Class Acts

Each spring, corporate America's preeminent chieftains offer sage counsel to eager university graduates across the nation. Here's our Class of 2005.

Alan Greenspan | Chairman, Federal Reserve Board | University of Pennsylvania | May 15

Here's classic, syntax-defying Greenspeak from the Fed chairman's address at Wharton: "A free-market capitalist system cannot operate fully effectively unless all participants . . . are given opportunities to achieve their best. If we succeed in opening up opportunities to everyone, our national affluence will almost surely become more widespread."

Hmmm. Not quite Kabbalah, but not exactly sound-bitable, either. Granted, Alan Greenspan had to contend with myriad distractions -- storm clouds in one corner of the sky and the roar of helicopters from the nearby medical center. On the arrival of the first chopper, he nearly

injured himself attempting to crack wise in his trademark monotone: "That's Fed One, in case anyone's interested." Ensuing air traffic passed with only silent frowns.

Consider this bit of Greenspeak interpretation our commencement gift: The nation's economic engine was built on a foundation of fairness. In the wake of recent scandals, however, a bit of ethics froth entered the market, eroding trust in the system that took decades to create. It's up to Wharton grads not to lie, cheat, and steal (much) to restore lost credibility. And, oh yes, good luck and Godspeed! -- Ryan Underwood

Eric Schmidt | CEO, Google Inc. | University of California, Berkeley | May 21

Engineering grads have packed the Greek Theatre at the University of California, Berkeley. Some snap pictures with camera phones. One sports a Yahoo T-shirt; another, a Google cap. A young woman reading her program suddenly exclaims: "Oh! The Google guy is here!"

Eric Schmidt has the crowd in his pocket. But in 15 minutes, he manages to lose just about everyone and confound the rest. Schmidt begins by stressing the importance of collaborative decision making and pooh-poohing the idea of the visionary CEO as leader. "You actually get better decisions when you work in teams and when you build consensus," he says.

Then, mystifyingly, he argues the opposite point: that great ideas come from individual effort undertaken against consensus wisdom. "Often the greatest inventions occur . . . [when] you spend years in an area that everybody else thinks is completely uninteresting and you invent something extraordinary." Schmidt rambles through a discourse on disruptive technology, replete with familiar references to the foot-pedal loom and the spinning wheel. And the big finish? "Ultimately, technology does not exist to serve technology. It exists to serve mankind." Thanks for clearing that up. -- Irwin Speizer

Steve Jobs | CEO, Apple Computer | Stanford University | June 12

For someone so notoriously controlling and private, Steve Jobs -- his jeans and Keen sandals showing beneath his robes -- proved winningly self-effacing. "This is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation," he said. Not one of the nearly 5,000 graduates was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Instead, Jobs shared three anecdotes and their life lessons.

Lesson one: Six months after matriculation, Jobs dropped out of Reed College, dropped in on a calligraphy class for no credit, and slept on friends' floors. "It was one of the best decisions I ever made," Jobs said, making the case that his unorthodox education led to his future vision for Macintosh. ("You told me four years too late," one student quipped.)

Lesson two: Jobs described his painful departure from Apple at age 30. "How can you get fired from a company you started? It was devastating." But the break forced him to turn to what he loved and led to one of the most creative periods of his life.

For lesson three, Jobs recounted his bout with pancreatic cancer. Now cancer-free, Jobs said, "death is the best invention of life"; it made him realize the importance of following his inner voice. Glad you did, Steve. -- Jory Des Jardins

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