Bill Daniels 2021 Bresnan Award Honoree
Cable pioneer / founder of the daniels fund
Bill Daniels was a born entrepreneur, widely considered one of the great business visionaries of the twentieth century. Bill 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 known to be as solid as any contract. His brilliance in business was matched by his sincere compassion for people and the 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 champion. After two years each of high school and college at NMMI, Bill was disciplined and focused, with newfound appreciation for teamwork, etiquette, respect, and the chain of command.
The man Bill had become proved to be 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" as he made repeated trips to rescue wounded shipmates after a devastating enemy attack on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Bill also served during the Korean Conflict. He was instrumental in pilot training for the U.S. Navy during their transition to jet aircraft and retired a decorated Commander.
Bill began his business career by opening an insurance agency in Casper, Wyoming. Driving home from New Mexico in 1952, 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 many small towns — including Casper — did not have access to TV. As a result, Bill started building Casper's first cable system, which launched January 1, 1954.
As one of the earliest pioneers in cable television, Bill would go on to own and operate 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 Denver, making it the recognized "cable capital of the world".
An avid sports fan, Bill was one of the first in his industry to focus on the production of sports programming, clearing the way for today’s regional sports networks. He sponsored a number of professional boxers, invested in several professional car racing ventures, served as president of the American Basketball Association, was a founder of the United States Football League, and was an owner of pro sports teams, including the Utah Stars, the Los Angeles Express, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Like anyone, Bill was far from perfect. However, he was refreshingly open about his failures and mistakes. Bill struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, but was able to maintain sobriety after receiving treatment at the Betty Ford Center in 1985. His devotion to work contributed to four divorces. He ran unsuccessfully for governor of Colorado in 1974. And Bill certainly experienced his share of money losing business ventures and investments on the path to becoming a billionaire.
Over the course of his life, the respect Bill earned for his achievements in business was equaled by the admiration he received as a philanthropist. Bill believed that successful people should maintain compassion for people 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 creative, meaningful ways. With his plane, he set a new round-the-world speed record for business class jets while raising $300,000 for education. He opened his home, Cableland, to fundraising events for nonprofits dozens of times per year, and later donated the house to the City of Denver as its 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 made substantial donations to the University of Denver to incorporate ethics, values, and personal integrity into the business school curriculum. The business school was later renamed the Daniels College of Business in Bill's honor.
Bill's concern for those in need, and the organizations that help them, motivated him to be personally involved. 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 inspiration to others. He was devoted to helping his community’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged achieve happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
Bill spent his final years laying plans for the Daniels Fund, and detailing the specific direction that guides its operation. When he passed away in March of 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 across Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming through the Daniels Fund Grants Program, the Daniels Fund Scholarship Program, and the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative.