University of Georgia Commencement Speech, August 2005By A.D. "Pete" Correll, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Georgia-Pacific Corp.
Change and Tradition: Partners of Paradox and Necessity
To President Adams, the faculty and staff, to parents and family:
Congratulations on all you've done to bring these graduates to this special day. To you graduates, congratulations on your accomplishments - and your prospects. Your years here, I hope, have been as rewarding as mine were.
I was a little intimidated when I first got here - a little apprehensive, but excited. UGA had a mystique about it. It was big and cosmopolitan. It offered new friends and knowledge I badly needed. And some things I was really excited about: mainly, unlike Georgia Tech, there were girls here. I expected major things from the University of Georgia - and it delivered. It delivered beyond what I could reasonably have hoped for. I met my wife here. All in all, my years here were a wonderful time.
Four decades later, this is, of course, a far different campus. Still, despite all the changes, you and I share a great deal in this university - notably in our traditions. There's The Arch - still the central place on campus - football between the Hedges and ringing the chapel bell. Our first bulldog mascot, UGA I, arrived five years before I got here. UGA VI reigned in your tenure. Our archrival has linked the generations for over a century. And there is The Varsity, which was across from The Arch when I was here.
All are cherished traditions; and far more profound ones link us with other people in other places and times. This ritual of commencement is one, and behind it, the centuries long traditions of teaching and learning, of pursuing the arts, of questioning and searching.
When I was here, The School of Social Work and The College of Environment and Design didn't exist. Nor did The School of Public and International Affairs or The College of Public Health. The East Campus Village wasn't here or the Ramsey Center, Performing Arts Center, Psychology-Journalism Building and no Dean Rusk Hall.
When I was here, research was not a priority. Now, the University of Georgia is in the thick of innovation in genetics, biotechnology, cellular and molecular biology, nanotechnology - a boon to the South.
But one of the most profound innovations in the university's history occurred while I was here. UGA opened its doors to African-Americans. It was the beginning of a new era not only for the university, but the state.
Tradition and change. The two together make this university, as they do with other institutions and with life itself. All need a healthy balance of tradition and innovation - the old and the new, the enduring and the changing. The clash naturally sorts out the best innovations and makes them traditions. It also winnows the weak and worst traditions - segregation being an example. In the end, the tradition of segregation fell before the might and right of an older tradition: The idea that we are all created equal.
Such is the process that gives us the healthy balance of tradition and innovation.
I must admit that I look back with some remorse on some of the changes at Georgia. When I was here we were constantly ranked in the top five lists of party schools in the country. I worked very hard while I was here to maintain and improve that record. We may not have had the best academic education, but we sure developed great social skills. President Adams, and President Knapp before him, created an academic powerhouse, but they sure messed up a good party.
But you know, as an aside, I was a speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. Also on the program was Senator Saxby Chamblis and Pat Mitchell, President of Public Broadcasting. All three of us are from small towns in Georgia, and all of us were at this university together. I guess we learned more than we knew.
Yes, we have had a lot of change.
Earlier, I said your prospects are excellent. They are indeed. They are excellent because the digital age continues its sustained run of powerful innovations, new kinds of jobs - good jobs.
Today, a fourth of all Americans work in occupations that didn't exist in the late 1960s. These include high-paying occupations created around computers, the cell phone, and the Internet - and all the related hardware and software of the digital age.
My generation has witnessed a lot of this change. When we were here, we used typewriters. We didn't even dream of laptops. Personal computers were the stuff of sci-fi.
Microsoft didn't exist. There was no Dell, Apple, Intel or Cisco Systems. Google was not around, nor was eBay or Yahoo!
UPS was truly just a low-tech package delivery company, not a high-tech, just-in-time inventory system for businesses all over the world. Cingular and Verizon didn't exist.
In fact, the only guy we knew who routinely used anything like a cell phone was a character in a cartoon strip - Dick Tracy. He had a wrist radio.
All this digital innovation has delivered great benefits to people and communities. But innovation can also be frightening.
All change is not good, and all change is difficult and frightening to some. There are two change sayings that are favorites of mine. One is from Snoopy: "Change is good, you go first." The second is from Boyd Young, one of our country's great union leaders, who said, "Change is not mandatory, because survival is not assured."
One thing that has changed - and that we have lost - is trust in the major institutions that made this country great. You cannot imagine the difference in how you feel about the major institutions of our country and how I felt when I sat in your seat years ago. I trusted our government, our business leaders and our institutions to serve me and my country well.
