College of Business & Technology

Robert and Mary Ferguson Lecture Series • Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tyler Gage

Tyler Gage, co-founder and co-CEO of Runa

In keeping with WIU's 2015-2016 theme, "Environment: A Foundation for Social Responsibility," the College of Business and Technology is pleased to announce Tyler Gage as the 2015 CBT Ferguson Lecturer. The lecture will be held on Wednesday, October 14th at 3:00 p.m. in the University Grand Ballroom. After the lecture, there will be a 30 minute question and answer session. This event is free and open to the public.

Tyler Gage is the co-founder and co-CEO of Runa, a social enterprise that produces clean energy beverages and uses its supply chain to improve the livelihoods of thousands of indigenous farming families in the Amazon. Runa now supports over 3,000 farming families in Ecuador, and Runa products are sold in over thousands of stores across the country. Tyler has been recognized as a Forbes "30 Under 30 Entrepreneur" and recently received the Citizen Leader of the Year Award from the International Specialty Food Association.

Tyler has spent the last ten years working with indigenous communities in the Amazon developing economic development and rainforest conservation programs. Having started as a 19 year old researching Amazonian languages, he grew to build his organization, RUNA, into one of the leading social change organizations in the Amazon, supporting over 20,000 indigenous people. Tyler has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur and RUNA is on Inc Magazine's 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America list for 2015. He has been featured in Richard Branson's book "Screw Business as Usual", and in Fast Company, National Geographic, and Men's Fitness.

After being recruited to Brown to play on their Nationally Ranked Division 1 soccer team, Tyler developed a unique fascination with Amazonian cultures. After his freshman year he followed this interest to South America, where he ended up spending several years researching Amazonian languages. During this time, Tyler witnessed firsthand the tradeoff indigenous communities face–while they want to preserve their cultural and environmental heritage, they also have an immediate need to earn cash and feed their families in an increasingly globalized world. After long nights of storytelling and ceremonies, Tyler would awaken the next morning to the crisp sound of a chainsaw cutting down hardwood trees nearby. He was struck by the stark choice communities were forced to make between their cultural and environmental values and their immediate economic needs.

Later, Tyler fell in love with guayusa tea (pronounced "gwhy-you-sa"), a rare Amazonian leaf that contains as much caffeine as coffee, double the antioxidants of green tea, and a naturally sweet taste. Recognizing that no one had ever commercially produced this leaf, Tyler an opportunity for indigenous farmers to sustainably produce this product to support their families, and then offer as a healthy energy beverage to consumers in the US.

Back at school, Tyler wrote a business plan with his friend Dan for this new enterprise, and then turned down a Fulbright grant after graduating to move to Ecuador and make it a reality. Securing funding from an impressive and diverse range of investors including The MacArthur Foundation and Channing Tatum, Tyler used a liberal arts approach of dedicated research and partnership building to get RUNA off the ground.

Six years later, RUNA will buy over 1 million pounds of fresh guayusa leaves that were sustainably produced by over 3,000 farming families in 2015, and RUNA has become one of the fastest growing beverage brands in the US.

For more information, contact Lori Boyer at (309) 298-2442 or

Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie, co-founders and co-ceos of runa tea

Tyler Gage (pictured left) and Dan MacCombie, co-founders and co-CEOs of Runa Tea

Lecture Series History

The series was developed through the generosity of the late Dr. Robert Ferguson and his wife, Mary. Dr. Ferguson passed away in December of 1991. His 40-years of commitment to Western Illinois University and the College of Business and Technology live on through the Robert and Mary Ferguson Lecture Series. Dr. Robert Ferguson received his bachelor’s degree in business education from Western in 1943. After serving in the United State Army from 1944-46, Bob returned to Western and completed his master of science degree in 1948. He later taught for two years at Brooklyn College while completing his doctorate at New York University and returned to WIU where he retired in 1986. Bob held faculty ranks from instructor to professor and was business education chair for 20 years. He played a key role in guiding the Department of Business Education through many changes that led to his longtime goal of the establishment of the College of Business in 1966. He served as interim dean of the College of Business prior to the appointment of the late Howard C. Nudd as dean. Throughout his teaching career, Dr. Ferguson firmly believed that our students benefit from the depth and breadth of experience, especially by seeing and hearing from key business leaders who are illustrations of success.

Past Speakers

  • 2013: Patrick M. Magoon, President and Chief Executive Officer - Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
    Improving Child & Adolescent Health in the Healthcare Reform Era
  • 2012: Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation
    Investing in an America Built to Last
  • 2009: Richard Longworth, Author
    Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalization
  • 2005: Troy Rice, Division President Northern - The Home Depot
  • 2003: Glen Barton, Chairman and CEO - Caterpillar, Inc.
  • 2002: Lawrence Gill, Attorney/Certified Public Accountant - Schiff Hardin & Waite
  • 2001: Mary Lou Quinlan, Founder - Just Ask A Woman
  • 2000: Richard E. Rominger, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture - United States Department of Agriculture
  • 1999: Michael J. Litwin, Executive Vice President and Chief Credit Officer - Heller Financial, Inc.
  • 1998: Edward J. McManus, Chief Operating Officer of Procurement and Logistics - American Stores Company
  • 1997: Robert L. Nardelli, President and Chief Executive Officer - GE Power Systems
  • 1996: Emma Chappell, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer - The United Bank of Philadelphia
  • 1995: Joe Cowans, Information Consultant - TCI
  • 1995: Lynn Martin, Labor Secretary - Bush Administration
  • 1994: William Weiss, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer - Ameritech
  • 1993: John W. Bachmann, Managing Principal - Edward Jones & Company
  • 1992: Howard Putnam, Chief Executive Officer - Southwest Airlines
  • 1991: William Alexander Hewitt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer - Deere and Company
  • 1990: James C. Miller III, Director of Budget and Cabinet Member - Reagan Administration