Darden Dean Scott Beardsley Addresses the 2017 Graduating Class

Darden Dean Scott Beardsley Addresses the 2017 Graduating Class

August 16, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Graduates, I’ve
been asking myself how do I feel this morning. And I got to tell you,
I feel so happy for you. Seeing you on final
exercises on central grounds, and having you cheer louder
than any other school made me proud to be a Darden. [APPLAUSE] Just awesome seeing you walk
down the lawn of the Academical Village, amazing. I’m sure you have
heard countless times the question what are you
doing after graduation, or what’s next. On the occasion of your
graduation from the University of Virginia, Darden
School of Business, I would urge you to ask yourself
a slightly different question, with only three letters– why. In French, there is a
beautiful expression called [NON ENGLISH SPEECH],,
one’s reason for being. It’s your noble purpose in life. Austrian psychologist
Viktor Frankl summarized, and I quote, “Everyone has
his own specific vocation or mission in life. And everything can
be taken from man but one thing, the
last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in
any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” For the next few
minutes, I’m going to suggest some ways
to find your why. And then urge you to put
your why to work as a path to happiness and
ultimate success. If you are sitting
here, your life has been full of
measurable achievements. Top GPAs, GMAT scores,
ratings, promotions, money earned, awards, wins. You are, by any
standard, amazing people, future leaders of
important companies. But given that you
are likely to spend the vast majority of your waking
hours working for the next 40 to 45 years, I would really like
you to periodically contemplate the following. What is your
[NON ENGLISH SPEECH],, the noble purpose of your work? Why are you doing
what you are doing? It may seem like
the ultimate irony that a B-School is asking
about noble purpose. After all, isn’t that convenient
narrative, that B-schools, their alumni, and
the corporations that they lead are
evil and greedy? Isn’t that what we hear? That businesses only care
about one thing, money. That businesses are
not the solution, that they are the problem. I often meet
undergraduates, some of them on the lawn, who tell me I
don’t want to go into business. I want to do something
meaningful instead. As if there is a trade off
between working for a business and doing something meaningful. The way I see it, everything
that has employment is a business, and is either
for-profit or not-for-profit. Consulting, private
equity, financial services are clearly for-profit. But Teach for America, or
the University of Virginia is a not-for-profit business. Government is also
a form of business. Legal entities, budgets,
sources of funds, governance, talent issues,
procurement, taxes, and the list goes on. Government also
decides the rules of private sector business. Many of the greatest
challenges of our day, whether it be disease,
cybersecurity, education, water, climate change,
sustainable and affordable agriculture, and
income inequality, will need to be
solved by businesses, many in the private
sector, I might add. And although people
often emphasize job loss, let’s remember job creation. Every job is generated
by some form of business. At Darden, we ask
questions, such as what is the purpose of business? As our own professor
Ed Freeman puts it, “Business is a deeply
human institution. But its purpose is not to make
as much money as possible. The purpose is something else. We need to put purpose back
into capitalism because business is primarily about creating
value for stakeholders, money and profits follow.” End quote. Of course, businesses
need to make money. The ability of any corporation
to fully achieve its mission depends on outstanding
financial stewardship and a viable economic model. So is there a contradiction
between doing something meaningful and earning money? Obviously, some professions
pay more than others. But it is not true that the
only way to find meaning is to earn little money. Nor is it true
that earning a lot of money guarantees meaning. Further, money is not
the only unit of measure. It is possible to have
your cake and eat it too. The inaugural recipient of the
Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal for Global Innovation,
which is hosted by Darden, is a great illustration. The first awardee, Gordon
Moore, the founder of Intel, father of Silicon
Valley, and co-creator of the microprocessor, set
out to make the world a better place through computing. He has done so, which brought
him a fortune that he then has donated to a
foundation that focuses on health and environmental
issues, among others. Another example is one of our
own greatest, our alumni Henri Termeer, who died suddenly
and unexpectedly last week. He grew Genzyme
into a global giant and built the biotech industry. Read his obituary and
you will be amazed. He’s credited with creating
orphan drugs, treatments that have saved more
than 30 million lives. And those that knew
him best, knew him as a kind, generous leader,
mentor, and visionary, who was also a family man. He used to babysit Dean
C. Ray Smith’s children when he was at Darden. There was a contract that exists
between business and society through implicit and explicit
rules, which are variables, not givens. And they are adjusted when
not in responsible balance. Your generation is
also keenly aware that a contract exists between
you and the business you work for, explicit and implicit. The explicit contract is things
like how much money you make, the job scope,
and your benefits. But the implicit contract
is with yourself. And the fit with your own
noble purpose and values. You decide the frame. In your coming jobs,
will you define yourself? Or will you let your
business define you? We at Darden believe that
it is possible to advance a title and a paygrade
or two while advancing a passion or a conviction. You are the next generation
of business leaders. And if there is one thing that
is true about any business it is that talent matters. All of you here
today are talented. And to a person, I am
willing to bet that you all want to make a difference and
find meaning in your work. Is there anyone who doesn’t? Thus, it is in the enlightened
