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2011 Commencement Speakers Imagine Future Economy

Graduating MBA students are looking forward to new careers, and this spring, commencement speakers invited them to think bigger and imagine how the global economy might change in the near future. Speakers at top MBA schools across the nation painted a picture of broad economic shifts and encouraged new grads to be leaders in a new economy.

At Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, Robert Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, told graduates to be optimistic about their long-term prospects.

"You are going to start careers in a weak and slow-growing economy ... This episode will pass, barring further imbecilities," Solow said during his commencement speech. "The basic long-run growth capacity of our economy has not really been impaired at all."

Solow then told graduates of MBA programs to expect "a more polarized economy" as the national income distribution continues to shift away from wage and salary income towards business income and capital gains. "You'll have to form and make decisions as citizens on what sensible public policy is in that type of economy," Solow said.

At Columbia Business School, financier Henry Kravis urged graduates to "correct many of the misperceptions of business and capitalism."

"Capitalism is about greater choice for more people," Kravis said. "Capitalism survives when excess and aberrant behaviors are restrained effectively, not when demagogy and confrontation prevail."

At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit predicted new graduates would enter a business world marked by massive trade and capital flows within emerging markets, explosive growth in new consumer blocs as the global middle class grows, and increasing digitization

"It's a more exciting world," Pandit said, "but also more complex. You have grown up with it. That gives you an advantage. Use it wisely."

How should business school graduates proceed in a complex economy?

New York Times CEO Janet Robinson challenged graduates of New York University's Stern School of Business to face change head-on by focusing on five key business decisions that have allowed her company to transition into the digital era.

    1. Remember your mission
    2. Embrace technology
    3. Meet the consumer
    4. Streamline the system
    5. Expand the revenue streams


      Robinson, who guided the The New York Times Company through an era of drastic change in news media, said the company has focused on providing high-quality content, embracing digital technology, and meeting the consumer via social media and other applications.

      "How do you survive rapid industry change and the most challenging of circumstances?" Robinson asked. "By making the choice to be brave."

      Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who gave the Cornell commencement speech, also challenged graduates to find their place in a new information age. He outlined five principles of leadership to help new graduates do this: strong beliefs, optimism, relentless preparation, teamwork and communication.

      Business schools grads urged to make a difference

      University of Michigan MBA Darys Estrella Mordan, an emerging type of business leader concerned with social impact, spoke at the university's Ross School of Business commencement and said that "leadership talent is the currency that will drive economic growth."

      Mordan seems to have found a way to make a contribution in this world and to live by her motto. After graduating from business school in 2002, she went to work for Goldman Sachs in New York but left that job to help build the financial industry of her home country, the Dominican Republic.

      "It is nice to get the high salary, the promotions, the nice title, but leadership is about much more than that," said Mordan, CEO of the Stock Exchange of the Dominican Republic. "It's about personal growth, helping others develop, treating others with respect, taking on social causes, and making a difference in the world."

      Fellow Ross graduate Al Leandre also had a prediction for the school's newly minted MBAs. "Regardless of how you feel right now, everything will be different six months from now," Leandre said. "You should be comforted knowing that you have the best preparation money can buy and you can take on whatever is next."