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CEOs address leadership skills and today’s business climate during panel discussion

BOONE—To be a good leader requires good communication and listening skills, a continued quest for knowledge and the ability to surround yourself with people who have different skill sets.

CEOs who have exemplified those traits shared that and other knowledge about leadership success during the Harlan E. Boyles Distinguished CEO Lecture Series sponsored by Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business.

View larger imageWilliam R. Holland, far right, addresses the audience during the Harlan E. Boyles Distinguished CEO Lecture Series at Appalachian State University. The fall presentation featured four past speakers in the series. (Appalachian photo by Marie Freeman)

The fall lecture held Oct. 5 marked the 25th anniversary of the series. It featured four past speakers: William R. Holland, former CEO of United Dominion Industries; Robert A. Ingram, former CEO of Glaxo Welcome; James H. Morgan Jr., CEO of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts; and Robert L. Tillman, former CEO of Lowe’s Companies.

“The world has changed. It has become a lot more challenging in many respects,” said Ingram. referring to his Boyles lecture in 2004. “But I think for young people who can think critically, who can communicate and listen, and who can work in teams – those general areas have even more relevance today.”

For Ingram, critical thinking means being candid, critical and honest about the challenges and about solutions needed to solve challenges. “Communicating means listening to the people you serve whether it’s the customers, shareholders or your fellow workers.”

In response to a student question, Ingram said changing demographics was the No. 1 problem facing the state and nation. “We are an aging society and will become more so and as that happens we will have more people who will require healthcare and who require support services, and how do we deal with that not only from a fiscal standpoint but from a capability standpoint,” he said. “Therein is both challenge and huge opportunities.”

When James Morgan spoke to students in 2009, many thought Krispy Kreme was on its deathbed, and Morgan admitted the company’s finances were in worse shape than even he thought. But just days before his most recent remarks at the lecture series, the company announced its plans to expand its international reach to Singapore, adding to its southeast Asian locations in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.

“I believe with all my heart that the extraordinary blessings we have had these last couple of years have been much more the result of that commitment to others in changing lives than it has any business plan or any specific ideas that came out” of the company, Morgan said.

“Krispy Kreme is associated with family memories. I really believe in our goal and our role is much greater than corporate success. We make that our priority to touch and enhance the lives of all that we come in contact with.”

Robert Tillman said one of the toughest decisions he had to make while CEO of Lowe’s was to move the corporate office out of North Wilkesboro to Mooresville, “because it affected so many lives,” he said.

“But that decision was easy for me to make only because it was in the best interest of all the employees, all the shareholders, and all those people who were part of the Lowe’s family. The thing about being a CEO is you have to make tough decisions and if you’re not willing to make those tough decisions, you shouldn’t be in that job.”

Good leaders consult with their leadership team before making decisions, he said. “No CEO runs a business by themselves. The strength of any great CEO is the team they build within the organization. The strength of the team is the strength of the company and thus the CEO.”

When William Holland was the Boyles CEO lecturer in 1992, he highlighted six areas in which the U.S. must excel to remain competitive in the global marketplace: savings and investment, education and training, technology, corporate governance and financial markets, health care costs and trade policy.

Holland has the same optimism and hope for the U.S. that he did 20 years ago, but believes that the U.S. continues to stumble in key areas and much work remains to be done. “We have made major progress in areas such as technology and corporate governance,” he said, “but we have a lot of work to do to get this country to the point that we want it to be with jobs for everybody, with prosperity, people having the opportunity to be educated and join the workforce, flourish and live an abundant life.”

Holland said the banking industry should “unleash capital” to support business growth that will come from entrepreneurial creativity and that government should refrain from “overregulating these businesses.”

Holland added that today’s graduates will face a lifetime of continuing education to remain relevant and up-to-date in the workforce. “Education never stops,” he said.

No matter how successful students become as they follow their career path, they should never lose sight of the importance of family, friends and community, the CEOs agreed.

“As you pursue your passion, remember it’s not really important to build a resume,” Morgan told students in the audience. “It’s much more important to build a life. If you are building a life as you go along, your resume will be exactly as it should be. You cannot let the pursuit of that career get in the way of your commitment to your faith or your family.”

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