Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dick DeVos Talks to Northwood (and All) Graduates

Commencement Speech to Northwood University Graduates
Dr. Dick DeVos

Founder, President, The Windquest Group

Thank you, President Pretty and congratulations to the Board of Trustees on presenting
such an extraordinary group of young people. And, congratulations as well to the parents
and family who've supported these young people in their pursuit of their education here at Northwood.

I'm proud to be with you as a graduate, as an alum, and now to have joined your class.
Thank you for allowing me that privilege.

I also want to commend the mission of Northwood to encourage free and ethical commerce
in the world. Isn't it interesting that when we break down one side or the other of that
equation, either the free or the ethical, we start to see difficulties? And, we're certainly
seeing those in our country today. But, Northwood has the answer. What Northwood is
teaching here, the ideas of free and ethical commerce, is the way forward for our nation.

It's my job today to be part of a long tradition … the tradition of the commencement
speaker. You just have to have one it seems, to feel good about graduating, you just
hope you don't have to have it for too long. Now, my job as speaker is to try to distill
a lifetime of experience, into thoughtful, meaningful, insightful, hopefully entertaining
remarks that are in keeping with the tradition of this school and to do it in ten minutes,
or preferably substantially less.

So, I will try to distill it down as quickly as I can for you.
I have just a quick word of advice: "Don't forget to buckle your seatbelt."

Do you realize that 49% of the fatalities, of people who are killed in automobile accidents,
actually did not have their seatbelts buckled? Are you aware of that important fact?

But maybe more importantly, I suggest, is to not forget to buckle your seatbelt because
for some of us, that will tell us an awful lot about who you are and what you are.
Whether you make that choice, or not, says something about you.

First, it's going to tell me a lot about how you respect yourself. And, how can I respect
you if you don't respect yourself enough to even do the simplest thing, like buckling your seatbelt?

You know, there are a lot of people in this world who respect themselves too much,
that take themselves very seriously. You know how serious they can be, right?

Name a few. Pick my personal favorite, Donald Trump, who takes himself very seriously.

Now I will contradict myself just a little…don't take yourself too seriously, but take yourself seriously enough. Because you have an extraordinary faculty here that have invested in you; you have parents and family around you and friends around you that have supported you.
Have paid dearly for the education that you've received here. So respect yourself enough,
just not too much. And buckle your seatbelt so that you show me that you respect yourself
and you respect the others who stood with you and made this day possible.

Second, if you don't respect yourself, how are you going to be able to respect others?

How can you possibly realize the strengths and the gifts and the talents of others, if you
don't have respect for your own strengths and gifts and talents?

I have a management theory, for those of you that are studying management. I call it the "Theory of Sufficient Incompetence."

As a manager, one of our challenges is to become sufficiently incompetent in what we used
to do, in our prior specialized career, so that we will truly turn it over and delegate it to
others. Allowing them to do the job that they are trained and prepared to do. Maybe you've worked with managers who don't trust enough, don't respect others enough to turn the work over, and genuinely allow someone else to get the job done. They're too busy worrying about themselves. Maybe they need to learn how to respect themselves, get comfortable with themselves, so they can respect others and delegate what needs to be delegated.

So, don't forget to buckle your seatbelt, because it's an indication that you not only respect yourself, but that you respect others.

And a third thing that I would point out to you… if you make the decision not to buckle your seatbelt, it's going to tell me that I should question your ability to evaluate risk. If you're
careless with small choices and small risks, than what choices are you going to make when
the stakes are larger?

Life is full of risk. I think we all know that. Life itself is a risk.

•You have a 1 in 850,000 probability of drowning in your bathtub
•1 in 3.6 million probability of dying from a bee sting
•1 in 6 million possibility of being killed by lightning

Life is full of risks. Evaluating them and understanding them is the key. Now, some of you
look at me and say "Who's this old guy speaking who hasn't taken any risks in his life, what
does he know about risk?"

