This is a moment of celebration, I know, as I remember very clearly my own graduation ceremony almost 30 years ago. You feel proud; (family and friends that are here with you today, may feel even more proud); you feel great satisfaction about your achievement, you feel the emotions of the ceremony and you can finally call yourself master.
As a basis for your career, you have chosen the Global MBA Program at Webster University, a great international program dealing with the business aspects of our society. This leads me to believe that you are interested in a management career and therefore, being a manager myself I wanted to touch on two subjects that may be of interest to you.
First: After you will have received your academic honors today, after the dust of excessive celebration has settled; what remains?
Second: What is this unknown animal that we call "manager" and how do I become one since there is not something as a university inscribed "CEO course."
The first question: What remains? It should be clear that this graduation ceremony is not the end of something; it is the beginning and I will come back to that a few times. You didn't go through all the effort for the ceremony, for the celebration (although you are entitled to a real party tonight), for the University records or the family records, not even for the title. All of that is just fine and you should enjoy it; but that's not what is really relevant.
May I use a comparison with my professional life as the CEO of a NASDAQ listed company and since only recently, part of the Fortune 500 society of companies, and the discussions that I frequently have with my people? We work hard to achieve then report our quarterly numbers and we are proud (as you are now) when we have performed well. But we must understand that once the numbers are communicated (currently we are releasing our second quarter results); they are history!!! No one invests into historical data. They may be a good basis, just like your tile is be a good basis but it is- at all times -the future story, the willingness to make a difference that counts and as such this job is never completed. Same discussion is around bonuses: why would I pay a bonus for an achievement that's already history? That would be pretty stupid. One argument is that this is a contractual obligation; a weak argument. The real reason for paying a bonus is the fact that the past achievement also represents a promise for future, with grander more promising achievements.
Back to you and your achievements. You have proven to yourself that you can complete a difficult task, one that requires dedication, time and the support of others. You have proven that you can live through disappointments, as I am sure you have experienced some, and come out stronger at every single one to finally bring the most complex project that you will have ever encountered to a successful end. No one will ever take away this achievement from you and what is does: It makes you confident, self confident, that you can go for the next even more challenging task and that you can and will do it. That's what remains. It is not very dramatic, it is inside you but I am sure you can feel it.
Second question: Now that I have my master's degree, now that I feel all this confidence in me: What do I do to become a manager, a CEO? And what is this, a manager?
A question that I am frequently asked by students as I have been teaching at universities for the past 15 years and having served as a CEO for more than ten years. I had never asked this question myself before, so I had to rationalize things that I obviously did in order to give a qualified answer.
The reason why it was not a question for me is that it was a clear imagination, a clear goal; and that is what has to always come first: The clear, firm imagination of what you want to be. Very early in your career; I would say just about now. You are a CEO in your head long before you are a CEO in real life. The consequence of this is that management positions have to always be pro-actively strived for. You are the one who has the vision, you are the one that wants to make a difference, and you are the one who is pro-active. No one will ever ask you. Again: No one will ever ask you. It is sometimes communicated that way, because it sounds better, such as: I was approached by a head hunter, the shareholder asked me, a politician asked me. Don't believe it. The first contact can be established by any of these instances but ultimately, you have to see the opportunity, you have to see the match with what you want and you have to go for it. Which, by the way, is already one of the most important qualities of this unknown animal, called "manager": To turn imaginations and visions into reality. It is as simple as that. If can't do it for yourself how can you possibly think to do that for thousands of people who may someday be under your responsibility.
So, today is a good day to listen to yourself. Do I have this drive? Do I have this firm imagination - next to the increased self confidence that you should already be feeling – of becoming a CEO, an entrepreneur, a politician, a diplomat (doesn't look like you feel like becoming a medical doctor; that part is already clear) and you should be very honest with yourself. You can fool everyone else, but don't fool yourself. But I want to make it very clear: Should you have this firm imagination of being a CEO, entrepreneur, politician, diplomat, you have a chance. Should you not, you will not become one, because you will not be asked, no one will try to talk you into it or try to convince you.
But opportunities in management are great. It is a fact that our society is not moving towards but has already transferred into a knowledge based society. So, it is not the physically strongest that wins, the one that wins has the most knowledge, the most experience and who can turn this into action. The unknown animal: The manager. A "manager" (team-leader, director, vice president, CEO) is already the most important profession in any knowledge based company which most of us are. Interestingly, as previously stated you cannot enroll in a "CEO or manager's course" at any University.
Finally, some aspects of management or managers that are often misunderstood: It is not important, which personality you are, it is important that you can turn visions into reality and knowledge into action. People that can do this are as diverse as all of you are today. It has become a habit to describe the personality of a CEO; or in search processes the characteristics are typically: Good communicator, charismatic, extroverted, multi-lingual, etc. However, there are very good managers that have a very unpretentious personality, that perspire when they have to speak in front of more than three people, that are introverted but just as good as the one described before.
Also, the cultural background is not important. Most large companies operate worldwide and principles for success are the same worldwide. For instance airlines would operate rather similarly whether they come from Germany, the Far East or from an Arabic country. There are many ways of not being successful and often attributed to cultural differences or misunderstandings and in reality are nothing more than excuses.
So, the way you are and where you come from is just fine and you don't have to change anything there, just be conscious of yourself, be proud of yourself and self confident. It is not always the outspoken, extroverted sleek guys, the entertainers that win.
In summing up, I maybe switch the questions and start with: What is a manager, a CEO? It is someone that can turn visions into reality and knowledge into action.
Of course not only your confidence, your increased self confidence that spurns you strive for other challenges after this masters program, it is also your family and friends who will continue to support you, it is your new friends (now called network) organized under the Webster alumni, it is your teachers and us on the board that are always here to help. Call on us, and together, we will make a difference in this world.