CEO panel focuses on leadership, a changing future

Three CEOs, former and current, of world-renowned corporations shared their advice, answered questions and even accepted an audience member’s resume Wednesday during the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series inaugural CEO panel sponsored by Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business and the Mountain Health Network.

“The inaugural CEO panel brings three top tier business leaders to Huntington to provide insightful perspectives through dynamic discussions, covering a broad range of topics that influence the world of business and bring powerful lessons from the boardroom to the community,” Avi Mukherjee, dean of the Lewis College of Business, said.

CEO of PayPal Daniel Schulman and CEO of Adobe Shantanu Narayen were panel guests, and Brad D. Smith, former CEO and current executive board chairman of Intuit, was the moderator. Smith, a Marshall alumnus, began the event by discussing how this moment in time represents a crossroads.

“It’s an intersection between our historical accomplishments and our future possibilities, possibilities for each and every one of us as individuals, possibilities for Marshall, WVU, the other state universities and colleges and the students that they teach and possibilities for this great state of West Virginia,” Smith said.

Leaders, entrepreneurship and a changing world were common themes among the panelists, as “the world we live in now is rapidly evolving,” Smith said.

John Donahoe, CEO of Nike, was scheduled to participate in Wednesday’s panel but was unable to attend. He sent in a video clip following in the themes of the panel.

“We all deeply admire current and future leaders like yourself that exhibit the grit, perseverance and determination that it takes to lead,” Donahoe said in the video.

Schulman discussed the future of technology and business, which is rapidly changing and evolving.

“As another good friend of mine, the CEO of Microsoft always says, ‘Don’t be a know it all, be a learn it all,’” Schulman said. “And I think that is absolutely the key to being successful. Listen, learn, adapt. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and push forward.”

Smith said with change comes empathy, humanity, compassion and “the importance of showing how we coexist with these technologies as opposed to getting replaced or displaced by these technologies.”

The panelists shared their advice for the students in the audience, with Narayen mentioning the importance of being intellectually curious as well as storytellers.

“Everybody talks about STEM, we talk about STEAM because at Adobe we think the world without art would be a boring place,” he said. “The art of storytelling and how you can have that next narrative with data as well as with creativity, I think that’s one of those really important attributes.

“I know when we’re looking for the scary, smart people, we’re looking for people who are able to tell stories, and we’re looking for people…who have a passion for what you do. When we hire, I look for passion more than I look for anything else,” Narayen said.

Remote employees, who work for companies while not in the same location, are becoming more popular, which makes location less important to employers as opposed to skill and talent. Because of this, Schulman said critical thinking needs to be taught everywhere.

“Critical thinking means somebody should be able to challenge you with thoughts that are different than your own, and you should be able to listen,” Schulman said. “Embrace somebody’s differences and listen to them because you can always learn from them.”

Investing in education, talent and the next generation also helps with the increased demand for remote employers; these aspects are what makes potential employees stand out from the rest, no matter where they are located, Narayen said.

“The reality is that anywhere you go in the world right now, with a computer, you have access to capital,” he said. “Access to capital is actually not the main differentiator. The big differentiator right now is access to talent. And so anything you can do to get that next generation of talent, that’s where every single company will go.”

Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of State Matt Warner and Representative Carol Miller, as well as Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, attended the event and were recognized by Marshall President Jerry Gilbert.

The event concluded with panel members receiving gifts from the Lewis College of Business.

Amanda Larch can be contacted at [email protected].