Kim Lubel - Four Simple Rules: Video Transcript

Chris Makaroff [Dean of the College of Arts and Science; Professor of Chemistry]: Now I have the great pleasure of welcoming Kim Lubel, our 2017 Guest Speaker.

As I said, Kim is a 1986 Miami graduate with B.A. degrees in Spanish and international studies. Kim is currently the chairman of the board, I guess chairwoman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of CST Brands Inc., a North American fuel and convenience retailer with over 2000 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Joining Kim here tonight are her husband, Lance, and one of her daughters, Caroline, a rising senior at Texas Christian University—both first time visitors to our Miami campus.

Kim's path to becoming one of only a handful of Fortune 500 company female CEOs is not your typical corporate success story. In fact, had fate not intervened, Kim might have ultimately become a director of the CIA, since she interviewed and was offered a job with the CIA soon after leaving Miami.

However, while waiting for that job offer, Kim decided to apply to various graduate schools for a master's degree in international relations, ending up at Baylor University in Waco, Texas with a full scholarship. One of her professors encouraged her to consider law school after completing her master's, so on a whim Kim took the LSAT and was accepted into the University of Texas Law School.

As a Spanish speaker, Kim had first considered immigration law, but it was an internship and a strong female mentor at a law firm in Fort Worth that motivated her to pursue the business side of law. This led her to various positions at Valero, the world's largest independent petroleum refiner, and then finally to CST, which was spun off from Valero in 2013. She was offered the CEO job, something she said had never been a career goal but instead was offered to her from another strong and supportive mentor.

Throughout her corporate career, Kim has often had to face the reality of being the only woman in the room—something that she always took in stride. She says that once, while speaking at an investor conference in Dallas, she walked into the conference room to find that every other person in the room was male. Assuming she was conference staff, a man approached her and asked her where to check in and get a cup of coffee. "Let's just say my smile was a little bigger when I got in front to speak," Kim recalled. "Sometimes we women have to prove ourselves a little bit more."

In an interview last October with Fortune, Kim was asked about her natural leadership style. She said, "I think the core of it all is just being authentic and being who you are. And that's just who I am. So I think if you can keep your core piece there and be authentic wherever you are, you may have to modify the words you use and how you approach folks, but it's still you."

Kim has clearly embodied authenticity and tenacity throughout her exceptional career. Here at Miami and the College of Arts and Science, we're very grateful and fortunate to have Kim here today to be our guest speaker. Please join me in welcoming Kim Lubel to the podium.

Kim Lubel (BA Spanish and International Studies, Miami, 1986) [President and CEO, CST Brands, Inc.]: Thank you Dean Makaroff for that very kind introduction and for the invitation to be with all of you today—and really more importantly, thank you for the opportunity and the excuse to come back to campus and to recall and really recollect all the fun that I had here now 31 years ago which is quite frightening to say.

I want to first thank and congratulate all of the parents, family, and friends of the Class of 2017 for all of your encouragement and support and I suspect quite a bit of prodding here especially in the last week of finals and their last year at Miami, but they've reached their goals today. So congratulations to all the families that are here.

Above all, congratulations to all of you, the Class of 2017—your hard work and sleepless nights have paid off! So this is your day and your weekend and congratulations. I have to confess that really until I walked in here tonight I recall nothing of my graduation ceremony 31 years ago. I suspect like many of you at the time my head was filled with thoughts of what's to come next. What's going to happen tonight, what's going to happen tomorrow, what's to come in the tomorrows to come.

And so with that in mind, I am humbled to have the opportunity to share some thoughts and words of advice with all of you tonight—with 4 kids in our family, I have given plenty of advice over the years—some of which, at least I hope, has stuck and perhaps one or two things will stick with all of you tonight.

You know, as Dean Makaroff indicated in my introduction, I am currently the Chairman and CEO of CST Brands, a publicly traded convenience store company with operations in the US and Canada.

But what the dean failed to say is I am on the very short path towards "unemployment"— in fact, 10 months ago our company agreed to be acquired by one of our competitors and that merger is set to close sometime before the end of June. And for the first time when it closes, I will find myself, for the first time in my adult life, not needing to be at the office at 7:30, not needing to check my email with embarrassing frequency. And, quite frankly, thinking about what’s next.

