College of Business & Technology

Everest Strong Book Cover

Fall 2017 Robert and Mary Ferguson Lecture

Rob Besecker • Tuesday, November 28, 2017

  • Keynote Address: 3:00 - 4:30 p.m., Morgan Hall 109
  • Student Organization Presentation: 5:00 - 6:30 p.m., Stipes Hall 121

There will be a Q & A and book signing following each session.

About Rob Besecker

I was a successful student athlete in high school, earning both academic and athletic scholarships to college where I was later elected president of both my fraternity as well as the entire Greek Council. After college, I became a manager for a major airline and later finished my MBA from Purdue University. I’ve worked in healthcare for more than 10 years, mostly with a large organization in the Chicagoland area educating healthcare professionals and the community at large on hospice and end of life care.

I have accomplished many noteworthy things in my life, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Due to genetic predisposition, I have been suffering from chronic and progressive heart ailments and muscular dystrophy for many years. The day to day struggles of fatigue and pain in my life have not been easy. In 2011 alone, I endured 20 ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) shocks, 5 cardiac related surgeries, 7 ER visits, 6 ambulance rides, 5 calls to 911, and a collapsed lung. Many people, including some of my physicians and closest friends, questioned my survival – much less my recovery.

In spite of all the challenges I’ve faced, I have always found the strength to move forward, make the best of every situation, and fight every obstacle that stood in my way. Life is full of detours that require me to consistently evaluate and update my goals, and I have never let anything stop me from achieving what I set out to reach.


I’ve always been an adventurist. Through the years, I’ve visited all seven continents, the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and so much more.

During the summer of 2014 I was able to spend July 4th watching fireworks next to the reflective pond in Washington DC, as well as attend a home game at the final three of all 30 MLB (Major League Baseball) stadiums, completing two personal goals of mine.

However, my biggest adventure and the ultimate tests of my strength and endurance came in the spring of 2015, as I embarked on a hiking expedition to the base camp of Mt. Everest. It was a hike many told me I should never attempt. But this trip was not just a milestone for me, it represented an exclamation point in my recovery, and overcoming some of the detours in 2011. It was a grueling journey and encompassed significant challenges to both my physical and emotional well-being, up to and including the horrific earthquake that took place on April 25, 2015 killing thousands of people and separating me from my sister while I was stuck in the mountains of Nepal.

Needless to say, Everest was an amazing challenge that I’m thankful I was able to overcome and write about!

Book Release November 14, 2017 • Everest Strong: Reaching New Heights with Chronic Illness

“Everest Strong,” my inspirational memoir, will be released on November, 14, 2017. I am an author, inspirational speaker, and healthcare professional who spends much of my time advocating for hospice care patients and their families. My passion for healthcare and helping others live their best lives comes from my own experience living with chronic heart ailments and muscular dystrophy, and a relentless drive to squeeze the most value out of each day. I’d like this book to reach and support anyone and everyone needing to overcome individual challenges in their life.

In this book, you will learn the fascinating story of the physical and mental challenges that led me on a journey of incredible adventure and self-discovery—from months spent in hospital beds, questioning my chances of survival, to leaping toward my biggest challenge yet: a hiking expedition to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Nobody believed I could achieve such a feat, and most believed I shouldn’t even attempt it. But I did it anyway—not to prove them wrong but to show myself, and the world, that when you’re knocked down, you get back up . . . EVEREST STRONG.

By sharing my story, I want to show the world that no matter what life throws your way, you can still be in control of who you are, what you do, where you go, and be “Forever Strong."

Visit for more information about Rob and how to order his book.

Robert and Mary Ferguson 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

  • 2017 (spring): Alan Bjerga, writer for Bloomberg News and co-host of co-host of "Bloomberg Politics, Policy and Power," a public-affairs program on Bloomberg Radio
  • 2015: Tyler Gage, co-founder and co-CEO of Runa
  • 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