Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  Peter Tan '83

Lifelong bonds keep Peter Tan connected to Kellogg

by Matt Golosinski

Peter Tan carries around with him a poem that helps recall his responsibilities as a leader — something he thinks about a lot, which is good, since as president and CEO of McDonald's Greater China he manages more than 75,000 people.

The poem reads, in part: " find the best in leave the world a bit know that one life has breathed easier because you lived."

The affable Kellogg School alum says he considers leadership "perhaps the most important and least appreciated" discipline that demands organizations' attention. And one way he helps disseminate cutting-edge insights in this area is by supporting Kellogg.

Tan is active on the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board, has volunteered as a Reunion keynote speaker, made significant financial contributions and earned a 2004 Schaffner Award from the school for his overall commitment to advancing the Kellogg mission.

"All of us should spend part of our lives making it better for others," says Tan.

"I didn't realize it at first, but my Kellogg experience has had such a powerful impact on me that it's almost life transforming. So there is a moral obligation to leverage this wonderful opportunity I enjoyed and give back to others, including Kellogg itself."

The 1983 graduate credits Kellogg with providing the management tools to enable him to move from "B to B — banking to burgers." Tan left Citibank in 1993 for McDonald's because, although he enjoyed banking, he wanted more opportunity to work with people and make a positive difference in their lives. Tan says his successful transition "testifies to what a well-balanced program Kellogg offers."

But beyond providing the practical skills to change careers, Kellogg gave Tan something even more profound, he says. "Kellogg helped me become more confident, creative, inquisitive and strong-willed. That's when I knew I really had to do something for the school."

Indeed, Tan feels strongly that he and his alumni peers must do all they can to support Kellogg — support that he says has not always been demonstrated as widely or deeply in the school's alumni community as it should be.

"Every Kellogg alum has a vested interest in protecting their own investment in the school," states Tan, who considers the tuition he paid for his education analogous merely to the greens fees in golf. But to keep playing the game, he says, you have to give more.

"We have to work to maintain Kellogg," says Tan. "You wouldn't buy a car, for instance, and forget about maintaining it. How do you even put an amount on the value of a Kellogg education that gives you a foot in the door for the rest of your life?"

For Tan, Kellogg provided a framework that enabled him to rise to a senior leadership position. In particular, the school's culture and emphasis on teamwork has proven valuable in how he approaches his job.

"Business success is about managing people. McDonald's is not a hamburger business, but, ultimately, a people business," he says, adding that the company's international ventures have done well, in part, because they have simultaneously functioned as local firms while retaining their transnational brand identity. Kellogg excels not only in delivering the core competencies every manager needs to succeed, notes Tan, but also in imparting an ability to manage people.

Over time, he has conceptualized several values that have informed his success, both professionally and personally. Among these he cites the importance of establishing "an emotional trust bank" within an organization that enables people to feel secure and respected. Without this trust, he says, employees won't do their best work. Other values include caring about your people ("true leaders almost never talk about themselves") while cultivating "ferocious passion" and "undaunted curiosity."

"You cannot build a great company if you are not passionate about the brand and products, or if you wake up each morning dreading the fact that your picture hasn't yet appeared among the obituary pages of your daily paper," says Tan.

For those who see more of themselves reflected in this description than they would like to admit, Tan advises lifelong learning as a way to rejuvenate.

Fortunately, Kellogg alums don't have to look far for such inspiration, says Tan, who recalls his MBA experience as "unique" because of the "connectedness" between the faculty and students.

And despite graduating more than 20 years ago, Tan still relishes returning to Evanston. "It's like coming home when I'm here," he says. "Kellogg has been almost family for me because of the camaraderie and bonds I've built through participation with the school."

Continue to Bob Eckert '77

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University