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EMBA Convocation accents power of team to drive success

Reflection on accomplishments, responsibility to lead others, among themes defining an afternoon honoring newest Kellogg School executive graduates

By Matt Golosinski

6/10/2006 - Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall is the place to hear a pin drop in the silences between the orchestral passages typically conducted there.

But on June 10 the acoustically perfect hall erupted with cheering family and friends as 123 new graduates of the Kellogg School’s Executive MBA Program strode across a stage bedecked with summer flowers. The applause added to the celebratory air of a classical quintet playing during the EMBA Convocation’s processional.

EMBA Commencement Keynote Speaker
William Osborn '73, Chairman and CEO of The Northern Trust Corp 6/10/06
"Future leadership…is in good hands with all of you,” proclaimed William A. Osborn ’73, chairman and CEO of The Northern Trust Corp., in his address.

The graduates had spent the last two years earning their Kellogg degrees and now the tangible proof of their study — the actual diploma — was theirs. A prize, to be sure, but there were reminders shouted from the audience that these new alums had already made an impressive mark independent of all the finance, marketing and strategy knowledge they now carried with them.

“We love you daddy!” cried one little girl as her father entered the hall in his cap and gown. Other guests waved and shouted encouragement. Cameras were everywhere to record the event.

In his introductory remarks, Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain made sure that the graduates also recognized the sacrifices made by their loved ones.

"Applaud the family members and friends whose support has made this day possible,” he told members of EMP-62 and 63.

Dean Jain went on to acknowledge the importance of ethical behavior, teamwork and lifelong learning, noting the value of the academic expertise gained at Kellogg. Also important was what he called a “key part” of the Kellogg program: “friendships with classmates…who will be with you for the rest of your lives.”

Reflecting on the last five years, the dean recalled several challenges, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the SARS outbreak, corporate scandals at Enron and other firms, and the start of the Iraq War. Despite these hurdles, Dean Jain said the Kellogg School is “as strong or stronger than before,” in part because of a philosophy that emphasizes becoming "better, not bitter” in the face of adversity.

"Create a strong team,” said the dean. “The support of that team will always be greater than the forces [confronting you] ahead.”

Osborn, introduced by Jain as a “great leader” and an “icon” of the Chicago business community, offered the graduates recommendations gleaned from his 37 years in banking and investment. His observations ranged from defining leadership (“someone who knows the issues and is out there helping people grow and making a difference…not sitting back in an office”) to the value of difficult times (“you must be tested under fire…under uncertainty”).

Discussing the value of both interpersonal and analytical skills, Osborn told graduates to be prepared to manage each area effectively. He said that cultivating a caring personality and genuine respect for others would go a long way toward ensuring broad success.

"Keep your ego in check; nobody knows it all,” he advised, saying that leaders “shine by reflected light,” permitting their teams to share in the responsibility and rewards of a job well done. “Don’t beat a drum about your own accomplishments. Your interest should be in the group, not just yourself.” To this end, the speaker contended that the best leaders play a progressive role in developing their successors, putting the organization’s best interest ahead of any personal agenda.

Osborn also highlighted the importance of straightforward communications, extolling the virtues of being a good listener and asking a lot of questions. “Ten minutes,” he added, “is enough to present anything.”

Equally important for success is keen analysis, said Osborn: Leaders must understand the numbers that are the foundation of an organization. “Financial acumen is something people think they can put aside and let the CFO handle. Not true.”

Also present at Convocation were Professors Michael Fishman and Lakshman Krishnamurthi, each of whom, along with Professor Sergio Rebelo, were selected as “top professors” by the executive classes.

In his brief remarks, Fishman advised the graduates to continue their educations. “Keep setting your intellectual sights high; you’ll accomplish some great things,” he said.