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Transportation Insight chairman tells Appalachian State University students to lead with innovation, humility

By: University Communications

BOONE—Paul Thompson, founder and chairman of Transportation Insight and a supporter of business programs at Appalachian State University, delivered the 58th Harlan E. Boyles Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 28 in Appalachian’s Holmes Convocation Center.

View larger imagePaul Thompson, founder of Transportation Insight, delivered the 58th Harlan E. Boyles Distinguished Lecture to an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members at Appalachian State University on Oct. 28. Photos by Marie FreemanView larger imageView larger image

As a businessman, Thompson has compiled more than 25 years of executive experience in supply chain, logistics and transportation leadership, having worked in such areas as business strategy, operations, optimization modeling, supply chain consulting and yield management. He is now a recognized innovator in long-term value creation, having spent 15 years developing pricing models for some of the largest motor carriers in the United States. The recipient of several honors, he was recently named the inaugural Grant Thornton North Carolina 100 Cultural Leader of the Year. He received the 2015 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Southeast Region.

Through a gift to the Walker College of Business to support building the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship on the second floor of Peacock Hall in 2011, Thompson has been instrumental in fostering entrepreneurship at Appalachian. The center is named for Hickory-based Transportation Insight, one of several transportation and logistics companies that Thompson has founded or co-founded in North America. He serves as a board member for the center as well as for Appalachian’s supply chain management program.

A self-described “student of business and a student of people,” Thompson said he hoped to share “one or two or three gold nuggets” with his audience, and challenged them to consider leadership within the framework of, “it’s all about we.”

During his talk, Thompson shared seven attributes he sees as critical to great leadership: competence, confidence, passion, character, innovation, collaboration and humility. About each attribute, he shared some “gold nuggets.”

On competence:
“There are times when you will be a leader in areas where you don’t have competence, so what do you do? You hire the competence.”
On confidence:
“You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t have belief in yourself, you can’t project yourself. If you can’t effectively articulate with confidence your subject matter expertise, you can’t expect people to follow you. That’s why you often see people who are great leaders are also great communicators.”
On passion:
“You have to be able to inspire others. Don’t ask somebody to get behind you, if you don’t absolutely believe you will accomplish [your goal].”
On character:
“[Character means having] integrity and trustworthiness. The reality is if you want people to follow you, they are going to have to trust you. You have to have transparency. If your associates don’t know what the good things and the bad things are, they are not going to trust you. People have to be able to trust you to follow you.“Companies that are genuinely built to last… without exception… have high trustworthiness.”
On innovation:
“Be creative, be innovative. Have a vision. The ability to be able to see the ‘next thing’ is important. Work hard, but innovate. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the company, the VP or a manager, or you just got hired yesterday. Look how the work is done… and figure out how to make it more efficient, more effective. Innovation is how each of us is successful.”
On collaboration:
“You can’t be a great leader and be all about yourself. You have to be about the team. You have to be a good listener, and you have to be willing to compromise. Collaboration comes when a group of people comes to a consensus. There are a whole lot of leaders who are, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ but that is not scalable.”
On humility:
“This is the X Factor, the differentiator, the one above all others. It is the most important for a great leader. It is the difference between a good leader and a great leader. It means being a servant-leader – someone who puts their people and customers before themselves – and doing good work. Then money will be the byproduct. Transportation Insight is very profitable, but profit is not the goal – the goal is to make our customers better every day, and for our associates to want to come to work and have fun every day.”

Also in his speech, Thompson talked about the value of people in the workplace and about success:
“In accounting line items, machines are assets and people are expenses – explain that to me! Machines are expenses and people are assets! That’s the way a P&L should look. You take care of people.”

“[People] follow you for what’s in it for them. Help them accomplish their goals or you will not be successful.”

“All of us are looking at this thing called success. The highest level of life is not success – and I hope you all achieve more success than this world can provide – the highest level of being is significance. Significance is not what you do for yourself – significance is what you do for others.”

Dean Heather Hulbert-Norris concluded the event, saying, “I think we got at least eight or nine or 10 gold nuggets from your remarks today. You so much exemplify the values of the Walker College of Business.”

About the Boyles Distinguished Lecture Series

The Boyles Distinguished Lecture Series, which is presented each semester at Appalachian, is named for the late Harlan E. Boyles, an ardent supporter of Appalachian who served for 24 years as state treasurer of North Carolina. The series began in the spring of 1988 and has attracted numerous top business leaders to campus. In October 1991, the series was dedicated to Treasurer Harlan E. Boyles in honor of his service to the State of North Carolina. An endowment fund was established at that time, with the assistance of former U.S. Senator James T. Broyhill, to permanently endow the series in Boyles’ name.

About the Walker College of Business

The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs, and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 2,800 undergraduates in nine majors and nearly 150 graduate students, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.