Think about it. When I was a sophomore in high school the Secretary of State of our country said, "What is good for General Motors is good for the country," and none of us thought that there was anything strange about it. In fact, we thought it was more or less a statement of the obvious. Then came the Vietnam War, Watergate, presidential impeachment, Enron and so on until now none of us know who to trust and what we can trust. So we, at least most of us, are tempted to be cynical observers.
That is why I thought I would spend a few minutes with you talking about trust.
Life, as we all know, is not simply about getting and spending. In the end, we all want to be happy and we know that takes more than work. If I could give you the formula for being happy, I could write a best-selling self-help book or go on Oprah. But I don't know the formula.
I do know that having the ability to deal with change and at the same time having a set of values that you can hang on to and trust are keys to going through this experience we call life with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.
In the midst of all the change and flux, we need things to hang on to - not just anything, but ideas that will guide us and ideas that work in living life.
How do we find these? Your professors have introduced you to many of them. Human experience fills literature - novels, poetry, essays, drama - in all the arts and in thoughtful histories. The traditions of religion are rich with knowledge about experience through the long ages of the human race. Wise people can be found in every neighborhood and every community.
Those with a special wisdom will guide you in affairs of the heart, and of the soul and spirit. They'll teach you the fine points of how to deal with others.
I have spent my life in the business world of this country and more specifically in the world of big business. Nothing has been more painful to me than to see the people of the United States lose confidence and trust in the leaders of the economic institutions that drive the wealth of this country. I know that we have seen some bad things done in the Enrons and the Worldcoms of this world, but the ultimate damage will likely be the collapse of the trust relationship that we had because a few bad apples tried to beat the system at the expense of all of us.
We've seen the human pain that results when corporate leaders turn their backs on basic values of decency - truthfulness and honesty, their responsibilities to owners, employees and communities.
Their transgressions make it easy to point to them and their flaws. We see CEOs going to jail for falsifying their companies' results. I see the credibility of corporate leaders at an all-time low - only one notch above used car dealers and even lower than politicians.
I see in one recent poll that 70% of the people believe corrupt accounting and other practices are widespread. I see another poll asking how often do you trust business executives to do "what is right," and 75% of the public say 'Never!' Those are not the facts, but once you lose trust all basic logic goes out the window with it.
But any time we turn our backs on basic values like honesty and integrity we run the risk that we will inflict pain and suffering on someone whether we meant to or not. Telling the truth is really, really important. Or as my mother put it, "Always tell the truth and you won't have to remember what you said." My grandfather put it another way when he said, "A man's word is his bond." There simply is no substitute for honesty and trust. Our entire American capital system is built on a premise of honesty and trust.
I have played golf since I was nine years old, and I love the sport. Golf is a lot like business and a lot like life. You have a big book of rules, and most of them are easy to understand, but some are obscure. But unlike other sports, there are no referees or judges to enforce the rules.
You call the penalties on yourself. When you finish, you sign the card, you post a score, and only you know if that is the right score. Most golfers know there is no joy in a score that is not correct. In the final analysis, it comes down to our own honesty and integrity.
Some CEOs get upset about having to sign the financial statements and being accountable for them. I am not one of those. I played the game, it is my score, and I am happy to attest it.
Ultimately, we are accountable. Each one of us. We have to be responsible for what we do. Lack of accountability has permeated our whole culture for a while, and it's still going on in too many areas.
It's this idea that external forces, quite beyond our control, made us do what we did. Like Huckleberry Finn said of his sinful ways, "I can't help bein' bad. I was brung up that way."
Wherever your dreams take you, remember there is nothing as valuable as your integrity, and work really, really hard to ensure that the people who you are following and those that you're leading share your values and ethical principles. Our own narrow wants and desires aren't enough. We need to look outside ourselves for opportunities to provide service to others.
As the legendary Zig Ziglar has said, "The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity." And, he's noted, "All happy, successful, long-term relationships are built on trust. That's why character is so important; so build a strong character base, and I will see you at the top."
For me, it's really simple. I think of it like those rules we all learned in kindergarten. You probably recall the book from a few years back. It talked about the basics you learn from the get-go: share everything, play fair, don't hit people, clean up your own mess, don't take things that aren't yours, say you're sorry if you hurt someone.
Business is in the mess we are today with regulators and the public because a few business leaders forgot some very basic principles. We need to look to tradition, to the innovation that keeps tradition honest.
My best to each of you as you build on tradition in family, career and community. As for your innovations, this final thought: Tradition begins with change. Someone always has to do it first.
May your very best changes become lasting, cherished traditions to at least some who follow you in this life. Congratulations to all of you.