College of Business Communications Feature
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College home

Richard Frank delivered the graduation speech (below) at the College of Business international masters convocation on May 16 and at the general College ceremony on May 17. Frank is a 1965 graduate of the College with a degree in marketing. He is currently a partner with Integrated Entertainment Partners in Beverly Hills, CA.

Thank you. It's good to be back home.

Actually, the University of Illinois was my second home. I was born in New York and when I came out here in my freshman year 40 years ago; this was the furthest I had ever traveled from the east coast ... so I had to deal with a number of culture shocks.

And the shocks started before I even got here. You see, to a boy from New York, there's something unsettling about getting off a jet airliner at an airport in America's heartland and then switching to a DC-3 from something called Ozark Airlines. Clearly, I wasn't in Brooklyn anymore.

I started out in the School of Architecture. From there I moved on to the School of Engineering. Finally, I settled in at the School of Commerce. I know you must all be thinking what a broad-based, multi-talented Renaissance man I must be to have dabbled in such dissimilar majors. Wrong! The fact is that all of these pursuits had one thing in common -- none of them required the taking of a foreign language. And I was so desperate to avoid struggling with the language of another country that, if necessary, I would have signed up for biochemistry.

I'll also never forget the day I packed up and left U of I. For four years this place had been home ... from Old Men's Gym to the Assembly Hall and its pungent springtime aromas. I had made friends, I had made memories ... and now I was supposed to go out and make a living.

This was the day I had been working toward ... and now that it had arrived, I just wanted to go back and start all over again. U of I at times had been an exhausting challenge, but it had also been a comforting haven. By comparison, the outside world looked cruel and intimidating.

As I pondered my uncertain future amid my packed bags, I leafed through the yearbook and considered my fellow classmates. It seemed to me that we all fell into two broad categories: those who were certain of what they were going to do ... and those who didn't have a clue.

Since then, I have learned I was wrong. We were all clueless. This is because the world -- and especially the world of business -- is a constantly changing place. Even those people who think they have their lives all planned out will find that as conditions change, they too will have to change. Just look at the world today vs. the year your were born; you have never lived without an answering machine or a CD, you have always had cable and Jay Leno has always hosted the tonight show: Today, the best selling rap artist in America is white, the most successful golfer in America is black, the tallest player in the NBA is Chinese, the French have accused Americans of being haughty and not caring about the views of foreigners, and the Germans protested that they did not want to go to war! Unfortunately, some things still have not changed; just last week a high school in the south agreed to let their graduates have a white student only prom. Today you have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three and your grandmother asks you to send her a JPEG file of your graduation picture so she can create a screen saver. Today we pay for water and music is free. Change is the one constant.

This is nothing new. Consider the plight of Al Gore in November 2000. As you know, he was the Democratic candidate for President and every poll showed him soundly beating George W. Bush. So, on election night, Al confidently asked Tipper, "How will it feel to sleep with the President of the United States?" She replied, "A high honor and, quite frankly darling, I'm looking forward to it." The following January, at breakfast the morning after the Supreme Court had ruled and awarded the election to Bush, Tipper said, "Tell me, Al, am I going to Texas or is George coming here?"

Al Gore learned the hard way that events are often out of our control. Since graduating, I've learned the same lesson. I started out in Chicago working at an advertising firm and ended up in Los Angeles working for a mouse at Disney. It has all worked out very well for me ... as I'm sure it will for you. But, to put it mildly, it has all been very unpredictable ... as I'm also sure it will be for you.

And, when your careers are at their most uncertain, I believe you should take some advice that has always served me well. This advice comes from the famed Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra, who once observed, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

So, given that the road from Urbana will take you to many forks and that you have little control over when they appear and little certainty over which to choose ... I offer you a few thoughts...

In some ways you are lucky that you are graduating in 2003 and not 1993 or 1983. This may strike you as an odd statement because we now know that 1983 and 1993 were the beginnings of major 8-year economic booms.

