Karl Eller is a tenacious advertising executive who reshaped the business of outdoor advertising and transformed it into a business powerhouse. He served in various capacities with Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company from 1952 to 1958. From 1959 to 1962 he was an account supervisor with Needham, Louis & Brorby Advertising Agency. In 1962 Eller purchased the Arizona operations of F&K, renaming it Eller Outdoor Advertising Company. In 1968 he merged his company with an operator of a television and radio station to found Combined Communications Corporation (CCC) of which Eller served as president and chief executive officer. He built CCC into one of the largest and most profitable media companies in the U.S. with major metropolitan television stations, radio stations and daily newspapers as well as American and Canadian outdoor advertising companies. In 1979 he merged Combined Communications with Gannett and served in the office of chief executive, resigning in June of 1980.
In 1980 Eller became president of Columbia Pictures Communications and was instrumental in the company's merger into the Coca Cola Company in 1983. That year, Eller established and funded the Karl Eller Center for the Study of the Free Enterprise Economy at the University of Arizona. In mid-1987 the University of Arizona named its MBA School for Eller and in 1999 the university honored him further by renaming its business college as The Eller College of Business and Public Administration. Not surprisingly, he was named University of Arizona Alumnus of the Year in 2001.
Eller served as chairman of the board and CEO of the Circle K Corporation from 1983 to 1990. During that time, he built Circle K into the second largest convenience store operation and the largest publicly owned convenience store chain in the U.S. with 4,641 stores in 32 states and an additional 1,386 licensed or joint venture stores in 13 foreign countries. Under his leadership, the company grew from annual sales of $747 million to $3.4 billion.
In 1992 he started back in the outdoor advertising business forming Eller Media Company. He purchased the Phoenix branch of Gannett Outdoor and went on to build a nationwide company in 25 large markets. In 1997 Eller Media merged with Clear Channel Communications, with Eller acting as chairman and CEO of the outdoor division until he retired in December 2001.
Eller has served on the board of directors of many companies, including Phoenix Suns, Arizona Public Service, Pabst Brewing, Gannett, Eastern Airlines, Swensen's Ice Cream Company, the Public Broadcasting Corporation of America, Columbia Pictures Inc., Turner Broadcasting Company and Clear Channel Communications. Active in the business of professional sports, Eller was named to the advisory board of the NCAA in 2001. He founded Western Hockey League Roadrunners and the Phoenix Suns basketball team and was instrumental in bringing professional football to Phoenix.
Eller has also made a career of giving back to the community. He has been recognized by the NCAA for his work with establishing a scholarship fund for athletes and is a founding member of the Fiesta Bowl. He served as chairman of United Way and on the board of the Salvation Army in Phoenix. He was one of the first members of the Arizona Business Hall of Fame, was honored as an Arizona Historymaker by the Arizona Historical Society, a member of the YPD-CEO Organizations and Phoenix Philanthropist of the Year. He received the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Lifetime Achievement Award and last year was honored with the AAF's Silver Medal Award.