Wharton | Mr. MBA When Ready
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Chicago Booth | Ms. Hotel Real Estate
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Georgetown McDonough | Mr. Navy Vet
GRE 310, GPA 2.6
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Columbia | Mr. Infra-Finance
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Duke Fuqua | Mr. Vigor
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Berkeley Haas | Mr. Well-Traveled Nonprofit Star
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Berkeley Haas | Mr. Hanging By A Thread
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Harvard | Ms. Comeback Kid
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London Business School | Mr. Family Investment Fund
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HEC Paris | Ms. Freelancer
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Columbia | Mr. M&A Analyst
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Kellogg | Mr. Engagement Manager
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MIT Sloan | Mr. Energy Transition
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Our Favorite B-School Commencement Address Of 2017

best business school commencement speech 2017

MBA graduates at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

FIVE SKILLS SHE FOUND MOST ESSENTIAL TO HER CAREER

Let me share with you the five skills I have found to be most essential in my career – and which I’m certain will help you thrive no matter what comes your way.

Skill number one: Play well with others.

What could be more timeless than a skill we start learning on the first day of kindergarten?

This is something that will certainly be familiar to Owen graduates, as it is part of the DNA of how we are taught to approach work here.

My first group all-nighter occurred at Owen, as we were working on a project for a local liquor distribution company. (Unfortunately, they did not provide refreshments for the evening, but that probably would have derailed the night anyway.)

I remember the challenge of keeping everyone focused, but also having fun as we worked through the night to finalize our presentation.

And that experience translated directly into my first all-nighter at Nasdaq, when I was running my first acquisition for the firm, and we spent all night with the other company’s team finalizing the deal.

I had to keep everyone focused on the end-goal, and trust me, that was a challenge with 20+ people from many different backgrounds in the room.

I did not want stress and exhaustion to derail the final negotiations, so it was important to limit distractions and align everyone on the key priorities, but also to keep the environment light-hearted and friendly – even when the negotiations got tough.

But not everyone embraces teamwork the same way.

Those new lawyers graduating next door come to mind. I can say that because my husband went there.

And great teamwork comes from having hired great team members. As you might imagine, I am responsible for hiring a lot of people at Nasdaq, and I find that a person’s resume is only a very small piece of the puzzle that defines a person and whether they are a fit for our company. As a globally recognized brand, we are fortunate to receive a lot of great resumes – and many people look great on paper.

The differentiator in whether or not they end up at Nasdaq though is what kind of person they are. Are they a lone wolf or a collaborator? Are they myopic or empathetic? Do they talk about “I” or “we?”

Confidence and humility may sound like opposites, but they in fact go hand-in-hand.

Skill number two: Ideas are only as good as your ability to communicate them.

In my days at Owen, I always volunteered to be the “editor” of every group paper or project.

And as my friends at Owen and my colleagues today can tell you, I am a bit obsessive about written communications. I care a lot about how an argument is articulated, down to the placement of commas and grammatical correctness.

In the age when some people think of commas as an impediment to staying under 140 characters, that may sound old-fashioned or even irrelevant – but it still really matters in business.

The fact is that in your career, no one will advocate for you better than you.

But I can’t tell you how many careers I’ve seen fail to reach their promise because someone with great talent simply can’t figure out how to convey their ideas and arguments clearly and concisely, whether in person or in writing.

Whether you are in your very first job or the CEO of the company, take the time to think and articulate your points with precision (and some passion thrown in helps sometimes too)!

And by the way, I urge you to re-read every email before hitting “send.” I can assure you that the extra time has saved me on more than one occasion!

Skill number three. Always be listening and learning.

Given the disruptive nature of the global economy, leaders must always be inquisitive, hungry to understand their clients’ biggest problems today and in the future, what’s driving their businesses and what will threaten them, as well as what opportunities to pursue in order to catalyze future growth and success.

This requires a mindset of listening to others and constant learning, never being satisfied with your current level of knowledge.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, famously says that every day is day one at Amazon.

Recently, in his shareholder letter, he described a moment when one of his employees finally asked him, “What does day two look like?”

Jeff replied: “Day two is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. That is why it is always Day 1.”

Even though his way of thinking may sound severe, he’s clearly on to something.

In the shareholder letter, Jeff further explains his thinking and provides tremendous advice for how companies can maintain Day 1 in perpetuity. It is a great letter, and I shared it with my team, and certainly encourage you to read it.

As one piece of advice he explains that clients are everything, and while they don’t always know what they need or want, it is imperative to listen to them. That act of listening will uncover the next priority and what will drive you forward to delight them today and in the future.

He also explains that if you want to ride the next wave, rather than being swallowed by it, you need to be constantly listening and learning.

I would add that no matter how successful your company is, you have to take great effort to avoid the trap of believing that what worked yesterday will necessarily work tomorrow.

This is a big part of how we operate at Nasdaq. I wake up every day just a little paranoid that I haven’t asked the right questions or thought critically enough.

And in order to make sure I always do, I meet with clients whenever possible, and I have actively built a team around me of people who I know are smarter and better- informed in their area of expertise than I am.

Never be afraid of saying “I don’t know,” but of course the next sentence should be “but I will find out;” and never be too proud to learn.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.