Commencement address by Daniel B. Hurwitz, CEO of DDR Corp. (As prepared)
President Snyder, Dean Widing, distinguished faculty, and of course graduates, your friends and family, today is a festive day for all of you and in particular the distinguished class of 2013 and I am honored to speak to you on this momentous occasion. And while you may think school is over, I want to ask you a few more questions and ask you to think a bit further before you leave this spectacular venue.
So let’s start today by asking you, the graduates of this elite institution, questions that I hope you find thought provoking. First, why are we here? Are we here to celebrate your accomplishments? Are we here to celebrate your intellect? Are we here to say good-bye? Those are the typical reasons why family, friends and graduates assemble at commencement exercises. However, I would like to suggest something different…A different set of questions, the answers of which, in my opinion, will define your transition from professional student to a professional.
In regard to your intellectual accomplishments, show of hands please, how many folks graduating today are not smart? Conversely, how many of you are smart? With all the hands going up in support of your intellectual confidence, equal to the person sitting to your right, left, in front of you and behind you, and also the same as every other graduate and undergraduate student celebrating today across the country, all with their hands up in answer to the question…”are you smart?” What does that tell you? It tells you that being smart is a commodity, not a point of differentiation – it’s the minimum requirement in the corporate, academic and not for profit world – and you all have that! And I congratulate you. But life’s winners enjoy a point of differentiation and refuse to wallow in a commoditized world. So my question to you is, since we have established you’re smart – what else you got? You see – brains are for sale. You can always hire the best and brightest lawyer, banker, engineer, doctor, architect, teacher, accountant – there is no shortage of smart people. All commodities are available for a price…so what else you got?! What is your point of differentiation? And if you don’t know, is it fair to expect others to know? Is it reasonable to ask potential employers or partners, who have the key to the castle, an impactful option on your career, to figure it out for themselves? I think not.
It’s time to show the world that your best attribute is not the same as everyone else with whom you will compete. Do you have leadership ability? Do you have charisma? Are you a convincing communicator? Are you a potential mentor? Are you a good judge of talent? Are you brave enough to take risk? Will people do business with you because they want to and not because they have to? And will they admire you because of your name…as opposed to that of your employer? The answer to these questions has more to do with your character than your intellect and character is the essential bridge to success. Being smart today simply is not enough because brains are easily obtainable but the attributes I just mentioned are not and never will be. They are what make you special.
So, I would argue that today is more of a soul searching mission than simply a commencement. In about an hour you are going to join the long list of individuals that are now officially a commodity…a highly educated college grad…and the world is going to ask, what else you got? In an environment where you don’t want your most impressive attribute to be basic smarts, how will you otherwise impress, succeed? What will your legacy be? And what will the road to that legacy look like?
Now many of you have either received or are searching for a job. And if the company that has hired you or the company with whom you are interviewing, doesn’t ask the question, what else you got or what makes you special…beware! Beware because if a company doesn’t ask what makes you special, they omit the question for a reason; they don’t care. And if they don’t care – shame on them – they don’t deserve you. But, if you are asked the question, make sure that you have the answer. And make sure that the answer to the question of what makes you special – isn’t simply that “I’m smarter.” That is absolutely unverifiable and inauthentic. However, all your other personal attributes and characteristics define you and scream authenticity and differentiation. If you can package those aspects around your intellect, they remove you from the commodity bucket and make you a must have. I assure you that your career success and professional growth will hit an early ceiling if the best attribute you possess is simply brains. You will certainly always have a job but unlikely to have a career. Go the other direction and make yourself special! Why do your friends and family love you? Wouldn’t they love you if your GPA was 100BPS less? Why do your peers admire you? Why do mentors select you as a mentee? It’s certainly not because you are devoid of character or talent. They see something in you. What is it? Harness those intangibles – harness those qualities, harness the individual attributes that make you special. Dig deep and think about those qualities, and leverage those talents to propel yourself to the next level.
Now that we have talked about showing the world what else you got –let’s talk a minute about what else you need.
First and foremost, find yourself that special life partner who shows you unparalleled support, challenges you and comforts you when needed – because if your personal life is not settled, that uncertainty is difficult to ignore and overcome in a work environment. Life is hard, unfair and it can hold you back. My wife, Ellie is here today with my son Benjamin and for 20 years she has put up with me, supported me, challenged me and simply made me better. Without her, I would not be on this stage today and she has never done a real estate transaction or run a large public company. But her support and love has enabled me to do so and we all need that balance to reach our potential and simply be happy.
And when you are asked during your professional career to lead a vast organization where employees’ personal and professional lives are dependent on your vision and execution, the first thing you should do is ask yourself – do I know someone special – is that person smarter than me and do I trust him without question or reservation. If so, make that person your Chief of Staff.
I am very fortunate to have such an individual in my life and Joe Tichar who is an undergraduate from Weatherhead and an individual of uncommon skill, is a living, walking example of what else you got! I also would not be on this stage without his partnership. In business, trust is the currency of the realm and success is not achievable without it. Find those people you trust and hold on as tight as possible. They will be few and far between, but undoubtedly the quintessential component of your legacy.
You see, you all possess incredible capacity to accomplish goals beyond your wildest expectations. I suggest that you don’t even know how exceptional your capacity truly is. Never doubt your ability to add value and make an immediate impact. But also recognize there are people you need who are absolutely necessary to reach those heights - People more compassionate and empathetic than you - People smarter and more practical than you. And people who are even more focused and advanced than you on particular issues. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, those are not the people you attempt to overcome, those are not the people with whom you compete or try to beat. Those are the people from whom you learn. Those are the people you embrace and enlist on your team because ultimately they are the ones who make you better, and enable legacy goals to be achievable. I am a firm believer that Warren Buffet is correct, you will ultimately be successful if the people who you hope to have love you, actually do love you. The people that you trust, actually trust you. There is no one I know who commands the love and trust of others, who isn’t a success. And I can’t envision those who aren’t loved or trusted being very successful.
As I wish you much success in the 2013 world and beyond, remember to accentuate your unique attributes, all that makes you different. Avoid becoming a commodity, surround yourself with loving, trusting and supportive individuals with more talent than you, and also, never forget where you came from. This institution is an aggregation of very special people committed to preparing you for life. So wherever life takes you, always remember to support those who supported you and help the next generation of Weatherhead grads…as those before you have helped make this day possible. You will always get back more than you give regardless of the situation and in this case, the good news is you have already received.
So – why are we here today – we are here to tip our cap to your intellect and academic accomplishments, the piece of paper you will receive tells a great story of your hard work and potential capacity. But most importantly, we are here to suggest that these pieces of paper are not your claim to fame. In fact, if the diploma you receive today becomes your greatest accomplishment, your defining moment, your overall identity, I suspect you will not ultimately be satisfied as you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one.
So I implore you, take your diploma and frame it with pride and hang it on a wall to remind yourself where you came from; but, then turn the page, get out in the world, believe in yourself, fear no one or no thing, don’t be afraid to be great, and show ‘em all what else you got!
I thank you and wish you all Godspeed.