MPA PPA Commencement Comments Values Based Leadership Lynn Utter by GarrettPendergast


									             MPA/PPA Commencement Comments
                 “Values Based Leadership”
                         Lynn Utter
                       May 21, 2004

      This is such an exciting evening! My heartfelt Congratulations

go out to you, McCombs’ Graduating MPA and PPA students of 2004!

The strong reputation of the McCombs School draws heavily from its

legacy as not only one of the best business schools in the nation, but

as THE best accounting program in our great country. I expect that

this class of graduates may well set the standard by which other

leaders in the field of accounting will be judged for years to come.


      Certainly there are a number of others present here this

evening who also deserve a hearty “Congratulations.” I refer to the

illustrious faculty, administrators and staff who maintain – no –

DRIVE excellence in these great programs year after year. You

deserve to take pride in these excellent graduates, and I hope you do


      I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the friends and

family who join in the celebration here tonight. For many parents

this is a bittersweet event. Many of you were certain this day would
come . . . others perhaps less so. But you have been there,

supporting these students on their quest for not just any education,

but the best possible education in their chosen field. It is no easy

feat to raise a child in this day and age, much less to see one

graduate from such distinguished programs as the McCombs’ MPA

and PPA curriculums. My children are still in elementary school and I

must admit that I dream of one day cheering as their diplomas are

conferred upon them. I know that it will take a lot of work to get my

kids to where yours have already come. Congratulations, to all of


       When the McCombs administration asked me to deliver this

evening’s Commencement Address, I must admit that I was both

honored and stumped. The Congratulations part is easy to deliver

because it is so heartfelt. But moving into the arena of “sage advice

giving” was another matter altogether. So, frankly, I abandoned the

role of “sage advice giver” and decided to stick with the notion of

speaking from my heart. I’m going to address a topic that I have

been working on since I crossed this very stage 20 years ago. The

topic is values-based leadership, and I guarantee that it is a topic

that I have not yet mastered—not by a long shot. But there is no

skill set more important in Corporate America – or in all of America,

for that matter—than strong leadership. And I truly believe that

value-based leadership is what differentiates great companies and

great organizations from the otherwise good ones.


      The first attribute of great leadership is Vision. The ability to

see beyond the here and now and envision the possibility of what

could be. At the risk of sounding self-indulgent I want to share a

story. A few years ago I was given responsibility for a glass

manufacturing plant. The best way to imagine what that facility was

like is to imagine something out of a Charles Dickens novel: a hot,

grimy workplace staffed with dissatisfied employees who felt

forgotten. Productivity was lagging, quality was abysmal, and even

the plant’s safety record was poor. You get the picture. Not likely

the kind of work environment that would be proudly touted in glossy

recruiting materials in the Ford Career Center. In fact I can pinpoint

the day, a few months into that assignment, when I realized I wasn’t

proud of either the facility or its output. I realized that I didn’t want

to be associated with that type of operation, and that it was up to me

to make things better. So I started envisioning and talking about

the kind of place that I did want to work, and I even began using

terms like “world class manufacturing facility.” At first no one

listened. But I stuck with it. And I’m here to tell you that four years

later that plant is leading the industry on virtually all metrics. New

capital was justified and installed, and if you were to walk the floor of

that facility today people would look you in the eye and smile.

      I share that story not because I deserve the credit for the

turnaround, but because I believe the pivotal point came when we

began to imagine the possibilities of what could be — when we

began sharing a Vision. Listen, I’ve got a lot of business school

friends who wouldn’t find managing a small glass plant in

Wheatridge, CO very exciting. But I know that the turnaround in that

facility will go down as one of the most satisfying experiences of my

professional career.

      By the way, the importance of having and sharing a Vision isn’t

only a professional concept; it has also been important in my

personal life. Now, I don’t expect you to have a well-articulated

vision of what success looks like at this stage in your life. But I

challenge each of you to start developing your personal vision of

what success looks like. Why? Because every one of you – let me

repeat that – every one of you has the potential to be successful.

Frankly, relative to the standards that are often used to measure

success, you’ve already achieved goals that are beyond the wildest

dreams of most of the world’s populations.

