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On Success: Key Takeaways from WSB’s Leadership Speaker Series

By Clare Becker

July 22, 2020

Jia Jiang
Weikel speaker Jia Jiang shares his perspective on rejection during his talk at the Wisconsin School of Business. Photo by Paul L. Newby II

The meaning of success is not a one-size-fits-all definition. We each have different goals, perspectives, and past experiences that shape how we might characterize success. But nearly all of us are inspired by hearing the stories of others, as exemplified by the M. Keith Weikel MBA Leadership Speaker Series at the Wisconsin School of Business.

Founded in 2004 and specifically designed for Wisconsin MBA students, the Weikel series invites some of the biggest names in industry—many of whom are distinguished alumni—to share their career insights, business acumen, and life experience with the audience. Read on for excerpts about success from their talks at the School.

Susan Chapman-Hughes (MBA ’98) returned to her alma mater to talk about her career path and current roles as executive vice president, Global Head of Digital Capabilities, Transformation and Operations, GCS at American Express. She spoke about what she looks for when making a career move:

I have a simple formula for success in terms of where I want to be. One is, do they have a demonstrated track record of giving people the opportunity to do different things? Second, do they have a demonstrated track record of sponsoring people who look like me and are like me? And the third thing is, can I be myself?

As chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences, Kevin Conroy has led the fast-growing Madison company to more than 2,800 employees. He shared why success goes beyond personal goals:

The most satisfying thing is to see the success and happiness of people around you. As a leader, you can have a huge impact on that.

For Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO, North America at Pernod Ricard, authenticity is the cornerstone of being a leader. Her life adversities deepened her resiliency, eventually leading her to an MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and to the belief that being a professional means bringing all of one’s authentic self–not just the positive aspects—to the table:

We are who we are because of our experiences. We don’t have regrets. This notion of being unapologetic and saying what you really feel…is a philosophy I’ve had in life, and it’s a philosophy I’ve had as a marketer.

John Peirson (BBA ’88), CEO of Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory, entertained and inspired Business Badgers with his down-to-earth humor and honesty when he returned to his alma mater to talk career paths. Comparing his trajectory to the board game Chutes and Ladders, Peirson described how what had looked like setbacks at the time actually helped build his success in the long run:

I didn’t have to go down a lot of chutes, but there were some, and it definitely wasn’t a linear progression. To a large extent, I think it’s because of those chutes, those experiences, that I am where I am today.

Jia Jiang wrote the book on failure, literally. In Rejection Proof, entrepreneur and failure expert Jiang detailed how he became inured to rejection by making requests of complete strangers, every day for 100 days. The result? When “no” ceases to scare us, we give ourselves a chance to succeed, says Jiang:

The reason we don’t ask for things is because we think rejection is so terrible, so negative. We tell ourselves every day that by avoiding the negative, we’re achieving the positive. But that’s a lie. We’re rejecting ourselves by default. No matter what happens, don’t reject yourself. Let the world reject you, but don’t reject yourself.

The M. Keith Weikel Leadership Speaker Series at the Wisconsin School of Business enables Wisconsin MBA students and alumni to interact with and learn from accomplished business leaders. Executives from both the private and public sectors are invited to campus to address students.

The series was established in 2004 with a gift by John J. Oros (BBA ’71) and his wife, Anne Wackman. Today, the series continues as the M. Keith Weikel MBA Leadership Speaker Series thanks to a gift by M. Keith Weikel (PhD ’66) and his wife, Barbara.