Well, surprisingly to some of you, I'm very willing to take risks. I've taken them all my life
as a business person and in my personal life!

•I'm licensed and regularly fly a jet airplane at 500 MPH and 45,000 feet in the air
•I'm licensed and flew up here today in a helicopter at 150 MPH and only 500 feet up
•I've sailed countless thousands of miles in the open ocean, racing sailboats around the world
•How many of you have jumped off a bridge on the south island of New Zealand, bungee jumping?
•Or, the best indication I have of my high risk tolerance, is the fact that I ran for Governor of Michigan … as a Republican!

That shows you I'm fully prepared to take risks!

But do you evaluate the risks you take? When you buckle your seatbelt, you're telling me something about how you evaluate risks. Take them. Enjoy them. I do, every day. But, enjoy them wisely.

Why is that important? Well, there are two reasons.

The first reason is, because this broken world needs you. It needs you to take care of yourself.
It needs you to make sure that you get to work every day, to make this broken world a better place.

Now, we act as though today is the first day that the world's been broken. But let's be honest, the world's been broken for many tens of thousands of years. It just happens to be a little more broke today. But our challenge and responsibility as leaders is to go out and try to make the world a little less broken.

And those of us who've been in the fight for some time, we need you in the game, Graduates.
We need you there to encourage us with your

•Fresh perspectives
We need you in the game.

Buckle your seatbelt, so you take care of yourself. So, you show up at work every day, and
make a difference every day.

Every day isn't going to be a big difference, but life is a series of small steps that will take us
all closer to our destination.

And the final reason I want to encourage you to buckle your seatbelt, is because there are exciting, exciting times ahead.

•You are prepared
•You are motivated
•And you are supported by all of those who are here, standing with you.
That's not to suggest there isn't going to be turbulence. I've never flown a flight where there hasn't been turbulence.

There's some turbulence right now in the economy and finding a job. You know that.

There's some turbulence right now because the career that many of you have chosen, in business and business leadership, is not held in the same high regard it may have been
awhile back.

And there's some turbulence out there as the government, and just about everybody,
wants to tell you how to run your businesses today. There's turbulence, and there will
be turbulence in your life.

But keep your seatbelt buckled, because you'll be able to fly safely through the turbulence. Because there are exciting and wonderful times ahead.

Let me reflect with you, if I might, some statistics of what life was like 100 years ago, and how much has changed in the world that we live in.

100 Years Ago:

•47 years was the life expectancy, a sobering thought for me as I stand here at age 53
•14% of homes had bathtubs
•8% homes had telephones
•8000 cars were on the road with 144 miles of paved roadway
•The tallest building in the world was the Eiffel Tower
•The population of Las Vegas was 30
•6% of the United States had a high school diploma

Has the world changed in a hundred years? Oh, yes it has. Just since I have stepped to this podium,

•Fully one-third of those dressed in caps and gowns have texted each other about the party after the graduation ceremony is over;
•The other third have been Tweeting about boring commencement speakers and letting everyone follow their thoughts;
•And the final third have updated their Facebook pages to reflect that they are now graduates, not students.

More excitement is in store for you, and extraordinary possibilities lie before you.

So, don't forget, buckle your seatbelt. You're going to need it.

And maybe, just maybe, every time you get in your car, or you get in a plane and you
buckle the seatbelt around you, you'll be reminded that it sends a very powerful message
about who you are and what you are. And, you'll be reminded of your very, very special
day here in Midland.

Congratulations, Graduates!
Editors note:
I was honored to receive the Distinguished Business Person's Award in 2007 from Northwood University and Kristine Westman our first researcher on this e-book is a graduate of Northwood University. She did an internship, then followed up last year with a summerlong project for the New New World of Work.


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Nathan L. said...

I'll never look at a seatbelt the same again. I didn't know that it can teach us some many wonderful things about ourselves.


Nathan Lemon
G2G Intern