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“If you choose to lead, you can make a difference,” said CIM Week keynote speaker Thomas J. Wilson ’80, chairman, president and CEO of The Allstate Corporation and Allstate Insurance Company.

Thomas J. Wilson

Lessons in leadership

Allstate CEO Thomas J. Wilson ’80 urges Kellogg students to set a vision and ‘drive real change’

By Amy Trang

9/4/2009 - As first-year Kellogg students embarked on their two-year journey through business school, an alumnus who has walked in their shoes shared an important piece of advice: Focus on your leadership style.

CIM orientation speaker Thomas J. Wilson '80
“Each one of us is a leader,” said Thomas J. Wilson ’80, chairman, president and CEO of The Allstate Corporation and Allstate Insurance Company. “Everyone is a leader in some shape or form in their own way.”

Wilson was the keynote speaker during Complete Immersion in Management Week, the Kellogg School’s weeklong orientation for incoming students. Speaking to students in the Owen L. Coon Forum on Sept. 1, Wilson shared some of the wisdom he gained during his years in various leadership positions at Allstate and as a vice president of strategy and analysis at retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Wilson said leaders must set a vision and drive change in their industries. He cited Sears as an example. Since its founding as a mail-order business, the company has morphed into a national retailer that sells via retail locations, various distributors and the Internet.
“You can’t stand still. You must adjust and adapt the vision as you go through,” Wilson said. “It’s about creating a world, not just adapting to the trend lines. Leaders drive real change.”

Good leaders also act as coaches, Wilson said, working to bring out the best in their employees, getting them to do things they won’t do by themselves and then celebrating those successes.

“It’s all about people,” Wilson said. “People are the key to all success in life. If you don’t have good people, you will fail.”

Wilson also advised students to spend their time at Kellogg finding their personal purpose in life, and said the awareness of that purpose will make it easier for them to lead. He said he discovered his own purpose in life — helping others achieve meaning and success — as a young executive at Sears.

“Leading is knowing what your purpose is,” Wilson said. “If you choose to lead, you can make a difference. In the end, it’s not the money you make, the sales you did, the meetings you attended. It’s how you live your life.”