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Gordon Clemons: From humble beginnings to the College of Business Hall of Fame

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With ingenuity and tenacity Gordon Clemons founded CorVel Corporation, helped innovate the healthcare industry and made a big difference to the College of Business.

February 28, 2023

For Gordon Clemons ‘65, a life of fandom has been an inspiration. 

“I’ve always been a fanboy type,” said Clemons, who graduated from the College of Business with a degree in business administration and technology. “I find people who are impressive, and I love being around them.” 

To Clemons, “impressive” people carry themselves with grit, grace, determination and ingenuity. They roll up their sleeves and get the job done. They can be athletes, coaches and business leaders as well as the faculty, students and leadership that make Oregon State and the College of Business great places to learn. 

Clemons is humble. He might see the CEO of JPMorgan Chase on TV or former OSU football and basketball phenom Terry Baker in a restaurant and think “On my best day I couldn’t carry his bag.” 

The truth is, Gordon Clemons is impressive, too. 

He arrived at Oregon State from a small town in Idaho and made the OSU basketball team as a walk-on. “I did one smart thing in my four years at Oregon State,” he said. “I decided I wanted to play basketball and walked into the coach’s office at Gill. They gave me a tryout.” 

Clemons worked his way through college and went on to get an MBA at the University of Oregon and then a career that spanned industries as diverse as automobiles, financial services and healthcare. 

In 2013, the College of Business awarded Clemons with its Innovative and Distinguished Professional Award, which recognizes professionals who make an impact in their fields. In 2022, Clemons was awarded the OSU College of Business Hall of Fame Award, which is given to alumni who exemplify the values of hard work, persistence and ethics through career leadership and volunteer service with the college.

He is the founder and chairman of CorVel Corporation, which provides healthcare management services, workers’ compensation group health and disability insurance. Under Clemons’ leadership, Corvel has helped propel the healthcare industry toward the innovative use of machine learning, AI and other technologies, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Clemons founded CorVel in 1987, and the company went public on the Nasdaq in 1991. The company is a certified Great Place to Work: 75% of employees say CorVel is a great place to work, compared to 57% at a typical U.S.-based company. 

“I’ve been fortunate to have been with CorVel for 34 years,” Clemons said. “I have a large group of people who have stayed with me for 30 years. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve gotten.” 

Clemons has made a difference in the lives of students and faculty in the College of Business and Oregon State University through his philanthropy and service. 

“Gordon Clemons has long helped the College of Business advance our mission to support student success and achieve distinction,” said Tim Carroll, the Sara Hart Kimball Dean in the College of Business. “He has been a game-changer.” 

Clemons has served on the Oregon State University Foundation Board of Trustees from 2019 to 2021, and has made instrumental gifts in support of projects like the construction of Austin Hall and revamping Reser Stadium and the women’s locker room in Gill Coliseum. He has also made major gifts to the women’s and men’s basketball programs.  

In 2016, he established the Gordon Clemons Entrepreneurship Endowment Fund in the College of Business, which provides seed grants for student-led startups, support for learning lab projects and emerging entrepreneurship projects in the college. 

“Because of Gordon’s generosity, we can further provide students with the tools, training and support to explore and test ideas so that they can turn them into a reality,” Carroll said.

When Clemons first got involved in philanthropy and service at OSU, he wondered whether his time, talent and treasure would be better suited to elite schools like Harvard or Princeton. But he connected with OSU when he was a student, and he continues to believe in its mission. 

“OSU’s role is bringing the opportunity for an education to a subset of people who might not get it somewhere else,” he said. “It’s a worthy goal and responsibility. I still buy into that vision.” 

As a state school graduate himself, Clemons was proud to discover that many CEOs also didn’t come from elite backgrounds. CorVel frequently made Forbes’ “200 Best Small Companies” list, which ranks small companies based on solid and consistent performance throughout the most recent year and over the past five years.  He liked to skim through the list, find his impressive people, and remember his own humble beginnings.

“These small companies probably started out making very little and maybe weren’t funded with venture capital,” he said. “It made me see that there was something about the state school experience that was special and created certain kinds of leaders that other universities can’t. I think that places like Corvallis can be a nurturing ground for young people that can have a tremendous impact.” 

At this stage in his life and career, Clemons modestly, is hoping that he, too, can make an impact. 

“I started out wanting to give back, and at some point started to dream that I might have an impact,” he said. “That’s a whole different motivation. I’ve stopped worrying about being wrong or being different from other people.”

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