of her Bank of America office. Indaba’s “Love People, Love Coffee” motto is a great match for Katherine’s longtime investment and interaction in the greater Spokane community.
Thanks for sharing time over coffee and your always upbeat insight, Katherine. You serve the world around you — and represent GU — with class.
— Josh Johnson (soccer jersey: Orlando City SC)
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