      But now comes the hard part. And if you think the last few

years were a challenge, buckle your seat belts. Because the reality is

that every one of you is talented, and most of you are ambitious.

Unlike most of the rest of the world, you will have opportunities. And

with those opportunities will come the need to make choices. I

speak here of those elusive work-balance issues. Choices about

whether or not you should accept that promotion that you’ve worked

so hard for, even though it involves relocation issues that impede

your spouse’s career; choices about whether to return to work after

maternity leave; or even choices about whether to ask your wife to

give up her job and stay home with the kids or whether you should

be the one to forego your next career move, even though fewer than

2% of college educated men are making that same choice.

      I’ve worked through major capital investment decisions,

workforce reorganizations and downsizings, mergers and

acquisitions. And yet the really tough calls came when I faced work-

life balance decisions. Take it from me: the toughest decisions I’ve

had to make in the last 20 years were on topics that I didn’t study in

business school. Again, these decisions aren’t talked about a lot

because relatively few people in our society are lucky enough to have

to make these decisions. But lucky you—you’re part of the few that

are likely to face these dilemmas.

      So what counsel can I offer to each of you –men and women

alike – as you face these forks in the road?   Start with your own

definition of success. Set a vision; your vision. And stay true to it.

The hard part is to be honest with yourself about what matters to

you – not necessarily about what someone else or society in general

declares successful.


       Not only do great leaders establish Vision for themselves and

their organizations, but the really outstanding leaders have also

developed the talent to Pace themselves and their teams

appropriately. Indulge me in another story. A few years ago I was

promoted into a role that afforded me the opportunity to work with a

great, new boss. I remember vividly preparing for our first one-on-

one, carefully laying out plans for my team, preparing stretch goals

against which I was eager to be evaluated, etc. So I get into his

office, and a few minutes into my “schpeel” he stops me dead in my

tracks with one very clear question that lives with me to this day,

“What Legacy, Lynn, are you trying to leave?” There I sat, totally

absorbed in short term issues, without having given any substantive

thought to the longer term.

       The good news is that through the school of hard knocks I’ve

learned to tackle the forks in the road that is my life’s journey one

juncture at a time. I guarantee you that if you’d have told either me

or my Harvard MBA husband that he’d be a stay at home dad at this

point in his career path, neither of us would have made that trip

down the aisle. But I’m glad we did (and I think he’d say the same).

We’ve learned to take each decision one day at a time, but without

losing focus on what we, together, deem to be important to our

Vision of success.

      In the business context, it is extremely tempting to focus only

on short term results; I expect you’ve read the case studies on

companies that sacrificed the long term health of their companies by

feeding the quarterly earnings monster. But who can blame them

when consistent failure to deliver short-term results can be equally

deadly. The art is in appropriately balancing short term and long-

term performance expectations. Some races are sprints; others are

marathons. Great leaders know in which race they’re competing.


      OK, so now we’ve got a Vision, and a healthy sense of the

appropriate Pace needed to attain our goals. Now what? Well, my

next observation of effective leaders is that they Take Action. Talk

about stating the obvious. But bear with me for a moment, because

I think this is particularly relevant for those of us who are analytical

at heart. Having the right answer is not enough. Having the right

answer and being able to Take Action is a different matter. So how,

exactly, do leaders consistently make and act upon good decisions?

           You start with what Jim Collins described in his best

selling book “Good to Great” as the Brutal Facts. The Brutal Facts

are essential. There is no way that any executive in this country can

consistently make not just good but great decisions without looking

the Brutal Facts squarely in the eye.

     As Dean Gau noted in his kind introduction, I’ve had essentially

four careers in the last 20 years. I’ve been a strategy consultant, a

sales manager, a manufacturing executive, and I’ve now come full

circle: I’m back to corporate strategy. Now, you may have noticed

a glaring omission: I’ve not actually practiced accounting. But I’ve

certainly relied on the accountants in every organization I have been

a part of to not only keep me on the straight and narrow, but to arm

me with the insights that enable me to make sound decisions.

     Yet facing the Brutal Facts is often easier said than done.

Addressing the Brutal Facts requires accuracy of information,

translation of that information into insight, maturity, and teamwork.

