Allison Tells Grads to Follow Personal Compass

Herb Allison (MBA '71) offered advice to the graduating Class of 2011 at Stanford GSB's June 11 commencement ceremony.

June 11, 2011

“Live by your own personal compass and speak honestly and openly. If you do that, you’ll be fine.” That was the simple advice offered by Herb Allison at this year’s Graduate School of Business commencement ceremony on June 11.

Allison, who received his MBA from Stanford in 1971 and most recently headed the nation’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2009, said that his compass was to take the most challenging course, which found him accepting a job offer after graduation at a brokerage firm that then didn’t have the market share and cachet of its bigger competitors.

“My 28-year odyssey with Merrill Lynch almost ended before it got started,” Allison told the 469 degree candidates and the thousands of friends and family members on hand to support them. “I wrote a memo to the head of investment banking blasting the division’s structure and proposing sweeping changes.”

That memo got Allison transferred to Paris, a move he saw as a challenge instead of a punishment. Within a few years he was helping create a stock exchange for a pre-revolutionary Iran. His return to the firm’s stateside offices eventually culminated in his becoming president, COO, and board director.

Allison stressed that what matters most is not particular career goals, such as building the next great tech company or leading a not-for-profit, but the code of conduct that will act as a personal compass.

The sentiment of speaking openly and living by one’s moral compass was referenced in the opening remarks of Dean Garth Saloner, who said, “Where you see inequities, step in and do something about them.”

The afternoon ceremony honored 385 students who received MBA degrees, 18 PhDs, 59 who earned the Sloan Master of Science degree, and 6 Master of Arts in Business Research degrees. Of the students receiving MBA degrees, 13 also earned degrees in education, 8 earned degrees in law, 2 earned Humanities and Sciences degrees in public policy, and 14 were awarded earth sciences degrees from the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources.

Jesper Sørensen, the Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Professor of Organizational Behavior, acknowledged the efforts of 99 MBA and 28 Sloan graduates who received a certificate in Public Management. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Public Management Program focuses on nonprofit management and socially responsible business. This year marks the second-highest number of students receiving the certificate.

His fellow students chose Mahmoud Youssef as this year’s Ernest C. Arbuckle Award winner. The award recognizes contributions to the school and society through active participation, initiative, leadership, and personal integrity. In presenting the honor, Susan Arbuckle, youngest daughter of the business school’s third dean, said, “Youssef was best known for being approachable, down to earth, and for having a magnetic personality.”

Graduating at the top of his class with the Henry Ford II Scholar Award was Arvind Iyengar. The award recognizes academic achievement and includes a substantial cash award. Adam Ward received the Alexander A. Robichek Student Achievement Award in Finance, an honor bestowed to an MBA student by finance faculty for recognition of academic achievement in the field.

The ceremony, held in Frost Amphitheater on a breezy afternoon, concluded with Dean Saloner saluting the recent graduates for a final time.

By Arthur Patterson

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