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During his April 13 lecture, James Lowry encouraged Kellogg students to leverage their education and become the next generation of leaders.

James Lowry

‘We need leaders like you,’ BCG executive tells Kellogg students

James Lowry recounts importance of mentors in his career and urges new generation to ‘play the game to win’

By Rachel Farrell

4/14/2009 - Growing up as an African-American in the 1940s, James Lowry was aware of the racial inequalities in his hometown of Chicago.

But his eighth-grade teacher, Madeline Straton, taught him that it was possible for black Americans to overcome the cultural odds that often placed special hurdles in their way. “She made her students do history papers on outstanding black leaders,” said Lowry, a longtime member of the Kellogg School’s Dean’s Advisory Board. “It gave us pride in what others had done and made us realize what we could achieve.”

In his April 13 lecture at the Kellogg School’s Donald P. Jacobs Center, Lowry discussed personal leadership development, telling MBA students that he credits Straton – along with icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela – for helping him achieve the successes of his 40-plus-year career. Over that time, Lowry has worked for organizations including the U.S. Peace Corps, Bedford-Stuyvesant Corp., McKinsey & Co. and WGN-TV.

A former adjunct professor at the Kellogg School, Lowry encouraged students to take advantage of their Kellogg education, seek out leaders and mentors and become leaders themselves. “[President] Barack [Obama] can’t do it alone,” he said. “We need leaders like you to lead … You have to leverage what you’ve learned here. Leverage your relationships with fellow students and professors. But most importantly, leverage the Kellogg brand.”

Lowry outlined guidelines for students who strive to become CEOs or entrepreneurs.

“If you want to be a CEO, accept that you will never make it unless you have a strong mentor,” he said. “Always promote those who supported you, irrespective of race or gender. Study the culture; study the power brokers; play the game to win. Acquire invaluable experience. Don’t take shortcuts.”

Entrepreneurs should “master a unique skill or product, develop a three-to-five year plan, identify growth opportunities, think globally, don’t be afraid to have strategic partnerships, and be aware of the political world that you live in,” Lowry said.

He also urged students to make a list of what they would like to accomplish, personally and professionally, during the next 20 years. Lowry wrote his own list in 1961 when he was a tutor at Kuvoukoni College in Tanzania. He brought this list, now protected by plastic, and showed it to students during his Kellogg visit.

“I achieved everything on this page except for one thing,” said Lowry, with a smile. “I had one kid instead of three.”