By contrast, 2003 has been a year of stagnation, punctuated by war, with the economic pundits predicting a tepid recovery at best. However, don't take such dreary forecasts by these reputed experts too seriously. Always remember that experts built the Titanic. Amateurs built the Ark.

But, if 1983 was the beginning of an economic boom, it was also the beginning of an era epitomized by the proclamation that "Greed is good."

The fact is that greed is not good. It feeds on itself and is never satisfied. The crash of the technology boom and its effect on the stock market in the past four years reinforces the point.

Newsweek business reporter Robert Samuelson wrote this about the era just passed:

-quote- "Our most profound illusion about prosperity was to think that great doses of it would solve almost any problem. We unwittingly adopted a view of human nature that assumed spiritual needs could ultimately be satisfied with material goods. We diagnosed all conflicts as economic struggles that could be resolved by more abundance....[But] prosperity does not automatically create social peace or personal happiness." -unquote-

Don't get me wrong. I am a firm advocate of capitalism. There can be no question that the collapse of communism was a vindication of the free enterprise system. But, we should not lose sight of the fact that free enterprise means what it says. It is not just the freedom to make money. It is the freedom to make the most of our lives.

O.K., I know what you are thinking. That's easy for him to say. He's been the president of a movie studio. But, I do understand how you feel. I've already achieved some material success, while on your immediate horizon is the prospect of handing out résumés to companies that will undoubtedly be looking for people 20 to 30 years old ... with 40 years of experience.

But as you take on the difficult task of building your career, keep in mind that a paycheck is only one measure of success.

Let me talk philosophically for a moment. Issues are generally debated in terms of black and white. But life is lived in the gray area. It is there that there is a constant dynamic of defining who we are and where we want to go.

For example, there is always a debate raging about abortion. Until the Roe versus Wade decision, abortion was in the black area. It was equated with murder. But people kept working to push it into the white area of acceptability. Suddenly, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal. Since then, others have been working to push abortion back into the black. And all the debate takes place in the grey area.

Virtually every major social issue can be viewed in this way: gun control, deficit reduction, tax reform, control of weapons of mass destruction. In each of these cases, some people are pushing for official sanction, while others are pulling for official rejection. It is in this gray area where the debates rage. This is where the action is ... messy though it may be. This is how our society progresses.

And it leaves us all with a choice. We can stand on the sidelines and watch. Or we can roll up our sleeves, jump in, and become involved in the great gray area tug of war.

In the practical world of career building, you should endeavor to bring two key thoughts with you always - quality and creativity. Quality is the thread that should link all of your endeavors. Along with creativity, it should be a major part of anything you do.

The emphasis on intangibles frustrates many accountants and business managers. Quality is not something that can be readily quantified on a spread sheet. But most brands reputation for quality in all they do is perhaps their company's greatest asset.

Recently, I traveled to Las Vegas for a consumer electronics show. I was dazzled and, quite frankly, intimidated by what I saw there.

Acres and acres of DVD's, CD's, earth stations, TV's the size of football fields and TV's the size of your fingernail, and phones, phones everywhere.

Only in one small room off the main convention floor could I find some truly American products. This is where the studios had their displays, promoting upcoming movies and television shows.

Clearly it was true that America was receding to become an economic backwater, relentlessly being pushed back by the tide of foreign competition.

Then suddenly, it dawned on me. The product in the big room was only there for one purpose - to serve the product in the little room. The amazing hardware I saw on display was being created overseas to transmit the software we produce here in the United States.

With all due respect to Marshall McLuhan - the message is more important than the medium.

Which is why when we consider trends in the entertainment industry, we aren't too mesmerized by the flashy new delivery systems - the hardware. It's the software that counts. And it has always been so.

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai, he was lugging some serious hardware - the tablets of the law. But it was the software that mattered - the commandments themselves.

Moses' hardware has been lost in the sands of time. But his software lives on and guides us today. So think about your intellectual ideas. They are the real assets you are creating.

As you have been taught during the past four years, financial considerations and creative considerations often go hand in hand.

