Learning to work with people, testing your limits, and “just doing the right thing” were some of the lessons 2017 Graduate of the Year Bill Osborn ’65 said he learned while attending Culver Military Academy.
Before he received the Graduate of the Year honor Friday afternoon, Osborn met with members of The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur’s Eagle Outfitters team. The online entrepreneurial business helps individuals and campus organization design clothing and get it printed for their projects, events, or charitable causes. The business profits go to the Culver Annual Fund scholarship program and members of the management team earn Honors in Entrepreneurial Studies.
Osborn, who also grew up in the community, said the academic rigor at Culver is a given. But it is the character development lessons that come from testing yourself mentally and physically, following the honor code, being a part of something larger, and understanding “you gotta put the time in” to be successful that have been the most useful throughout his career and life. He also learned how to communicate effectively – which includes listening – and how to work with others.
Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean the person has a title, he explained, but it is easy to spot them. They are the ones that others seek out for counsel and are respected by everyone. They are the people who will lead the teams in today’s workplace.
And today’s workplace is evolving rapidly. Digital technology has “blown up” the number of opportunities available, he said. After serving eight years as the chairman of the board at Northwestern University, Osborn said he has seen the digital economy completely change the markets.
It used to be that students coming through the Kellogg School of Management would concentrate on consulting or investment banking. Now they are focused on entrepreneurship. As part of the college’s program, Northwestern has an incubator called “The Garage,” which students use to develop concepts and possibly launch new businesses. And one of the major tenets coming from the program is that entrepreneurs should “expect to fail,” he said.
Every Wednesday, The Garage hosts a session where entrepreneurs can come and unwrap their failures, feel free admitting they failed, and allow everyone – including themselves – to learn from their mistakes, he said. Then it is on to the next opportunity.
Osborn spent 40 years at Northern Trust in Chicago, eventually becoming the chairman and chief executive officer of the financial institution. He started in a consulting group within Northern that he believed was doing interesting work. And working to keep his job interesting and challenging has been one of his quests for himself and others.
He told the students they shouldn’t worry about having their majors mapped out before going to college. Most of them would switch to something else. Be open “to the randomness” of college, Osborn said, a subject or a professor may spark an interest that will lead you to your career path.
But there was one subject that Osborn did stress the students should take: basic accounting or finance.
“All things boil down to numbers,” he said. “And you need to understand those numbers. You need to know the basics.”