CSUN Alumni are regularly noted as being changemakers in various industries, and graduate Bill Imada exemplifies this legacy. Imada is Founder, Chairman, and Chief Connectivity Officer of IW Group, a minority-owned and operated advertising, marketing, and communications agency focusing on growing multicultural markets. For more than 25 years Imada has represented such major domestic and global companies as American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Fox, General Motors, Godiva Chocolatier, Lexus, McDonald’s, Nissan North America, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Verizon, Walt Disney Imagineering, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walmart, Westfield Malls, and many more. His areas of expertise include advertising, branding, multicultural communications, marketing, crises management, partnership marketing, and public relations.
Imada was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Asian American & Pacific Islanders Advisory Commission. While a student at CSUN, he served as Associated Students President in 1979 and Vice President in 1980. Honored with CSUN’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014, Imada currently serves on the university’s Public Relations Advisory Committee.
We asked Bill Imada some questions exploring his work, his drive, his impression of CSUN, and what motivates him in giving back to the university.
Curb College: Why are you proud to be a Matador?
Imada: I'm proud to be a Matador because CSUN afforded me an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. My professors were exceptional scholars and mentors, providing me with sage wisdom and advice that remain with me today. Furthermore, matadors are expected to be risk takers and problem solvers—two critical life skills. I am now more adept at both skills. As a result of being a proud Matador, I have cofounded five national organizations and have a successful business that now hires CSUN alumni.
What drives your instinct to mentor college students?
Having an array of mentors has had a profound impact on my personal and professional journey. The best way to honor my mentors is to be a mentor to others. For me, mentoring college students feels right.
What are some key skills college students may lack today and what do our students need to succeed?
I believe today’s college students have attained many skills that will enrich their lives in the future. They have pushed employers to review their employment policies and address work-life balance. They have insisted on broadening equity, diversity, and inclusive policies at post-secondary institutions of higher learning. They have elevated public awareness pertaining to mental health and self-care. They have held companies and governmental agencies accountable on issues of global significance such as climate change. I want to encourage colleges and universities to devote more time and resources to helping students with human skills. Students who possess skills in critical thinking, empathy, resiliency, and team building will be in a stronger position to grow and develop once they leave college.
What inspired your investment in helping students make the leap from college to career? How does the National Millennial and Gen Z Community mesh with these efforts?
I cofounded the National Millennial and Gen Z Community to give young adults a platform to express their views and opinions to executives from corporations, foundations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. In a short span of time, the Community has met with more than 360 executives from 130 companies and organizations. To assist students in taking that critical leap from college to a life after graduation, the National Millennial and Gen Z Community began creating programs that focused on solving problems.
You've been a donor to CSUN since the year you graduated. What made you decide to make that first gift to the university?
My tenure as a student at CSUN were the best years of my life. Because my life was enriched by the dedicated faculty, administrators, and alumnae I met through the university, I felt compelled to make a monetary contribution to my alma mater. I truly value being an alumnus of CSUN. Furthermore, I want to remain closely connected to the greater CSUN community for as long as possible. Learning is a journey that never ends.
What do you hope to accomplish through your philanthropy?
I hope to encourage more donors to increase their support for CSUN. Moreover, I feel it is important to set an example for students to remember to give back to the university. If we can cultivate a new group of givers, CSUN will be able to expand its offerings to the next generation of scholars. I also hope donors will do more than just write a check. CSUN students need mentors and sponsors, and alumni can really make a positive impact in these roles.
The firm you cofounded, IW Group, was named by Ad Age as the 2022 Multicultural Agency of the Year. What does that accomplishment mean to you and to our students?
Being named the Multicultural Agency of the Year is a great achievement for our company. This special honor is a source of pride for our staff and clients, and also recognizes the quality of our work. To the students of CSUN, I hope this award will inspire them to follow their passion. I also hope students will remember that success is not achieved by one person at the helm. We have received advice and counsel from hundreds of people, and have also learned from every twist, turn, and fall.
You use the title Chief Connectivity Officer. Where does your energy to connect with people come from?
I derive my energy to connect with others from an adverb. It’s the word “always.” I’m always curious to learn from others. I’m always willing to hear other points of view. And I’m always trying to find new ways to bring people together.
Tell us what compelled you to cofound VOICES of AAPI?
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus fueled a rise in anti-Asian acts of hatred, bias, and violence. Asians and Asian Americans were being blamed for spreading the coronavirus, and acts of violence were being reported throughout the country. Several corporate and agency leaders of Asian American heritage decided it was time to step forward to elevate our stories, our narratives, and our histories to all Americans. Communication leaders from BAE Systems, NBCUniversal, Nielsen, Omnicom PR Group, Walmart, Wells Fargo, and others all agreed that an organization needed to be created to address the needs, interests, and aspirations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in communications and related fields. VOICES was established on March 1, 2022.