CDW chief executive tells new executive alumni to stay connected and to use the power of a ‘soft heart’ and ‘sharp mind’ to forge successful path
12/15/2008 - Understand what you want. Remember that you can’t do it alone. And keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
|“Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground,” said John A. Edwardson, chairman and CEO of CDW, during his Convocation remarks on Dec. 13. He addressed new graduates of the Kellogg EMBA program. |
|Photo © Nathan Mandell|
|Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain was among the faculty and staff applauding the accomplishments of the school’s 112 new EMBA graduates during a Dec. 13 ceremony. |
|Photo © Nathan Mandell|
The newest graduates of the Kellogg School’s Executive MBA Programs received this advice along with their diplomas at the convocation ceremony held Dec. 13 in Alice Millar Chapel. Traveling to Northwestern University’s Evanston campus from around the U.S. and Latin America, 112 members of Executive Master’s Program (EMP) classes 71 and 72 joined friends and family to celebrate their completion of the two-year program.
Convocation speaker John A. Edwardson, chairman and chief executive officer of CDW, offered three practical suggestions to graduates aspiring to leadership positions. First, he counseled, gain some perspective on professional goals by reflecting on them. “Think about what you want to do, what you have been trying to prove, and whom you have been trying to prove it to,” he advised.
Second, Edwardson said, “It’s important for all of us to remember that we are usually not the smartest person in the room. And even if we are, it doesn’t make any difference —because a lot of good ideas come from the other people that all of us work with every day.” The Kellogg School’s focus on “accomplishing great things with teams” regularly reminds students of that lesson, he added.
Edwardson held top positions at UAL Corp., United Airlines and Ameritech before joining CDW, an information technology products and services company, in 2001. Offering a third piece of advice to graduates as they rise through the ranks of their organizations, he said, “Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. The air does get a bit thin and rarified at higher levels in corporate America and the result is usually light-headedness when that happens. How many examples of corporate or governmental leaders do we need to demonstrate how easy it is for us, as individuals, to lose touch with the world?”
To stay grounded as they advance, executives should spend time in the trenches with employees who work on the front lines, he said. Edwardson urged graduates to volunteer in their communities and “get your hands dirty at a very basic level in human society. I really believe that a soft heart teamed with a sharp mind will make you a better corporate leader,” he said.
“Look for something that you can do to help you not forget what life is like for most of our fellow humans. You’re not going to find it at the country club and you’re not going to find it on corporate boards of directors. But one thing I do know is that you’ll find it less than 15 or 20 minutes from where all of you live or work,” said Edwardson.
Two graduates were selected by their classmates to speak at the Convocation ceremony, which had a warm, festive air despite chilly December weather.
Patrick O’Dea (EMP-71), a director of sales at Novell, represented the Executive MBA Miami program. About two-thirds of that class hails from Latin America, and O’Dea cited the group’s diversity as a strength. Along with some amusing reflections and remarks in Spanish, he praised fellow students and professors. “The program brings together a tremendous amount of experience from bankers and builders, accountants and lawyers, sales people and consultants, marketers and doctors, and many others,” O’Dea said. “Blend the courses and the Kellogg content with the wealth of knowledge that the students have, and magical things happen.”
Steven Heinrichs (EMP-72), senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Neenah Paper Inc., addressed colleagues in the Executive MBA January North American Program. “I hope other EMP classes feel the same way we do — that we’re the best, the smartest. That is the beauty of Kellogg,” he said.
Echoing the day’s theme of service, Heinrichs said, “We are now emissaries for our alma mater. We should be beacons of what is right in the worlds of management, government, academic and nonprofit leadership. That is our obligation to ourselves and to our fellow classmates.”
Before receiving their diplomas, the graduating classes honored four Kellogg faculty members — Janice Eberly, Steven Rogers, Artur Raviv and Sergio Rebelo — with top professor awards.
Bernadette Birt, director of Domestic Executive MBA Programs, lauded the graduating classes as an “amazing” and global group. “It’s been a huge commitment for all of them, flying in every other weekend for two years,” she said. “They’re extremely diverse in terms of where they started, where they’ve landed and what they do outside of school and their personal lives. Their work has taken them all over the world.”