Robert L. Joss, Professor of Finance, Dean Emeritus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business offers 10 life lessons in this wisdom-filled presentation talk to a group of graduating students. This event occurred on May 24, 2010. We provide here the full transcript of the life-altering presentation talk titled: Top 10 Life Lessons (Last Lecture Series).
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Robert Joss on Top 10 Life Lessons (Last Lecture Series)
You know, I’ve had a lot of chance to interact with your class over the last couple of years, starting with admit weekend, I guess, about 27 months ago. So, we’ve had lots of interactions, large and small but never anything quite like a last lecture — come in, come in — So I’m looking forward to it.
I have assembled the list of 10 lessons that have been important to me in my life that I’d like to share with you. So, if it’s all right, let’s charge in.
Number 10. Life is like cricket
This first one, I guess, comes from two sources, one, as you know, I spent seven years of my life living and working in Australia where cricket is a national game. But I also spent the last nine years teaching a second year seminar on leadership and in that leadership seminar I like to use the case of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer. And Shackleton had something very interesting to say about life. He said, “Some people say it’s wrong to think of life as a game. I don’t think so.” He said, “Life to me means the greatest of all games. The danger lies in treating it as a trivial game. A game to be taken lightly and a game where the rules don’t matter much. The rules, he said, matter a great deal.”
Shackleton said, you know, the game has to be played fairly, or it’s no game at all. And even to win the game is not the chief end. The chief end is to win it honorably and splendidly. And in Shackleton’s mind, honorably and splendidly meant living it by his values, the things that mattered most to him, by his rules.
Now, those of you who know cricket know, it’s got a lot of rules. But another thing about cricket that I think is relevant, it’s a long game. You know, life ebbs and flows. And endurance is a virtue. Stamina is very important. Work at staying in shape — work at staying in shape physically, mentally, emotionally. In many respects, your determination and your drive will have as much to do with your life as your DNA.
Like cricket it’s a long game. You need to pace yourself. And another thing a well known cricket commentator observed is that in addition to being a long game where perseverance and resilience and patience are critical, it’s a game where he said, nothing happens and then everything happens. Again, only a true cricket aficionados might appreciate this. But applying it to life, I can tell you that often, out of the blue, that big opportunity or that big challenge hits you in the face, you can’t plan your life. You can’t plan your career, but you can plan to be prepared, and preparation is an awfully key aspect.
Number 9: Life is too short to deal with “bad” people
“A reputation of 1000 years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” – Japanese proverb
Number nine. Now this is a lesson that I got over and over again from our CEO at Wells Fargo, Carl Reichardt. He liked to say this. I don’t think Carl necessarily believed the world was divided into good people and bad people but we all grew up understanding that there were people with very bad behaviors. You know, and life is too short. You don’t have to deal with people who are abusive, people who are dishonest, people who are unethical. You can just say no. In fact, you better just say no.
You know, in banking where you make loans every day, you take deposits every day, you accept investments, you have a lot of opportunities to say yes and no. Even at the GSB, when raising money, there are times when it’s appropriate to say no because the motivation isn’t right. And I think this lesson, aside from saving you an awful lot of unpleasantness, can also save you. Because — oh, we’re going backwards — Because your reputation is everything. And you’ve got to guard it scrupulously.
For me, a corollary to this life’s too short lesson, has been another one I’ve always applied, which is, don’t sign something you haven’t read, don’t sign something you don’t understand, or that you don’t agree with. Life’s too short.
This is another Wells Fargoism. This is a– this is a slogan or a phrase, it’s still very much a part of the company today. And it’s something that we began adopting when we wanted very much to change the culture from one that was more bureaucratic to one with a real sense of accountability.
You know, when you think about a small store, and you encounter the person that owns that store, you have a much different experience and encounter than when you’re dealing with a temporary, hired clerk. That sense of ownership. That comes from true ownership is a very real and different behavior that we all recognize and we all appreciate. Run it like you own it. Spend it like it was your own money, not somebody else’s, or somebody else’s enterprise. Whenever you’re in charge of something, anything, anywhere, any group, if you adopt that ownership mindset and mentality, it serves you well.
Number 8: Run it like you own it
After all — next Johnny — leadership is not about fame and fortune and power, it is about responsibility. And it’s a responsibility for the group that you have inherited. It’s a responsibility for helping that group to be better, to helping that group to do better, and that’s that same responsibility that an owner feels of his or her establishment. That is often missing when you come to somebody working for a large organization.
Now, the challenge in a big organization is if you can get everyone and every group to have that same ownership mindset you see in a small shop or a small business. If everyone in the group can adopt and have that kind of sense of run it like you own it, you create a culture and a climate of discipline and accountability that has enormous power and energy for the enterprise.
Another thing about running like you own it, next Johnny, is that when you have that sort of mindset attention to detail really matters. You know, in that post Enron and WorldCom world we got Sarbanes-Oxley. And a lot of people love to complain and winge about Sarbanes-Oxley, too much paperwork, too many rules. And yet, at the same time you would see CEOs in front of Congress, saying, well Mr. Congressman, understanding the accounting wasn’t part of my job. And that lack of ownership, if you will, of the details, is a real sign of difficulty. If it was your business, you’d want it to be in control. You would want it to be under good control, without surprises. That’s not micro managing, but it is investing the time that it takes to really understand what’s going on in the operation.