Remarks from the Dean: Jonathan Levin

Jonathan Levin. Credit: Saul Bromberger
Jonathan Levin, Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of Stanford GSB, addresses the graduating class. | Saul Bromberger

Graduates, honored guests, faculty, staff, families and friends, welcome to the 2019 Graduation Ceremony at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

I would like to begin by recognizing the people around us who have played a pivotal role in the experience of our graduates.

The faculty that sit behind me have led our students on a transformative journey. Could I ask the faculty to stand for a moment of thanks?

Around the pavilion are staff from the MBA, MSx, and PhD Programs, whose dedication and effort have helped make the journey meaningful. Could I ask our staff to stand and be recognized?

We also are joined by families and friends who have provided support, advice, a friendly ear, and most importantly, love. Let’s take a moment to recognize our families and friends.

Remarks to the Graduating Class

The Stanford Graduate School of Business opened in 1925. It was the brainchild of Herbert Hoover, a Stanford Trustee, who was soon to become President of the United States.

Hoover was concerned that talented young business people were leaving California for the East Coast. He proposed that Stanford start a business school on the West Coast, the American Frontier. It would have a regional focus, and blend teaching and research. He estimated that launching the new venture would have a total cost of fifty thousand dollars a year.

From those beginnings, a great deal has changed. If you look around this arena, you will see students from across the country and the world, who speak more than 70 languages. The world today is vastly more interconnected. Technology is vastly more advanced. Management continues to evolve. We have a broader notion of how a business school can educate leaders for all types of organizations and careers. You, our graduates, reflect those changes.

Yet elements of Hoover’s vision remain. Stanford still sits on the American Frontier, the frontier of innovation and discovery. In coming to Stanford, you have journeyed to that frontier. You have learned about what the future might hold, the way new technologies will re-shape our lives, the way business and society will need to adapt. You have learned also about the human aspects of organizations and leadership: how to work with others, how to build a culture, how to listen, communicate, inspire.

As leaders of the future, you will have to be attentive to both technology and people. You will need to think beyond yourselves, about the impact your organizations have on the world. Leadership is about the micro and the macro: the people around you, and the broader strategic choices, and consequences of your decisions. Maintaining this breadth of perspective will be both an opportunity and a responsibility for your generation.

I am confident you are well prepared. You have learned from extraordinary faculty. You have made friends from around the world, heard their stories, and created new ones. You have developed a range of talents: from entrepreneurship to impact investing to public speaking to musical theater.

This afternoon, you walk across the stage and graduate, but your GSB connections will continue, and you will remain an important part of the school. I would like to finish with a story about those connections, and how they persist in unexpected but meaningful ways.

Some time ago, I was visiting China, at a hotel in Beijing with a few GSB alumni, talking to a group of Chinese reporters. A fellow walks past and seeing “Stanford GSB” on the door, walks into the room. It turns out he’s from Mexico, he’s in China for his wedding anniversary, and he’s a GSB alum.

Naturally, the reporters immediately ask him about the GSB. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous. I haven’t met this fellow before; he’s just wandered into this hotel conference room; I’m wondering what he’s going to say about the school that will show up in the newspaper the next day for 1.3 billion potential readers.

So he tells a story about being a student at the GSB and having a beer with a classmate who has decided to move to Seattle to join a technology company. The story unfolds. It turns out the classmate is Steve Ballmer and the company is Microsoft. The story is about technology, and human connection.

This naturally led me into business, and here, to Stanford.

I arrived here when almost every businessperson was obsessed with shareholder value theory. This told us that the duty of business leaders was to make as much money as possible for their shareholders, without going to jail. It reduced business to a mere process, an object of rationality. And it contributed to the damaging impression that companies are driven by self-interest, and indifferent to the needs of those around them.

Stanford helped me understand why that theory was incomplete. Guided by an incomparable faculty, I saw that business could not be conducted in isolation from society, public policy and human feelings. Business turned out to be a wonderful weave of numbers and people.

The reporters are impressed.

Then our alum, who’s happened on this meeting thousands of miles from home, says: that’s not really the main point. I graduated from Stanford 35 years ago. I’ve worked in many organizations. What the GSB taught me was how to change all of them for the better.

I am impressed.

Class of 2019, wherever you go, may this place always be with you, and follow you in all your endeavors, and be a home for you when you return. I am excited to see what you accomplish in the world. I know you will make us proud.

Congratulations graduates!

Introduction of John Browne, Lord Browne of Madingley

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce Lord Browne.

John Browne grew up and was educated in Great Britain. He joined British Petroleum while still in university, and worked in exploration and production around the world. In 1981, he was a Sloan Fellow at the GSB, graduating with an MS in Business. John returned to BP, rising through the ranks and maintaining his close connection with the GSB through executive programs, and as a member of the GSB Advisory Council.

In 1995, John became Chief Executive of BP, and led the company through a golden decade of expansion and diversification. In one of the defining moments of his tenure, John returned to Stanford in 1997 and gave a landmark speech recognizing the importance of climate change, and the need to address it. He was the first CEO of a major oil company to do so, and he subsequently sought to rethink BP’s future “Beyond Petroleum.” John’s Stanford speech is credited with helping to shift global politics and set the stage for the passage of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998.

Since stepping down from BP, John has been a member of the UK House of Lords, a government advisor, the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the author of several business books. These include “Beyond Business”, “The Glass Closet” about coming out as LGBT and the importance of inclusive corporate cultures, and most recently “Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of Civilisation.”

John has a remarkable perspective on global business, on corporate culture and values, and on personal leadership. It has been my pleasure to get to know him and learn from him, and I am delighted to have him back at the GSB.

Please join me in welcoming Lord Browne.