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Business Royalty Among Top MBA Graduation Speakers

Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser Busch InBev, will be the graduation speaker at Stanford GSB on June 16th.

Been there, done that.

Who’d blame MBAs for feeling that way about graduation? They’re adults now. Chances are, they don’t need the keys to the family Chevy as a reward. In reality, graduation day rarely gets old for MBA – not after what they’ve been though. In high school and college, graduation was a nod to the parents – whose stamina and sacrifice made this moment happen. For MBAs, graduation celebrates themselves – the risks they’ve taken, the hurdles they’ve crossed, the communities they’ve built, and the transformations they’ve shared.

Like any commencement, the ceremony is a rite of passage. The ritual, replete with processions and gowns, harkens back to past graduates. It is a timeless nod that students have moved into the professional ranks. That’s one reason why schools recruit guest speakers. They are the bridge between the academic and the commercial – savvy practitioners and spirited muses who remind graduates of their responsibilities as they herald tomorrow’s promise.

MASSACHUSETTTS GOVERNOR COMES HOME TO EVANSTON

Want to know how much juice a business school carries? Look no further than the caliber of their graduation speaker. This year, you could argue that “homecoming” is a theme across many of the leading business schools. Rather than trotting out big name CEOs and authors – and doling out the requisite “honorary degree,” MBA programs are inviting their alumni to speak. It is an act that connects generations and reinforces values – a validation that the formula works if MBAs apply it long enough.

Massachusetts Governor (and Kellogg alum) Charlie Baker

Take Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. On June 22nd, they will be welcoming home Charlie Baker, a 1986 MBA who was elected as Massachusetts Governor in 2014. Over his career, Baker has jumped between the public and private sector. As a CEO at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Pilgrim Health Care, he paired a sharp financial scalpel with a welcoming leadership style to balance profit with compassion. At the same time, his stewardship of the state’s Health and Human Services department helped lay the groundwork for Massachusetts’ universal healthcare system in the 1990s. Now, he ranks among the nation’s most popular governors with a 69% approval rate in January according to Morning Consult. Even more, he has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, including major cuts in both homelessness and the state budget deficit.

Married to a fellow Kellogg MBA, Baker is expected to tout the value of Kellogg’s team-driven culture in his speech. “The most important thing I learned at Kellogg is that it’s all about the team,” Baker notes in his alumni profile. “It was drilled into your brain from the way that your classes were set up or grades were handed out. No one fails or succeeds on their own; you succeed or fail as part of a team. The sooner you figure that out, the more likely you are to be successful.”

TOP PROGRAMS SHOW REACH AND INFLUENCE IN SPEAKER CHOICES

That’s just the start! Palo Alto may be home to some stellar wineries, but the Stanford GSB’s diploma ceremony is reserved for the King of Beers. There, the Class of 2018 will be treated to Carlos Brito (’89) – or “Brito” as he prefers to be called. The CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, Brito is a regular at the school and his speech is almost certain to touch on themes that make Stanford great: the value of pushing boundaries and embracing self-discovery and change. They are GSB tenets that Brito has deeply embedded into his own leadership philosophy.

“Every year we look at the top talents and we say, OK, are they stretched, are they getting too comfortable,” he explains in a 2015 interview with the Financial Times. “ [If they are] it’s time for us to start taking people more often out of their comfort zones…Let’s shake the tree and get people to feel underdogs again and [feel] that crunch, that ‘Oh my God, I have to learn this, I’m excited, this is new!’”

Baker and Brito aren’t the only heavy-hitting alums to grace the stage this spring. At Harvard Business School, Carla Harris (’87), vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley, will headline Harvard Business School’s Class Day celebration. Across town, billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza (’93), the CEO of Empresas Polar – Venezuela’s largest privately-owned firm – will deliver the keynote for MIT Sloan’s graduating class.

Instagram COO Marne Levine

SENATORS, CEOs AND SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS AMONG TOP SPEAKERS

Looking for an inspirational story? Head to Minneapolis to hear Marcia Page (’83), the founder and executive chair of Värde Partners who’ll be speaking at the Carlson School’s May 14th graduation. Over the past 25 years, the firm has invested over $55 billion dollars and grown to 13 sites globally. Page isn’t the only feel-good homecoming stories. Notably, Paul Rice (’98), a four-time winner of Fast Company’s Social Capitalist of the Year Award, will speak at Haas during their May 18th commencement.

Alas, you’ll find non-alumni among the business luminaries landing the most coveted speaking spots. At Tuck, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, will deliver the investiture address at Tuck on June 9th. Not to be outdone, Columbia Business School has enlisted Senator Ron Wyden to speak at graduation, with Kevin Plank, Chairman and CEO of Under Armour, enjoying the honors at Fuqua. Not to be outdone, Wharton’s MBAs will be treated to Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chobani. As always, the Ross School of Business kicks off the graduation season on April 27th. Their speaker? It is none other than Marne Levine, the COO of Instagram.

This year even features a dose of controversy. On May 19th, the Kenan-Flagler Business School graduation will launch the image rehab of John Skipper, who resigned as President of ESPN last December after facing an extortion attempt over cocaine usage.

HILLARY CLINTON RETURNS TO YALE

That said, some programs by-pass prestige speakers in favor of more intimate, student-centered ceremonies. Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, for one, could easily attract the crème-de-la-crème of business royalty. Instead, it chooses internal community members to deliver addresses – a tradition that applies to MBA programs at the University of Virginia (Darden), Arizona State (W. P. Carey), Michigan State (Broad), and Georgia Tech (Scheller).

At other programs, MBAs can walk alongside other graduate and undergraduate students in an all-school ceremony. This year, Michael Bloomberg will do the honors at Rice University. At Emory, the honor falls to Michael Dubin, co-founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club. Then, there is the biggest name of all: Hillary Rodham Clinton. She will serve as Yale University’s Class Day speaker on May 20th.

Who is speaking at your school? Where can you go for information on hotels, parking, and schedules for these ceremonies? Check out our commencement list on the next pages for everything you need to watch or join these events.

University of Michigan (Ross)

Graduation Date: April 27, 2018

Graduation Speaker: Marne Levine, COO of Instagram

Graduation Information: Ross Commencement 2018

 

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