Excellence Through Experience

Bill Franke once decided his future based on a coin flip. But by the time he became a titan in the airline industry, he left little to chance.

Bill and his wife, Carolyn, are enthusiastic supporters of access to education and have focused their philanthropy on higher learning. The Franke family’s transformative gift to Mayo Clinic Alix School of MedicineArizona Campus supports scholarships and operations, such as faculty development and curriculum innovation.

“Medical students face years of commitment at a significant financial cost. As a family, we are focused on making that journey less onerous in the hope that qualified, talented and in-need students are not discouraged by the financial burden,” Bill says. “We want students focused on the medical education that Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine can provide.”

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Breaking Down Barriers

Mayo Clinic believes students should choose a career based on passion and skills rather than financial considerations or social background. This core value was part of the medical school’s original plan when it opened 40 years ago, and it remains a priority today.

“The doors of Mayo Clinic are open to all meritorious learners. We believe that diversity and inclusion help us to achieve our time-honored commitment to attract, develop and retain the next generation of health care professionals to pursue excellence in patient care, education and research,” says Yonas E. Geda, M.D., director, Office for Diversity, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

Scholarships allow the school to compete for the best and the brightest from across the country. To preserve and protect the Mayo Clinic Model of Care, Mayo Clinic has an aggressive plan to attract and train the highest-caliber medical students who will form our future physician ranks and deliver Mayo’s gold standard of care for generations to come. Recruiting this candidate pool requires raising the national profile of Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine by bolstering our scholarship endowment and offering the most rigorous and innovative educational experiences these top students seek.

Innovators on the Front Lines

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine will strengthen Arizona’s economy and medical community and improve the quality of health care for its residents. The medical school makes the Arizona community even more of a destination for innovative medical education and supports the state’s robust bioscience industry. It also bolsters academic engagement and collaboration at community medical centers, where students train in real-world environments. With more than 30% continuing on for residency at Mayo Clinic, new doctors help address the severe Arizona physician shortage.

With their grasp of both medicine and the science of health care delivery, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine graduates can help Arizona’s government and business leaders cope with the complicated health care delivery system and find new ways for Arizonans to get the best quality care at the lowest cost.

“Education diversifies the state’s economy by providing economic opportunities and improving the quality of life in Arizona,” Bill Franke says. “Schools must focus on preparing diverse students — first generation college and underrepresented in medicine students to diversify the economy. Education will make Arizona an even stronger state.”

Bill was born in Texas and grew up in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, moving with his father’s job in the State Department. He experienced the cultures of South America and the transformative power of education. Bill made a pact with his two best high school friends to attend the same college. They couldn’t decide, so they left their fate to a coin toss — Stanford University. It was while he was in Palo Alto, California, that Bill foresaw how education would become the catalyst for his achievements.

Today, Bill is known as one of Arizona’s most prominent business leaders. He is the founder of Indigo Partners, a private equity firm, and is considered by many industry experts as the man most responsible for the creation of the ultra-low-cost airline carrier in the U.S.

Bill jetted through college and law school, graduating in the time it takes most students to finish an undergraduate degree. Shortly after, he joined the Army, during the early ‘60s, initially as an infantry platoon leader and then as an Army intelligence officer serving in Washington, D.C., Panama and South America. After three years, Bill moved to Spokane, Washington, and began practicing law, where he was introduced to the local business community.

“I realized I liked business more than practicing law,” Bill says. This change led him to Phoenix to join the management of a large lumber, plywood and paper products company. He met Carolyn and traveled throughout the state for Southwest Forest Products, sparking his love for Arizona.

As Bill quickly advanced within the company, he began to hone his skills in building strong teams around him — unique individuals with diverse experiences, thoughts and skills. After the merger of Southwest Forest with another large packaging company, Bill decided to stay in Phoenix. He then managed a major bank restructuring and, on the completion of that, the reorganization of a convenience store company, Circle K. With each position, he questioned the status quo and made the difficult business decisions to move the company forward — leading to his moniker “Mr. Fix-It.”

It was 1992 when Arizona Gov. Fife Symington asked Bill to engage the management team of America West Airlines to avoid its liquidation bankruptcy and the loss of more than 6,000 jobs in the Phoenix area.

“I told the governor, ‘All I know about airlines is that the boarding pass tells me I’m seat 16B.’ But I knew the economic impact this would have on the community and accepted the challenge. My management style, if there was one, was to question everything I didn’t understand,” says Bill. “The airline wasn’t used to someone asking why or what the alternatives were.”

Bill transferred his turnaround skills from previous business ventures to America West, agreeing to stay on after the reorganization was complete for a total of nine years. America West then acquired US Airways and eventually merged with American Airlines. He is credited with hiring six of the seven top managers at American Airlines.

On leaving America West, Bill founded Indigo Partners, a private equity investment firm that focuses on air transportation. It currently is the major shareholder in Frontier Airlines (U.S.), Volaris (Mexico), Wizz Air (Hungary) and JetSMART (Chile).

Bill didn’t leave his career to a coin toss. He strategically built strong teams, evaluated inefficiencies and built flexible infrastructure and processes that allowed for continuous improvement.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career. My family and I decided we wanted to support education. We pursued like-minded educational organizations, ones that personalize education to the student, challenge the status quo and are prepared to make changes that will drive innovation for the future,” Bill explains. “Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is doing that now.”■

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is educating medical students to solve the complex health care issues facing our world by pairing engineering skills with clinical expertise to ensure the needs of the patient always come first. Support the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science to turn learners into leaders.