A generation ago, students would associate business leadership with traditional CEOs. They were the jet-setting wise men, decked out in tailored suits and surrounded by a team of mirror images. Sober and solitary, they were the deities trotted out to the masses to recap the year and issue boiler plate commendations.
A lot has changed in the new millennium. Leadership has become defined by service and inclusion as much as toughness and charisma. In fact, a business leader can be just about anyone in an age of blurred lines between business and personal brand.
“I’M NOT A BUSINESSMAN; I’M A BUSINESS, MAN!”
Take Jay Z. Once a hop hop artist who sold CDs out of his car in Bed-Stuy, Jay Z become a global superstar thanks to collaborations with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, and (of course) Beyonce. Instead of resting on his creative laurels, Jay Z crossed over into commerce as an entrepreneur. That has endeared him to The University of Maryland’s Mimi Verdonk, one of Poet &Quants’ “Best & Brightest” business majors from the Class of 2017. “While many artists, athletes and executives are only known for one thing,” Verdonk explains, “Jay Z knows the value of diversification. Not only is he an amazing rapper, he is involved in the restaurant, sports, clothing and beverage industries, while making time to be a family man. Jay Z embodies what it means to have a strong personal brand. Or, as he puts it, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man!”
Jay Z wasn’t the only unconventional choice by this year’s top business majors. Think bloggers are just washouts who can’t compete in a world outside of their parents’ basement? Perhaps you should look up Brett McKay, the founder of The Art of Manliness, who is the business leader admired most by Brigham Young University’s Nick Kerr. “He built a successful blog and a suite of products based on helping men develop themselves for the purpose of serving their communities and improving the lives of others,” he points out. “Like other great entrepreneurs, he filled a market need that hadn’t yet been defined, like helping men tell the difference between oxfords and derbys, perform a proper deadlift, iron a shirt, and kick down a door.”
The Class of 2017 even found leadership inspiration in perhaps the most unlikely venue: Washington, DC. With cable news dominated by fingerpointing and spinning, the graduating class held a soft spot for President Barack Obama. The University of California-Berkeley’s Grace Lee calls him “the greatest executive of all.” However, her esteem is rooted as much in who he is as what he did. “I choose the previous “executive” of the United States for his genuineness, extraordinary charisma, ability to laugh at himself and to react to the most unexpected and obnoxious situations with incredible poise, professionalism, and grace.” However, Obama wasn’t the only member of his family to earn raves from business majors. Georgetown University’s Bserat Ghebremicael concedes that Michelle Obama is a nontraditional executive. However, she was smitten by the first lady’s seeming-effortless ability to inspire and set an example. “She’s held her role as First Lady with elegance and class, and has influenced so many young women across the nation to aspire for excellence,” Ghebremicael raves.
ELON MUSK AND STEVE JOBS STIR THE IMAGINATIONS OF THE ‘BEST & BRIGHTEST’
As part of the nomination process, students selected for the “Best & Brightest” undergraduate business majors were asked to share their favorite business leaders and the reason behind their choices. Not surprisingly, Elon Musk was cited more than anyone else, with graduates tapping into his efforts to push boundaries and fulfill a vision beyond simply turning a profit. The University of Missouri’s Katelyn Entzeroth considers Musk to be the “boldest entrepreneur of our time” while also lauding him for “transforming the formerly stagnant industries of auto and space” through Tesla and SpaceX respectively.” William & Mary’s Seroja Boyakhchian praises Musk for his purpose, which he describes as “advancing boldly into the future of mankind.” That said, Musk’s success stems from far more than simply his vision, adds Arizona State’s Juan Pablo Forno Parro. “What I love most about Elon is that he has been able to get where he is by the fact that he outworks everyone in the room by dedicating “every waking hour” to the job at hand while maintaining a relentless and positive attitude.”
Considering the class’ penchant for innovation, the late Steve Jobs was another hit with the Class of 2017. It’s no secret that Jobs had, in the words of the University of Florida’s Jade Mulvaney, “many flaws as a leader.” According to Mulvaney, Jobs also possessed virtues that few could ever hope to match. “What Steve Jobs had,” she reveals, “is a clear vision, an innovative spirit, a unique way of thinking and inspiring trust, and a well-defined purpose to make this world a better place through technology.” These abilities, adds Kari Jurewicz, enabled him to beat the odds and leave a legacy that was far greater than a small dent in the university. “I admire Steve Jobs because he made his life into something unimaginable,” Jurewicz asserts. “Without graduating college, he started Apple out of his garage and turned the company into an entrepreneurial innovation engine that changed the world.”
Jobs wasn’t the only leader celebrated for overcoming long odds and adversity. Cornell University’s Nabiha Keshwani lists Alberto “Beto” Perez, the creator of Zumba, as her favorite business leader. For Keshwani, the reasons are very personal. “Despite facing numerous obstacles and hearing “no” multiple times, he believed in his vision and stirred a fitness revolution. My favorite part of his story was when he claimed he could speak English in order to close a lucrative deal — and proceeded to learn the language shortly after. Coming from an immigrant family, I’m partial to his struggles of creating a home and living in America and admire his courage and bravery.”
INTEL CEO SITS IN A CUBE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE
There is a saying that, ‘Who you admire is who you’ll ultimately become.’ For many ‘Best & Brightest’ graduates, business leaders also serve as role models for how to think and act. During her internship at Deloitte and Touche, the University of Minnesota’s Callie Livengood got a look at CEO Cathy Engelbert. This experience provided a blueprint to Livengood for what she could become as her career progressed. “As a woman who aspires to be an executive, mom, and successful business woman, I admire the grace and poise that Cathy has maintained in her leadership. Additionally, like Cathy, I hope to use my future success to push other women who strive to do great things for their companies and their communities into the business world.”
Livengood’s classmate, Raffy Maristela, found his inspiration in Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman, who created an online networking platform with the mission of increasing economic opportunity for all. “I want to embody his ability to turn a mission-oriented idea into a force for productive societal change. His philosophy on the importance of mentorship is also something I truly admire and respect, and I want to incorporate that into all of my future work environments.”