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Pat Ryan '59, founder and executive chairman of Aon Corp., delivered the Kellogg School EMBA Convocation address on June 9 in Evanston.

Kellogg Executive MBA Program celebrates convocation

Aon CEO Pat Ryan ’59 tells graduates to ‘aim high’ and ‘make an impact’

By Kevin McKeough

6/12/2007 - Creativity, teamwork, passion and the value of service were among the attributes of success cited by Patrick G. Ryan ’59 in his address to 176 graduates of the Kellogg Executive MBA Program during the convocation ceremony held June 9 at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.
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Ryan, founder and executive chairman of international insurance firm Aon Corp. and the chairman of the Board of Trustees at Northwestern University, offered graduates of EMP-65 and EMP-66 advice for building a business. In his remarks, he also referred to his experiences as chairman and CEO of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Evaluation Committee.

“Often a team that plays as a team will beat another team of superior athletes,” said Ryan, who also is a director of the Chicago Bears Football Club Inc. “Remember how important it is to sacrifice for the common goal, because that will carry you through life beyond business.”

Ryan related the Chicago Olympics bid to the importance of setting high goals, adding that the ultimate objective is not only for the city to be chosen to host the games but to put on the greatest Olympics in history. “It’s good to aim high,” he said. “Even if you miss, you do better than you would have done.”

Ryan tied these ambitious undertakings to the importance of making an impact. “You’ve got a finite amount of time. You don’t know how much it is, so in everything you do you should try to make an impact on society, an impact on other people, an impact on your organization,” he said. “Take on a role where you can make an impact.”

The first of the convocation’s two student addresses was delivered by EMP-65’s Peter Walker, who is president of Auvergne Holdings LLC, an investment and media consulting firm. A former senior vice president for Tribune Broadcasting, Walker cited the lessons he learned from a former supervisor and mentor at the company.

“The ground rules were simple: work hard, take intelligent risks and tell the truth,” Walker said. “He wanted you to be comfortable being uncomfortable, in a strategic sense. Only then would he think you were thinking far enough ahead.”

Walker encouraged his fellow graduates to apply those rules to their own careers. “Give co-workers a chance to disappoint you. Chances are they won’t,” he said. “Be true to yourself. When you’re successful, give something back.”

EMP-66 speaker Lawson Copley, M.D., observed that his class began its Kellogg experience with the students identified by their career descriptions. “We were consultants, entrepreneurs, company presidents and CEOs ... brand, product, and platform managers ... and one socially well-adjusted physicist,” said Copley, who is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “Today marks our arrival. We now identify ourselves as Kellogg MBAs.”

That identity carried with it responsibilities, Copley noted. “Our business organizations, communities and families will rightfully expect us to live up to this brand with courageous, values-based leadership. And we will exceed their expectations.

“May it enable us to lead with wisdom and integrity, to formulate the best strategies and to create value for all of the stakeholders in our lives.”