In recognition of Memorial Day, we are republishing a blog about Donovan Campbell’s orientation speech at Wake Forest University from last August. Campbell, a Marine, wrote the New York Times bestseller, Joker One, based around his experiences in Iraq. To watch his entire presentation, click here.
The first-day speakers at orientation for the Wake Forest Schools of Business had a potent message for the incoming classes: to find true success, future business leaders must develop an acute sense of self-awareness and purpose.
Before the first student had arrived, the event had proven groundbreaking by Wake Forest's standards, as organizers assembled 400 students from all five programs for the initial activities. Students from the full-time and evening MBA programs in Winston-Salem and Charlotte were able to mix and mingle with students entering the school’s MA and MSA program. (The gathering was so large that the university had to secure space at the Forsyth Country Club to accommodate the entire group.)
Every speaker had their own general perspective on setting goals and expectations, yet the general theme of responsibility and service permeated their individual presentations.
The most moving presentation by far came from Donovan Campbell, a Marine and graduate from Harvard Business School, who used a collection of successes and failures to demonstrate what a privilege it is to enter business school. He shared his experiences and hard lessons learned while leading a company in Iraq, which also served as the basis for Joker One, a New York Times bestseller.
“Humans are adaptable,” he noted, adding that he had even witnessed teenagers doing amazing things in combat. In comparison, that should serve as motivation for students to push themselves. “Failure is inevitable,” he added, admitting to his own shortcomings. “How you respond matters. You must default to responsibility.”
Trying hard to hold back tears, Campbell told a gripping account of rejecting an urge to seek retribution when a member of his company was killed defending school children. “We are Marines and we are better than this,” he told his men, acknowledging that only his faith and core values served as the basis for his decision.
As far as corporate scandals are concerned, Campbell charged incoming MBA candidates to turn the tide back toward responsibility. "We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redeem our profession,” he said.
Dean Steve Reinemund emphasized setting goals and finding purpose and passion in his remarks, charging students to find their place in society by investing time identifying desires and charting a path to accomplishing them. “What is it that you expect to get from your investment?” he asked.
Dean Reinemund also emphasized ethics, which he hopes will permeate the curricula within the Schools of Business. He stressed the importance for future leaders to respect individuals and espouse service, warning that ignoring such deeds yields “deviant behavior and dysfunctional organizations.”
Building on that message, Dr. Nathan Hatch, Wake Forest’s president, encouraged students to explore their passions rather than fall into the rut of “jumping through hoops” in pursuit of grades or a degree. Simply going through the motions is destined to “create a manufactured self” devoid of true passion. Rather, spend time developing “deep vocational discernment,” he said.
With that in mind, today’s leaders have a unique opportunity to reestablish trust and credibility in a world where average citizens correlate business schools with Enron and Madoff, along with exotic mortgages and government bailouts.
Dr. Jim Loehr, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, rounded out the day, presenting a case study for treasuring and conserving energy to maximize performance. He implored students to write out what they view as necessary for success, calling such a move an imperative for staking out future decisions. “Before you launch be certain of what you want,” he said.
Another key takeaway was the need for improved engagement, with Loehr noting that individuals and the organizations they run often fail to reach their full potential when the leaders lose focus. “How easy is it to get self-absorbed?” he asked.
“Performance is directly related to your level of engagement,” he added.