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Pedro (Pete) R. Pizarro ’94 addressed convocation attendees on December 7.

Kellogg School Executive MBA Program holds Convocation

Newest EMBA graduates include members of inaugural Kellogg-Miami Program

By Danielle Tullier

12/11/2007 -

Toshikazu Dezaki opened his remarks to fellow classmates of the Kellogg-Miami Executive MBA Program’s graduating class (EMP-67) at the December 7 convocation ceremony by speaking for several minutes in Spanish.

“You may be wondering what I just said,” Dezaki, who is Japanese, told the crowd packed into the pews of Alice Millar Chapel in Evanston. Then, he joked, “I have not a clue.”

The bilingual speech was a nod to the number of Latin American executive students in the inaugural class to complete the Kellogg-Miami Program, an initiative launched by Kellogg in January 2006 to extend the school’s global portfolio. The day also marked the graduation of EMP-68, a class of 72 students.

“EMP-67 is a wonderful collection of 44 people from many different countries, like Honduras, Chile, Brazil, Albania, Cuba, France, Mexico, Peru and Palestine,” Dezaki said. “We’re the very representation of the American dream — and, for many, the Latin American dream.”

This dream was also one achieved by the day’s keynote speaker, Pedro (Pete) R. Pizarro ’94, president and CEO of Telefonica USA Inc., who serves on the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board.

In the 1960s, Pizarro’s family left Cuba with all their possessions in a suitcase and a one-way ticket to Miami. In Florida, they were greeted with one night ’s stay at a hotel, a jar of peanut butter, $150 and tickets to Los Angeles.

  Toshikazu Dezaki
  EMP-67 and EMP-68 graduates at the ceremony in Alice Millar Chapel.
  Dean Dipak C. Jain

“For my parents, being complacent was not an option,” Pizarro told the graduating classes. “Life is too short to just wait and ride it out and see what happens. So, where do you want to be in five, 10, 15 years from today? And, what decisions do you have to make to get there?”

This spirit of gritty determination and a desire for pursuing an advanced education fueled Pizarro’s career path. “Fourteen years ago, I earned the very same degree that you’re about to receive today from the best business graduate school in the world,” he said, also delivering part of his speech in Spanish.

When he graduated from Kellogg, he was the CFO at a medium-sized, Midwestern graphic arts company. “Things were good, but I knew I could achieve more.” That revelation led him on the risky but rewarding path of starting then selling two companies, and eventually leading at the helm of Telefonica USA Inc.

Representing EMP-68 was Steven Sperka, a director at Northwestern Mutual Life.

“There are three themes we all share from the Kellogg experience,” Sperka said. “The first is that we all leave here with a perspective that we’ve never had before. Second, we leave here with an amazing competency. And, third, we leave here knowing the importance of focus and strategy in everyday leadership situations.”

Sperka acknowledged the tremendous amount of balance needed to complete the “rigor and challenge” of coursework, home life and a full-time job. He extended a sincere greeting of gratitude — on behalf of all the graduates — to the friends and family in attendance for their support during the two-year MBA program.

Dean Dipak C. Jain let graduates know that the school would also continue to be a support network for the new alumni, even after diplomas were in hand. “The challenge ahead of you is never greater than the force behind you,” said Jain. “The Kellogg School will always be behind you to support you every step of the journey.”