      Now, let’s be honest, where in an organization do the critical

Brutal Facts often reside? In the accounting organization. And when

I look at failures in corporate America, I often see that one of the

above elements broke down: either someone didn’t have the right

brutal facts available to them, someone didn’t have the maturity to

request, hear, or deliver the brutal facts, or silos were built between

those who had the facts and those who were making decisions. You

all will find yourselves armed with information that organizations

need to make great decisions. Your challenge goes beyond just

compiling accurate information; your challenge includes being heard.


      Analytic roles (like accounting) are, in my estimation, 50%

Analytic Rigor and 50% Herding Cats. As I said earlier, coming up

with the right answer is only the beginning. Thinking through how

one can be heard is equally as important, and often times more

difficult. I’m not suggesting that tough messages be watered down .

. . remember I genuinely believe in the importance of the Brutal

Facts, be they uplifting or challenging. But writing up a memo and

dropping it on someone’s desk is seldom sufficient. The ability to

work one’s analysis into a meaningful communication is a talent that

should be – and will be – highly valued.

     Given that you’ve all had your final –and I do mean final --

exams, I won’t push my luck by asking you to repeat the four traits

that I’ve named thus far as essential for great leaders. (But I know

you could!) To repeat, I’ve touched on Vision, Pace, Decisive Action,

and Communication.     The final point I want to touch on is, in my

experience, the most important: Truly great leaders are guided by

and act in accordance with a strong set of values.


           Whether you’re navigating professional or personal

decisions at the end of the day your values will mean more than your

knowledge of GAAP accounting principles. Said another way, I’ve

been blessed with the opportunity to work for some truly great

bosses, many of whom are the smartest and most intelligent people

I’ve ever met. But they don’t stand out in my mind because of their

IQs; they stand out because they led with their Values front and


      Earlier this year The University of Texas affirmed a set of core

values when the current honor code was endorsed. I strongly

support those values, particularly for an institution of higher learning

such as UT.

      I encourage you to think about and define what values you

aspire to hold true on your life’s journey. In my life integrity,

courage, compassion and generosity provide the points on the

compass that I rely upon to keep me on the right path.

         • Integrity is the cornerstone from which all your business

            decisions can and must be made. Particularly in your

            chosen field of accounting, integrity must prevail.

         • And while I wish it weren’t so, true leaders must often

            call upon courage in order to do the right thing. There is

            no doubt but that there are issues I often encounter

            wherein it just seems easier to walk away. And, frankly, I

            often see executives work really hard to side step the

            tough calls. But leaders muster the courage to do the

            right thing.

  • That said, integrity and courage could be misguided

     without compassion. I’ve learned to face the brutal facts

     and make tough calls when necessary. But the day I do

     so without compassion is the day I fail at being a true


  • Last but not least is the value of generosity. I endeavor

     to be ever mindful of the blessings that have been

     bestowed upon me. I’ve been blessed with an education

     that I think is second to none. I’ve got great friends, a

     healthy family, exciting career opportunities, and the list

     goes on. It isn’t my intention to brag. Instead, I am

     acknowledging fact that I live a charmed life in the eyes

     of many and I have no reason whatsoever to complain.

     These blessings are the reasons that giving back to the

     communities in which I have been educated, lived, and

     worked is important.

  I’ve consciously chosen to close my comments on the

importance of values in general, and on generosity in particular.

For several years now you have sung “The Eyes of Texas are

Upon You.” As you depart this great campus, I implore you to

keep Your Eyes on Texas. Never forget the value of education;

of the opportunities – and yes, difficult decisions – that lie

ahead of you. Never forget that UT and the McCombs School

have helped prepare you for those forks in the road. I know

you will come to appreciate, if you don’t already, that this great

institution has taught you a great deal, both in the classroom

and in the rich interactions you’ve had with friends, faculty and

administrators. Find ways to keep engaging with this great

institution. Keep Your Eyes on Texas. I guarantee your

generosity will be rewarded.

   Hook ‘em!

   “The core values of The University of Texas at Austin are learning, discovery,

freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. Each member of

the university is expected to uphold these values through integrity, honesty, trust,

fairness, and respect toward peers and community.”


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