Keynote Address: Orlando Bravo

Read Orlando Bravo’s keynote address to the returning MBA and MSx Class of 2020 at their graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 11, 2022.

Class of 2020… let’s goooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so fired up for all of you! — you are the absolute best of your generation and you are now fellow members of our close GSB alumni family.

It is very meaningful for me to be here with you today because Stanford has had such a profound impact on my life. The GSB was the place that gave me the confidence to think big, while at the same time, encouraging me to celebrate my past. So here I am, a person who grew up in Mayaguez, PR, humbled to get the chance to address you. I want to thank Dean Levin for giving me this opportunity.

I want to share with you a story that, for me, summarizes the culture here at the GSB. 25 years ago I was accepted to Stanford. At the same time I was accepted to, let’s call it, an East Coast school. Before making my decision, I happen to get a job offer at a place I really wanted to go to for a few years. So, I called the East Coast school and asked them if they would consider me taking that job for 2 years and then coming to the business school. The answer was clear — “Absolutely not. Your acceptance expires on this date and you will have to reapply.” Their response was logical, but also cold. I then called Stanford with the same request. The head of admissions picked up the phone and, as I made my case, she stopped me and said — “Orlando, you can come to Stanford whenever you want. We will hold a place here for you — just let us know when you are ready.” I will forever be grateful for that phone call. Stanford welcomed me with open arms and, even before I set foot on campus, Stanford was encouraging me to do what I wanted to do.

On that phone call the head of admissions showed three attributes of the GSB culture — she was real, she was relaxed, and she was focused on me being ready. Today, I want to inspire you to carry these three elements of the GSB culture with you — be real, relaxed, and ready.

First, be real. When I was coming to the GSB I knew I was entering a place with the most impressive classmates and the best scholars. But little did I know how absolutely fun the GSB would be. I lived in a house with 7 classmates, we became best friends and we threw one party after the other. We would go to trips in Cabo and I believe we started a tradition of trying to get as many people to Vegas. I understand that you have all upped your game and now have a class wide Vegas trip. Proving, once again, my thesis that the next generation is always better than the prior. But you see there is something really important about the way the GSB combines the absolute best performing people and rigor with a casual and fun culture. It teaches you by example that you can be the highest performing individual and, at the same time, be real, be yourself. That is a big gift that the GSB gives us and a very important lesson in leadership and in life. Stay real and genuine as you go out and accomplish big goals. This will help you stay grounded as the great person that you are and will certainly make you a better leader.

Second, try your best to relax — your journey will ultimately be a great one. Remember you are the absolute best. Try to not worry too much. When I graduated from the GSB in 1998, I was so enthusiastic to be able to get into Private Equity. I had it all planned out to perfection. I worked non-stop and three years later, I had nothing to show for it but four deals that were all bad. I was on the verge of getting fired. At around the same time, my first daughter was born. I remember being in the hospital and knowing that I forgot to buy diapers. So I rush over to the Marina Safeway to buy diapers (and btw the Marina Safeway is great place to meet people — don’t go there to buy diapers). As I am there in this diaper aisle, I start thinking — what just happened? From the GSB days of dreaming about success and going to Vegas with my classmates to now — about to get fired, completely unprepared to have a child, and trying to figure out what size diapers to get a newborn (so awkward). And right then and there, I said to myself “just let it go.” I started laughing, I completely gave in to the moment and, for the first time in a while, I felt relaxed. It took chaos for me to relax and with that, came clarity. When I went back to work, my mentor (Carl Thoma), who is btw GSB grad and one of the greatest of all time, sat down with me and gave me a second chance. I was relaxed and calm and was able to see things more clearly. It was only then that I was able to do business in my own style and that produced better decisions. Embrace all that comes your way as calmly as you can, stay relaxed and that way you will have more clarity and perspective.

And finally, be ready. Be ready for when the world calls on you. Being the best will afford you a great journey but, by being the best of your generation, you have a big responsibility. You don’t have the choice to opt out. In 2017, our PE business is going well, I am having fun. Then Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico. I had just gotten back that day from a fundraising trip in Asia. I had no communication with family or old friends. Then a small town next to my hometown of Mayaguez sent out a report that they had just 24 hours supply of food and water. I knew that I had just been called upon. If I didn’t do anything about this, who would? I did not know anything about relief efforts, supply chains (I do software), and had no contact with organizations in Puerto Rico. But Stanford had taught me to take good risks, to not let the fear of failure get in the way. So I started a relief effort GSB style — entrepreneurial, practical, immediate, action-oriented. I went all in. We left from SF to that town within 10 hours of hearing about it with all the supplies that could fit in that plane. When we landed, the person who opened the door of the plane didn’t say anything but looked at me with these eyes of fear as if to say “please help.” At that point, I knew that I had done the right thing. Now I think that perhaps the GSB trained me not just to be a PE professional, but it trained me for big moments like this one.

The GSB has given you a foundation on how to solve really big problems. All of you will be called upon to do something very important. Something that it is yours to do as it is very personal. You don’t have to look for it, it will come to you. For some, it will come soon; for others a bit later. Just be READY. You will know exactly when that moment comes and you will know what to do. And when that moment comes, you have to go all in. Give it all you have.

I am so proud of all of you. As the best of your generation, you will accomplish things that far exceed those of your mentors. So remember… be real, be relaxed, and be ready. And, Class of 2020, let’s gooooo!!!!!!