And as our company has gone through this sales process and the transition to the merger, I have had plenty of time for introspection and reflection. And I think perhaps the most single message I can give all of you tonight is that 31 years ago, when I sat in your seats I never, ever, ever imagined my career would lead me to be one of only 22 Fortune 500 company female CEOs. I certainly didn't start Miami that way…

I didn't come to Miami with that on my mind; I certainly didn't leave Miami with that on my mind. But I have to tell you that Miami prepared me for the unknown possibilities at every turn of my career. So, if anything, I stand before you as a reminder that each and every one of you tonight, sitting here is capable of so much more than you might imagine right now.

And I have to say, I'm guessing many of your parents and family members experienced the same thing that I did—and so the dean had all the parents stand up.

But I'd like a little audience participation tonight—could I have all of the parents and adult family members of the class of 2017 stand for me right now?

Come on, stretch it up.

There you go, thank you very much.

Alright, so my question number one for all of you. You gotta stay standing. Alright, for everyone still standing, think back to when you were sitting in these seats, whether it was 20, 30, or more years ago when you graduated from high school, or graduated from college, at that moment in time, if you knew exactly what your career was going to turn out to be stay standing. If the rest of you (like me) had no idea, please sit down.

Okay, good this was a social experiment, so it's dangerous if you ask a question that you don't know the answer.

Alright, for the few people that are still standing, my question for you is, did you get it right? Are you still doing today what you thought you were going to do when you were sitting in these seats? Alright, class of 2017, do a 360. Look around. You are definitely not alone.

You know, my number one piece of advice for my own children has been not to draw your box so tightly that you define too early in life what you can or can't be. Because as I certainly have experienced, you just never know what opportunities are just around the corner. I think Cameron said it best, "you stand up and you move forward and the opportunities are around the corner." I would encourage each of you to think broadly about who you are, what you are, and who and what you can accomplish in life. A couple of years ago, CST bought a network of convenience stores in upstate New York called Nice N Easy. The founder of Nice N Easy is a gentleman named John MacDougall, also from Cleveland, Ohio where I grew up. And John taught…

Oh good, there's for Cleveland. John taught his employees 4 simple rules to live by—rules that we’ve embraced at CST as part of our core culture, and really rules that, in hindsight, I can see helped shaped my career. His 4 rules? Very simple.

Be Nice. Have Fun. Sell Stuff. Be the Best.

So from a career and life viewpoint for all of you, I'm gonna suggest one rule change. Sell Stuff is a very important rule if you're in the convenience store business, but for planning your life career and goals it maybe not quite as important so I would suggest instead of sell stuff "Be Brave" as a rule. And so 4 simple rules I'm offering you tonight as guideposts as you go forward. Always remember To Be Nice, To Have Fun, To Be Brave, and To Be the Best. So, how does these rules play out?

Rule #1: Be Nice.

I know it sounds simplistic, but treating each other with kindness, compassion, empathy, and respect never, ever goes out of style. At all turns in my career, it's been my relationships with truly nice people that have caused me to take one fork in the road over the other. When a political science professor at Baylor reached out to me and offered me a full scholarship, sight unseen, I chose that path over the pursuit of a government service job. When that same kind professor suggested that I might think about law school—a career path I never knew existed for women—I took the LSAT and headed to law school. Even leaving law school, when I thought I would pursue immigration law with my Spanish degree from Miami, I chose transactional law—not because of some overwhelming desire to be a deal lawyer, but because I really liked the deal lawyer that I was going to get to work with.

And then when I moved to an in-house legal position at Valero Energy 20 years ago, I chose Valero because I liked the people there, not because I had some great calling for petroleum refining. And then I was offered the CEO position by a great mentor and a truly nice man—I didn't set out to be CEO. But he showed me the way. I think in today’s environment, being "nice" is underrated and a little bit too rare in my opinion. And I want to be careful for all of you to point out that "being nice" does not always mean giving folks what they want or acquiescing to their demands, but rather "being nice" simply means a reflection of the understanding of the impact of your decisions on others. In the early years of my career at Valero—there weren't many women in management, not necessarily a reflection of Valero but really of the energy industry itself. And I used to get stellar reviews every year of my work. Except when my boss needed to give me a "teaching" moment, he would look at me and say, "Kim, you're just too nice."

