Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feels Like "CEO Month" at Darden

One of the cool aspects of being at a top business school that often gets overlooked is the exposure you get to "C-level" executives* in big business. These titans of industry descend upon Charlottesville to teach lessons about general management which just don't come out on paper. There's a different feel to a case discussion when the chief protagonist is in the room!

In my little world before business school, I sat everyday in a suburban office building, analyzing the movements of power markets.  It was good work, but the world of corporate America felt remote.  At Darden, this is certainly not true!

Tomorrow's speaker: Kevin Sharer from Amgen

This month at school has been packed with business leaders:

  • First, Eric Spiegel, the President and CEO of Siemens, the biggest little German electronics manufacturer you've probably never heard of (only a mere $98 billion company), who spoke about his transition from being a lifetime consultant to overseeing the operations of 405,000 employees in 190 countries.
  • Next, Wendell Weeks, Chairman and CEO of Corning, who spoke to students about managing breakthrough innovation at one of America's last-standing technology manufacturers.  A very candid speaker who provided a refreshing long-term perspective to investment in a world which often seems to value quarterly earnings more than great products (let's just say Wendell doesn't like Fidelity).
  • The following day, Kevin Plank, CEO and Chairman of Under Armour.  Kevin told the remarkable story of a man who 15 years ago turned an idea for a non-cotton athletic undershirt into a business operated out of his mother's basement, then transformed it into a multinational company crossing $1 billion in sales this year.  Their advertising also pumps you up..."We Must Protect This House!"
  • Today, Bill Hawkins, CEO of Medtronic, the world's largest medical device manufacturer.  He shared his lessons on leadership (start by surrounding yourself with a smart, diverse group people) and personal fulfillment (have fun!), and also talked about his company's challenges in continuing to develop life-saving products in the highly politicized health care industry.  A Darden alum!
  • To cap it off, tomorrow we have Kevin Sharer, Chairman and CEO of Amgen, the world's largest biotech pharma company.  Today he and Bill grabbed lunch together at Darden -- to be a fly on the wall for that discussion!  Tomorrow's chat is titled "Healthcare, Leadership and Life".  Should be great!

In my first three months at Darden, we've also received top executives from Target, American Express, Samsung, Cargill, and DuPont, just to name a few top companies.

Preparing for cases can get a little dull sometimes, and it's a treat to take a break to hear the perspectives of these guys.  Their lessons might sound like common sense -- follow your passions, take risks, step out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself -- but clearly they work!

*For those of you who don't know what "C-level" means (as I didn't until about a year ago), it's corporate lingo for the Chiefs: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), etc.


  1. Definitely a worthwhile enough incentive for us to lose sleep over cases!

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