CEO sees opportunities even in slow job market

Tim Orland

The struggling economy and dire job market were the centerpiece of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management convocation, held Saturday in a sweltering Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“You guys picked one hell of a time to graduate from business school,” said Sumner Redstone, chairman and CEO of Viacom. “The job market you face is not just bleak; it’s a cold shower.”

Redstone has been the CEO of Viacom since 1996. Viacom is one of the world’s largest media firms and owns a host of subsidiary companies including CBS Television, Paramount Pictures and Simon & Schuster.

In his first convocation address as Kellogg’s dean, Dipak Jain told the more than 900 graduates that the challenges they face are substantially different from those of previous years.

“The events of Sept. 11 cast a shadow on America that has affected our lives,” he said. “My first year was something less than a honeymoon.”

Nevertheless, Redstone said the current economy might be a blessing in disguise. Instead of focusing only on making quick money in startups, graduates can seek to make a longer-lasting contribution to their employer, he said.

“It’s not about money,” he said. “It’s about winning. I never cared about money – I believe in absolute and unrelenting commitment to a goal.”

Redstone also said graduates must seek their own success.

“Opportunity never knocks,” he said. “Opportunity plays hard to get. An MBA does not confirm superpowers: You have to do the pursuing – a career is not going to chase you down.”

In their pursuit of success, Redstone encouraged the graduates to follow their instincts.

“Your greatest success lies in following what you know,” he said.

But Prof. Karl Schmedders, who received the L.G. Lavengood Professor of the Year Award, offered an alternate perspective, focusing more on method than instinct.

“Rigorous thinking and technique are crucial to good decision making,” he said.

Jain and Schmedders agreed that graduates have a difficult task ahead: living up to the reputation of Kellogg graduates.

“All this expertise comes with a high price,” Schmedders said. “People have high expectations of you. The label can be intimidating.”

Jain said efforts are being made to increase alumni networking to better serve the new graduates.

“Kellogg will always be here as a resource to replenish your mind and soul,” he said.

Students seemed to appreciate the speakers’ directness. A student committee selected the convocation speakers.

“They were insightful and poignant,” said graduate Corey Billups. “The thing that made the most sense is that opportunity never knocks. I’ve found that to be absolutely the case.”