Because all industries are in a constant state of flux, because the hardware keeps changing, we keep falling back on the "C", "Q" and "S" words - creativity, quality and synergy. These are the constants that we hope will guide us to greater success in the future.

And if we stay mindful of the "C", "Q" and "S" words, the opportunities should continue to be practically limitless.

But, lest you think it's all fun and games...there is the "A" word. The "A" is for anxiety.

The fact is that you can't be creative, you can't pay the price for quality, and you can't achieve corporate synergy without taking risks. And whenever we take risks, we get anxious.

So, the temptation is to get smug about past success and rest on laurels. But this is the surest route to stagnation and decline. You must always continue to take risks. This means constantly working with anxiety. That's the nature of creativity. But it's worth it. Because when the risks pay off, when a successful, quality product results, there is a rare feeling of accomplishment that is its own reward.

Now I feel very fortunate in the direction that my career took ... all thanks to the fact that I didn't want to take a foreign language. But a few years ago I thought that something was missing.

I worked in a world of fantasy, trying to create products that entertain and divert and offer escape. Well, beyond the gates of that fantasy world is a very real world where all too many people find themselves suffering and with no means of escape.

Despite their glaring differences, the real world and the fantasy world of entertainment constantly intermingle and impact each other.

I came to believe there was an important and constructive role that the television industry could be playing in the war on drugs.

This became my number one goal when, in 1985, I was elected president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the first of three terms.

Of course, there were those at the time who argued that, since we were in the entertainment business, we should limit ourselves to trying to entertain.

But I came to believe there is no such thing as pure entertainment. Everything put on the air -- from Survivor to Sixty Minutes to Sponge Bob Square Pants - carries explicit or implicit messages to the viewers -- about lifestyle, about relationships, about values. We provide a steady supply of heroes and villains who fill the pantheon of role models in American culture. Our fellow citizens hear what we say and watch what we show them. On the issue of substance abuse, it seemed that television could clearly use its unmatched communication power to not only entertain, but also to enlighten. And we did so with programs too numerous to name here.

Needless to say, this by itself will not and did not end substance abuse in America. But it was a step. And it's a step I am proud to have been a part of. In fact, I'm as proud of my involvement in this as I am of anything else I've done in my career.

I hope to keep on doing more of the same in this and other areas. And I hope as you go forward with your careers that you will take time out to also think of others.

I derive real pleasure in my life from two unrelated areas. The first is my family, Sharing my life with Connie, a Phi Sigma Sigma girl I met and married here, along with watching our two sons and three grandchildren grow and develop has provided central meaning to my life.

The second area of tremendous personal gratification has been those times when I have been able to make a positive impact, no matter how small, on the community in which I live. This all may sound corny, but, like most corny-sounding things, it's true.

In the end, it's all about success. For the past four years, your teachers at the School of Commerce have taught you how to achieve financial success. These teachers are here and you should let them know how grateful you are. But financial success is just one kind of success.

You've had some other teachers. They've taught you about values and how to make choices about what's really important in life. These teachers are also here today. They're more often referred to as your parents and, boy, should you be grateful to them. But, even your parents can only teach you so much about real success in life.

When it comes to ultimate success, we each have to be self-taught. We each have to decide for ourselves where and how to make a contribution beyond the kind that earns a paycheck. We each have to decide at what point to take a running jump and dive into the gray area of public debate.

As in my case, it can be a direct outgrowth of your work. Or, it can be totally unrelated. I only know that it will make you happier, it will make you more fulfilled; it will give your life more meaning. This all may be selfish ... but it's a good kind of selfish.

Winston Churchill said it best. But, then again, Winston Churchill usually said it best. As he put it, "We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."

I realize that altruism doesn't top your list of immediate goals. I know that you have loans to pay off, fixer-uppers to buy, and families to start.

But, as you fill your agenda with these goals, leave enough room for some selfish giving. I believe that this is the magic ingredient that will ensure that, when you reach for the brass ring of success in the months and years ahead, it will come into your grasp ... and it will be the real thing.

Thank you very much and good luck to you all.