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News & Events

Kellogg School Commencement 2004—leading the future

By Deborah Leigh Wood

6/1/2004 - Warning his audience that his advice on “career leadership principles” would be “simple, basic and platitude-like,” commencement speaker W. James McNerney, chairman and CEO of 3M, delivered solid counsel to the Kellogg School’s full- and part-time graduating classes as they rejoin the business world or, as newly conferred PhDs, remain in academia.

“Building a career is not a straight line from A to B, so don’t try to plan it out that way,” McNerney told graduates at the 2004 commencement ceremony on June 19 at Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena. Instead, he said, “capture a mosaic of experiences. Get into a job where you lead and follow, are the outsider and the insider, work locally and globally, are the mentor and the mentored.”

Approximately 1,030 students received master of business administration, doctor of philosophy or joint master’s degrees in business and another discipline.

Touching briefly on the recent spate of corporate scandals, McNerney advised the graduates to “fight to make sure the values you bring to work are the ones you use at work. The tragedy is that some of today’s leaders are fundamentally good people who can’t stand the pressure.”

Within the work ethic, “have the courage to lead and the courage to fail,” McNerney said. Give more than you take, invest time and resources in your community and “work harder than the other guy at a professional and personal level,” he said. “This is not a zero-sum game.”

Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain said he felt especially connected to the 2004 class, because it is the first class that came in after he assumed his current position. He emphasized being actively positive despite challenges that might set others back.

In a happy coincidence, Scott McKeon, 2004 L.G. Lavengood Professor of the Year and senior lecturer in the Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences (MEDS), showed in his speech that he’s a living example of someone who took that approach. After receiving his PhD in the somewhat esoteric field of engineering-economics systems and being rejected by a host of engineering and economics institutions, McKeon applied “in desperation” to the top 20 business schools in the United States and was hired by the Kellogg School.

“At the end of my one-year contract, a number of students wrote letters to keep me here,” he said, and the administration complied. McKeon is now in his ninth year at the Kellogg School, where he has consistently been a finalist for the Lavengood award.

“The main objective of Kellogg School classes is to define the type of learner you can be,” he told those assembled. Therefore, “I always keep in mind that class is never about what the professor says, but rather about what students hear.”