10 Insights From Darden’s Leadership Speaker Series

Dave Hendrick

Darden’s Leadership Speaker Series brought top business leaders from a range of industries to Grounds during the 2015–16 school year, giving the Darden community the opportunity to learn from practitioners at the top of their fields.

Here are 10 key takeaways from this season’s Leadership Speaker Series guests.

“If you have a bad boss, it’s still a learning opportunity. Take away the things that you will never do as leader.”
HBM Holdings CEO Michael DeCola (MBA ’77) on making the best of a potentially bad situation. DeCola encouraged attendees to recognize their weaknesses and surround themselves with those who could help make up for deficiencies.

“For me, the benefit is that about every two to three years I get a new opportunity and a new role. With every new role comes an opportunity to learn, develop new skills and build my career.”
Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Cos. Chief Program Management Officer Andrew Ekdahl explaining the benefits of working at a big company. Ekdahl said a career is about building experiences, not climbing a ladder.

“Want to put your career on steroids? Run to the fire.”
DaVita Kidney Care President and CEO Javier Rodriguez, encouraging students to embrace the thorniest of professional challenges. In addition to seeking difficult work, Rodriguez said his own career further took off when he fully embraced his company’s core values of service excellence, team, accountability and integrity.

“We recognize the talent, treat them fairly and they stick around.”
M&T Bank Chair and CEO Robert Wilmers on how his company has managed to retain valuable employees after acquisitions. Wilmers’ focus on banking fundamentals such as taking deposits and making loans has helped the company grow assets to over $100 billion and never record a quarterly net loss nor missed dividend.

“We think we could not grow the way we’ve grown if we couldn’t get people to come and stay. Clients are core, but it’s only because people are inspired to come and stay that we can do great things.”
Bain & Co. Partner and Regional Managing Director of the Americas Dave Johnson on the company’s extreme dedication to employee improvement and morale. Johnson said he, too, regularly receives detailed evaluations regarding potential areas for improvement.

“Societies expect that businesses that operate by building trust and differentiating themselves are the ones that are going to lead. That’s a pretty big change from where we had been.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers CFO Carol Sawdye on the expectations for business in 2016. Sawdye said the differentiation would likely come through investment in both technology and people.

“You have to learn to love the data. You have to be a successful leader. But the one big caveat is use your common sense. Remember that it’s just data, and sometimes the data will tell you things or lead you down a path that just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Elephant Auto Insurance CEO Kevin Chidwick on the importance of following your intuition in a data-driven world.

“The greatest challenge you will ever have as a leader is leading yourself.”
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey on the importance of managing and fostering personal growth. Mackey encouraged students to develop the “spiritual intelligence” that would help them find purpose everywhere.

“Leadership means adaptability, resilience and moving on, but also getting comfortable with change.”
Cargill CEO David MacLennan on the unique challenges of the CEO position. MacLennan leads a global company that earned more than $120 billion in revenue in 2015.

“We learned that belief is the key to everything. If you believe it’s possible, you have a chance of making it possible.”
Libra Group CEO George Logothetis on learning to “survive or die.” Logothetis took the reins of his family’s shipping company at the age of 19 and subsequently grew it into an international conglomerate comprising 30 subsidiaries in 35 countries.

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