self-interest of business to provide meaningful work, so
as to attract, develop, excite, and retain the best talent. That will deliver the
best business results. The mission actually matters. Finance, accounting,
and even our business school and university
rankings teach us to measure ROI,
Return On Investment. How much money did
you spend and how much did you earn as a result? It is a relevant metric to be
aware of, because money can be a constraint, as we all know. And if ROI is negative, there
can be real consequences. Wanting to earn a reasonable
standard of living is everybody’s hope. Hard, quantifiable measures and
metrics should not be ignored. Fear, targets,
extrinsic measures are powerful motivators
to a certain level. It is just that they
are not sufficient. I would like you to also
consider a different metric. Don’t just review
your income statement, review your outcome statement. Don’t just think about ROI. Think about RO-why. Yes, the return on your why– W-H-Y. My experience is
that a focus on our RO-why will lead to
superior performance for you and your company. The why shapes the
quality of the input, and thus directly the
quality of the output. Do you get better grades
because you are curious and focus on learning? Or because you
focus on the grade? Does a senior partner
at a consulting firm generate more
billings because she focuses on billings or on
helping the client deliver meaningful impact? So how can you figure
out what your why is? Many tell me they don’t know
what gives them meaning. They’re looking for it. They don’t know what
they don’t know. My answer to that is to
examine your personal values, to know thy self. A good way to figure out
what values and character traits matter to
you is to examine the work of Martin Seligman, in
his book, Authentic Happiness. The father of positive
psychology and former chair of the American
Psychiatric Association, he studied the universal human
character traits and values of the great religions
and societies of all time, distilling them into
a hierarchy of traits. His basic conclusion is
that if you seek and find work that allows you to put
your most important values and character traits
to work, that you will be more fulfilled. He has a survey online
that you can pursue. Another way not to be frozen
by existential questions is simply to be OK in not
knowing what the future may bring or what you want to do. You don’t have to know precisely
what function, or sector, or firm, or geography you will
work in far into the future. I certainly had no idea I
would be a consultant when I graduated from college. In fact, I didn’t
even know it existed. Or a dean when I graduated
from business school. When faced with
huge uncertainty, recognize that the answer
may flow from a process, rather than from a crystal ball. You should be open to what
life may call you to do. Being able to articulate why
your goals map to your values and strengths is powerful. For me, this led to
a self realization that what gives me
the greatest meaning is helping outstanding people
achieve their full potential– you. Education is one of
the most magical gifts in the entire world. It can take anyone from
anywhere to anywhere. Mark Twain said,
“Twenty years from now, you will be more
disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than
by the ones you did.” That got me thinking, since we
just had our alumni reunion, I agree with Mark Twain. But I would like to contend
that 20 years from now at your reunion,
your greater regret may not be what you didn’t
do, but that what you did do was for the wrong reasons. We don’t need to
have clairvoyance, but we can have
a magnetic north. Every generation or two,
there are major challenges that emerge requiring
leaders to grapple with serious
uncertainty and change. As we think about
Twain’s 20 years from now, at your 20th
reunion, if Moore’s Law holds, computers will be between
100,000 and 1 million more times as powerful
as they are today. Imagine Syria, a million
times more powerful. Wow. The rise of the
machine is happening. And artificial intelligence
and distributed neural networks are disrupting, and shaping,
and reshaping many industries, and society itself. Self-driving cars,
precision medicine, robots, virtual reality,
cybersecurity and data wars, and new forms of learning are
all emerging and will emerge. Much like many of the science
fiction movies we watch have portrayed. There will then be
second order effects, such as the taxation of
robots, protectionism, the questioning of
capitalism, and changing rules to protect certain stakeholders
and national interests. While it’s hard to envision the
future exactly, I do know this. While robots focus on
IQ and repetitive tasks, the value of emotional
intelligence or EQ, is going to rise. Here, humans have a
distinct advantage. And the leaders
of tomorrow, you, are going to need to serve
the needs of our planet and the humans that live on it. At Darden and the
University of Virginia, we have taught you
to debate and think critically from multiple
stakeholder vantage points. That the right
questions are more important than
the right answers. That values create value. That honor, integrity, teamwork,
and hard work actually matter. You are curious and have
learned how to learn. We have taught you not only
the hard functional skills and the quantitative skills,
but also the soft skills. We have taught you that
being a global leader means knowing how to navigate
all forms of diversity that exists on this planet. We have taught you to
be responsible leaders, to be entrepreneurs and CEOs. One of the favorite
books I have of all time is J.R. Tolkien’s The
Lord of the Rings. Gandalf and Frodo
engaged in a dialogue, reflecting upon the
challenges in Middle Earth. “I wish it had not happened
in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said the
wizard, Gandalf. “And so do all who
live to see such times. But that is not
for them to decide. All we have to decide is
what to do with the time that is given us.” And so do you. You have to decide what to
do with the time you have. You are at the beginning
of a great journey. Find your [NON ENGLISH SPEECH],,
and put your why to work. I am confident there are
none more prepared to make this world a better place. Know that we are
very proud of you. And know this, Darden Wahoos
of the University of Virginia, you are simply going to kill it.