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2004 Convocation Address
May 15, 2004

Thomas D. Vogelsinger '73 (Accountancy) '74 (MBA) was the convocation speaker for the College of Busines. Vogelsinger is COO at Ernst & Young in the transaction advisory services group. He is a member of the Illinois CPA Society and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. His remarks are included here with his permission.


Tom Vogelsinger.What an absolutely terrific day!

To the Class of 2004, faculty, family, and friends -- I really take great pride in the opportunity to speak to you today at this commencement. And, I'd like to offer my congratulations to each of the graduates for your achievement marked by this very special moment in your lives.

For me, the University of Illinois has been a very special place. I grew up in a small town a little over an hour from campus. I recall in grade school taking my T-shirts and using Magic Markers to create Illinois basketball jerseys, and I recall making the drive to Champaign with my parents for Illinois football and basketball games. My high school was very very small. I did well academically and in fact was in the top 10 in my high school class -- which was also the bottom half! So, Dean -- please don't go back and check those transcripts.

My father and brother are both U of I graduates, and we've given my Mom an honorary degree for her support of Illinois over the years. So needless to say, there was only one place I wanted to go to college -- and I'm pleased that even with that high school standing, I somehow got in.

30 years ago, I sat where you're sitting now, wearing a cap and gown -- you all look a lot more conservative than we did in the 70's. I was proud to have had the opportunity to attend the University of Illinois then and am even prouder to be an alumnus of this great University today.

One of the things you learn very quickly in the professional services world, is that time is extremely important, and our clients remind us of that all the time. So, in the interest of "great" client service, my remarks will be brief.

I wanted to relate to you today my thoughts from my career at Ernst & Young on two things:

  1. First, as you continue your careers in business and throughout your careers, my message to you is: Do the Right Thing.
  2. And my second message to you today is the opportunity for you to give back over your lifetime to this wonderful institution, which has been an integral part in preparing you for the next chapter in your lives.

If you think about leadership -- great leaders have many qualities --attributes that come to mind include dedication, initiative, courage, strength, a clear vision, willingness to take risks, self control, spiritual soundness. I'd like to add my own to that list -- Do the Right Thing. In my career, when I have been faced with really tough decisions, after all the facts have been considered, I ask myself -- now what's the right thing to do?

The last three years in the business world have seen immense challenge and change, and the accounting profession has been right in the middle. These challenges have also affected Boards of Directors, CEO's, CFO's, lawyers, bankers, and employees. I can tell you that the corporate world, the accounting profession and others are working very hard to restore the public's confidence in the financial reporting process as well as appropriate corporate conduct, and a tremendous amount of progress has been made in a short period of time. In my mind, it's absolutely essential that not only the leaders, but corporate cultures focus on Doing the Right Thing.

Looking back over the past 3 years, it's very clear now a number of people in a number of corporations did not do the right thing. I'd challenge you to think about whether your values are aligned with what will be expected of you as you continue in your careers. In tomorrow's business world, you'll be faced with many tough decisions -- if you Do the Right Thing, it will serve you well throughout your career. Use those four words as a personal guiding principle -- they connote credibility, honesty, integrity and spiritual soundness.

A key aspect of Doing the Right Thing in the business world is how you deal with people. Here at the U of I, you've learned a lot about cutting edge-technologies and have developed deep technical knowledge, you've teamed with others in group projects. I will tell you the greatest lesson that I have learned in my years in a professional services firm is the importance of how you deal with people. Of all the leadership attributes I mentioned earlier, my own personal belief is that how you deal with people is perhaps the most important. Being comfortable with who you are, and understanding the impact you have on others will help you bring people together as winners. Putting people first in an organization creates incredible trust.

We have a question that we use in our firm to allow our people to assess the impact our partners and senior managers have on them -- that question is, and I'll use myself as an example:

       How effectively does Tom Vogelsinger foster a positive work environment and help our people grow?

The feedback our partners and senior managers get is an important part in helping each of us understand the impact we have on others. And this feedback is a key component of our performance evaluation and promotion processes.

I read a quote the other day from an executive of Avon Products that I think really captures the essence of How to Deal with People. Her quote was about the leadership of one of the candidates on Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." Here's what she said 1) Humility is in; arrogance is out, and 2) Understand your impact on others. The more that you understand how you impact others, I believe the faster you will grow in your career.

My second message today is about giving back to this institution. I'd ask you to think about your relationship with the University as an alumnus.

Private support has never been more important for this University. At a time when State support is only 40% of the University's revenue, and declining, the ability of this institution to stay on top has become increasingly dependent on private support, principally from our alumni.

The College of Business recently announced "Investing in Excellence" a three-phased campaign which will include construction of a new state of the art building just west of Wohlers Hall. With the growth of the College, it's absolutely essential that we have a new facility which can address learning in a teaming environment. Al Wohlers, as most of you know, made a significant gift to the College several years ago for the renovation of Commerce West. I happened to be with Al this week, and, as he put it, the University of Illinois played a significant role in his success, and he wanted to repay the University for what he received.

So, as you walk out of the Krannert Center today; have fun, party, which in great Illini tradition I know you will do, and I think a great way to start giving back is to join the Alumni Association, if you aren't already a member. It's the right thing to do!

So, as you go forward into the business world, I'd like you to remember: 1) Do the Right Thing, and 2) How you deal with people is essential.

On a final note, I thought you'd find it interesting that this year, our firm will bring aboard almost 4,000 college students including 1,500 interns from over 100 colleges and universities, I'm told that's in the top five among college recruiters, but none better than the graduates from the University of Illinois!!!!

My congratulations and best wishes to each of you.

Read Gilmartin's remarks     |     Read Engle's remarks     |     Return to Convocation home page