MBA Graduation 2016
August 6, 2016
It is great to be here with you today for my first graduation address as President of Miami University—a pleasure to be with you who are receiving your MBA, your wonderful faculty, your supportive parents, your loving spouses, your generous family and close friends.
Congratulations on this outstanding achievement. My academic career has been in science and engineering, but I have a deep appreciation for business. I have started two companies based on my research inventions and transferred inventions to companies. I learned early that business is the critical bridge that carries breakthrough discoveries into society for the benefit of everyone. So I'd like to suggest to you today, as you commence on new directions and new leadership opportunities, that your success will flow not only from the incredible wisdom and knowledge that you have received at the Farmer School of Business but also from the virtues and values of this Miami community. Let me describe three key areas where these Miami virtues and values will give you the edge: entrepreneurship, servant leadership, and effective civic engagement.
I expect you already know that entrepreneurship is much broader than the typical image of a recent graduate tinkering in their parent's garage and starting a new company. I think of entrepreneurship as a mindset—a capacity to see possibilities—and seize on opportunities. That mindset matters no matter the size of your company—big or small. Large corporations today, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Cisco, Lilly, GE, P&G, and others invest heavily in intrapreneurship, making space and opportunities in their organizations for the same kind of ongoing creativity, courage, and risk-taking that got them started in the first place. I am especially familiar with the AT&T Foundry model, with six centers across the United States and in Israel, where employees are part of an entrepreneurial enterprise rather than a static bureaucracy. Like AT&T, many big companies are executing strategies that bring out the entrepreneur in their employees.
Entrepreneurship is a necessary 21st century competency because the challenges we face require innovation, agility, and openness to change by any company, regardless of size.
In earlier generations, most people assumed that the future would generally look like the past or present; today, we expect that the future will not look anything like the past. The future may not even resemble last week. Accelerating trends in technology, communication, and globalization involve disruption and creative destruction. Success will come not from maintaining or tweaking pre-existing approaches but rather from radical and innovative solutions, even disruptive ones, derived from entrepreneurial thinking.
I spent much time in Silicon Valley during my career—a very creative environment for sure. I asked many entrepreneurs there what made them successful, and I was always somewhat surprised by the answer—more often than not, a virtue. Virtues such as courage, wonder, integrity, grit, optimism, prudence, empathy, humility, and magnanimity. One thing that I admire the most about entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is their humility, especially their humility 1 to embrace failure with optimism rather than discouragement—seeing failure as a stepping stone to success or a chance to pivot towards a better direction. Those virtues and mindset are valuable anywhere, in business as well as in life. They are in many ways expressions of the Miami community, reflective of your student colleagues and faculty in Farmer. They are a vital complement to the professional skills that you will take with you from this community.
Just as the static old structures are no longer adequate for today's challenges in business, the top-down, chain-of-command organization that typically ran them is obsolete. Organizations are more horizontal, more collaborative, and more inclusive. Reporting structures are flatter. Titles no longer matter. CEOs sit in cubicles elbow to elbow with all employees. In such a dynamic and open workplace, without artificial barriers or imposed hierarchy, the search for solutions can capitalize on broad inputs and perspective and inclusive thinking.
In this more inclusive business environment, leaders must understand themselves as servants. They are not barking out orders or acting for their own benefit or seizing power and control. Rather, they are living a life of higher purpose, aiming to make others successful. They consider what others need, how to help them achieve their own aspirations, and how to remove barriers to their success. They mentor and coach, inviting self-expression and input. Others' success is their success.
Not surprisingly, the key virtues and values of entrepreneurship are the key virtues and values of servant leadership, especially empathy, humility, and generosity. Practicing these virtues in your career means thinking of others ahead of yourself, trying to understand their perspectives, goals, and aspirations, celebrating their success as well as your own. Servant leaders uplift the people in the environment where they work, making it a vibrant and inspirational place to collaborate and cooperate. Your Farmer education has equipped you to make that kind of difference as a servant leader.
Effective Civic Engagement
Your education as a Miamian, and now an MBA Farmer graduate, has equipped you to lead a successful professional life. You have learned the ideas and mastered the skills that you can use effectively. In the process, you have demonstrated your ability to think clearly at a high level about complex questions and issues. Those skills of critical thinking, reflection, synthesis, and communication are available to you in all areas of our life, not only your professional one. Let me suggest that you have not only the capacity but also the responsibility to exercise those abilities for the benefit of your family, your community, your country, and the world, as well as your workplace.
Coming from the STEM fields, I am acutely aware of how society is looking to science and technology to solve our grand global challenges, from health care to energy and the environment. But the issues that we face in the world today are not merely technical and scientific. All of us, from business to the humanities as well as STEM, must contribute to the human project of justice, equality, and freedom from conditions that degrade human life. It is our shared responsibility. You have analytical and problem-solving skills. The world needs them. You can contribute to an environment of civil discourse, of evidence-based decision-making, of clear communication and effective strategic planning.
Exercising these skills also requires the virtues we have discussed, especially courage, grit, integrity, and optimism, as we face the future with realistic hope and commit ourselves to bringing the good to fruition. You are equipped by your Miami education to be citizens who can make a positive difference in the lives of so many people through business and community.
You are leaving Miami with a valuable degree—a Miami MBA from the well-respected Farmer School. This means that you are ready to continue to make your mark not only in the business world but also in the larger society. You carry the virtues and values instilled here that undergird your entrepreneurial mindset, your servant leadership style, and your passion for civic engagement. You can make a difference in the lives of countless people just as the Farmer family, whose generosity has made this world-class school and education possible, have elevated your life.
I look forward to watching the impact that you make on your industry, your community, and ultimately the world. Keep in touch with Miami and all of our wonderful faculty here at Farmer who have touched your lives. We are grateful for the unique contributions that each of you have brought to Miami by being a part of our community. Congratulations!