And I would leave his office every year with that criticism bouncing in my head thinking he makes it sound so simple to "fix," but it was anything but. I am, by nature, a collaborative leader. Granted, as CEO, I've had to adjust my style somewhat because, as the ultimate decision maker, I just simply can't make everyone happy. But I do try with each decision to understand the impact on others and act accordingly. You know if that makes me "nice"—I say I'm going to fill my company's hallways with "nice" people.

So in addition to each of you being nice, I would encourage you to surround yourself by nice people and develop those relationships, maintain those relationships. In today's social media, technology-connected world—that true person-to-person, face-to-face relationships get overlooked. So I would encourage all of you to stay connected to the people in this room. Stay connected to this university because you will never know when those relationships will come in handy at the moment you least expect it 20 years from now. So stay connected and surround yourself by nice people. And finally, part of being "nice" is remembering to say "thank you"—show gratitude to others for the small and large things they do for you.

I would encourage you when you guys leave here tonight, perhaps tomorrow morning when you're eating your bagel for breakfast, write a thank you note to your favorite professor or to a close friend. More importantly, write a really long thank you note to your parents and your family for supporting you for the last 4 years.

So, Rule #1: Be Nice—show empathy towards others, surround yourself by nice people, and remember to say thank you.

Rule # 2: This one's lots of fun for you all. Have Fun.

And I love that rule. If I look back at my chaotic 26 years and counting career, I can assure you that you will always have plenty of work to do. And it's called "work" for a reason—it's hard, it's tiring, and it's time consuming. So it is important to find "fun" at work and outside of work. Take time to enjoy life…your friends…your family. Make sure you work to keep things and priorities in line. I'm certainly not suggesting that every day or every week you'll find perfect balance between the two, but overall, look for that balance and try to keep your priorities in line.

Someone pointed out to me recently that, on average, we have 930 months on the face of the earth. So think about the last 9 months of your final year here at Miami how quickly those 9 months raced by. And even though for me it's been far too many months to count since I last attended classes here, it feels like yesterday. So in the months and years ahead, please remember to stop on occasion to enjoy and celebrate with others.

You know, my old boss and mentor worked for Valero and its predecessor companies for his entire career—almost 40 years, with his last several years as Chairman and CEO of Valero. And he and I had lunch a few months ago—he confessed to me that he wished that "he had known then, what he has now learned"—and that—very simply— "it was just a job." As he reflected on how much of his time, attention and tender loving care went to his job for 40 years, now that he's retired—he realizes he forgot to nurture the fun outside of the office, and is facing filling his time with too few hobbies, close friends, but too few close friends, and really trying to figure out what to do next.

And I have to confess, while I've only been at it for 26 years—the thought of that first week of unemployment later this summer spooks me too. As I've not made much time for hobbies or maintaining deep friendships outside of work. But even at work, it’s important to have fun. You’re going to be there 10+ hours a day most likely. At CST, from the beginning, we worked really hard to take our jobs seriously but not ourselves. And we tried hard to find the small and big ways to celebrate and just have fun together. So—rule #2: Have Fun today, tomorrow, and in the months and years stretched out in front of you.

So Rule #3: Be Brave.

So while I'm in the business of making confessions tonight, I have to confess I was anything but brave when I first got to Miami, especially those first couple of years. Large rooms filled with unfamiliar faces intimidated me. And I know I missed out. And as my two oldest children went off to college and after, I've talked to them about the importance of being brave. Recognizing that in any new environment if you’re anxious about the unknown, probably pretty much everyone else in the room is anxious as well. So why not be the one that puts out your hand, starts the conversation, and puts others at ease.

I had the opportunity in 2009 to attend an executive management program at Stanford's business school. It was a 6-week intensive program with participants—primarily c-suite and successful entrepreneurs from all around the world. And as I arrived on the Stanford Campus I had to coach myself to be brave—and every night I made a point of sitting with a different group of people just so I could get to know them. And I have to tell you that the friendships I made in that short 6-week period have lasted longer and are deeper than many of the friendships I created in college and in my graduate studies as well. Simply because I forced myself to be brave.

And when I left Miami and went to Texas to attend Baylor University—I'd never been to Texas, it seemed like the other side of the world to me. I didn't know a soul in the entire state. And it was very far from my comfort zone in Ohio. But I had to put a brave face on—and keep on moving. And I am so thankful I did—I have a beautiful Texan family now; and a career that has taken me places that I never would have imagined.

When my oldest daughter graduated from college in upstate New York and decided to take a job out in San Francisco a couple of years ago, she was naturally anxious. I told her to be brave—and to remember that if it didn't work out, she could always try something else. To this day, she wears a bracelet that reminds herself to be brave. And she has had some incredible experiences in California and made lifelong friends along the way.

But I think being brave is more than just stepping into the room and stepping up to the conversations. It's about taking risks—not crazy risks, but calculated risks. And not being overly-afraid to fail. I have certainly had plenty of failures in my career—but I've also learned more from those failures than I have from my successes. So I would encourage all of you as you go forward to have a healthy bias towards saying yes—and realize that you may never have 100% perfect information to help make each decision along the way, but being brave means moving forward even with imperfect information. Remember any decision is almost always better than no decision. If you’re brave at each step of the way, there are going to be times when you fall down. Falling down is part of life as well. But it's how you get up and bravely step forward, learning from that fall but not letting that fall keep you from trying again. So Rule # 3: Remember to Be Brave.

And finally, Rule #4: Be the Best.

To be your best, you need to stay healthy. So, I would encourage each of you to mind your health—I know at 21 or 22 you might think you're invincible. But, at 53, I can assure you that you are not—and I suspect your parents would say the same thing. So, stay healthy, exercise, on balance try to eat right, get some sleep (which is what I tell my daughters all the time)—at least more sleep than you got the last 2 weeks leading up to today.

And do me a favor, go see a doctor at least once a year just to check in and check up on yourself. In my mid-40s, I was ignoring my doctor's recommendation to go get a mammogram—I blew him off for actually a couple of years because I felt pretty invincible. And then one year my boss told me I was not going to get my bonus that year unless I got in to see the doctor. And I am so grateful that he prodded me to do that. Because I was diagnosed at age 45 with breast cancer effectively at Stage Zero. I had a relatively simple surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, and I'm now celebrating 7 years of being cancer-free. So remember, especially as you're graduating tonight, you are in charge of yourselves. Take care of your health.

Beyond physical health, being the best, you need to mind your mental health and your happiness. I am one of those "cup is half full" kind of people and I generally always have been. I will say this past year of the CST merger has taxed even my sunny disposition. I have had to learn to accept what I can't change—not easy for someone who is used to being in charge—and I've looked for ways I can still make an impact. I can't make the buyer hire all of our employees, but I can try and help each employee that has been negatively impacted by the merger to find their next job or their new career path. And I think part of happiness comes from not just recognizing what's in the cup in front of you, but looking at that cup and looking at things that you can do to fill that cup up some more.

And I also think part of being happy is to follow your passions. I would encourage all of you to look for ways you can make an impact following your passions. If you are an outdoors person, go volunteer with the local parks or the zoo; if you like working with children, become a mentor at a nearby elementary school. Or look for a nonprofit board to join and support. Some of my best training for the CEO job came from my volunteer board service—learning how to bring diverse interests to the table, and making an impact in the lives of others at the same time. And for me, making an impact through volunteer service simply makes me happy.

'Cause while it may be cliché, I will tell you money does not buy happiness. So, as you decide how to live your life, I would encourage you not to pursue the next job or promotion simply for a better title or for more money. I would encourage you to do so to follow your passions. Because ultimately, pursuing your passions will make you be the best you can be. And when you're the best "you" you can be—success by any measure will follow.

So—I'm giving you these 4 simple rules tonight for you to remember as you leave this place, say goodbye to your friends and your professors, to this beautiful campus, and to the love and honor of Miami. I would encourage you to always remember to Be Nice, Have Fun, Be Brave, and Be the Best. Again, congratulations to all of you. I wish each and every one of you much success, much happiness, and good health in the months and years to come! Thank you!

Chris Makaroff: Thank you, Kim. You're a wonderful example of what can be accomplished starting with a Miami liberal arts education as a foundation.