Executive Perspective

Meet just a few of Vanderbilt’s most recent speakers

From the Spring 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Business

On top of classes, course work and studying, Owen students make time to organize and attend the school’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Health Care Conference and other valuable presentations from business leaders. This year, executives shared information ranging from inclusion to leadership and branding to corporate strategy. Meet just a few of Vanderbilt’s most recent speakers.

Barry BookerBarry Booker, BS’89, MBA’97
Commercial and Industrial Relationship Manager
CapStar Bank

Barry Booker finds it remarkable how attitudes about diversity and inclusiveness have changed in his lifetime, but says society still has a long way to go. When he delivered the 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. seminar in January in honor of MLK Day, he told a story about his father, who owned and operated a nationally franchised service station in Franklin, Tennessee, in the 1960s and 1970s. One year, the national company held an event at nearby Brentwood Country Club for all the owner-operators, but Booker’s father couldn’t attend—the club’s policy of discrimination wouldn’t allow it. Booker recounted that he had recently spoke at that very same club before the Nashville Rotary Club as its honored guest. The occasion, he said, reminded him of how his life is different from his father’s. The former Vanderbilt basketball standout, who is also a commentator for ESPN and the SEC Network, also talked about family, education and his decision to attend Owen, supported in part by the James DeWitt Smith Scholarship for athletes who pursue graduate education at Vanderbilt.

Sandy CochranSandy Cochran, BE’80
President and CEO
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc.

Cracker Barrel’s Sandra Cochran focused on leadership and corporate strategy when she spoke to students last fall. Since being named to the top executive role at Cracker Barrel, she’s demonstrated both. Cochran, a Vanderbilt School of Engineering alumna, talked about growing the Cracker Barrel brand and repositioning menu items to provide healthy meal choices. Both are components of the company’s three-year strategic plan developed and led by Cochran and her team—components that are paying off for the nation’s third-largest family dining company. Sales and customer traffic are up, and revenue was $2.68 billion in 2013. Cochran has also been key in increasing the number of women on Cracker Barrel’s Board of Directors. When she assumed leadership of the company in 2011, she became the first woman to be president and CEO of a publicly traded company in Middle Tennessee.

Donald KohnDonald Kohn
Former Vice Chairman
U.S. Federal Reserve

Listening to Donald Kohn talk is a little like being a fly on the wall when the financial basis of the country is at stake. Kohn, a 40-year veteran of the Federal Reserve, served as vice chairman of the board for four years, working with Ben Bernanke during the financial crisis that began in 2008. Kohn was on campus in December to participate in Professor Dewey Daane’s annual seminar in monetary and fiscal policy. Before class, he spoke with Visiting Professor Edward DeMarco (left) regarding lessons from the financial crisis. Kohn explained the Fed’s unprecedented action of lowering intermediate and long-term rates by selling its short-term debt and buying long-term securities. These actions were based on previous studies and successful real-world examples, such as what had been done in Japan. The extraordinary move effectively drove down intermediate and long-term interest rates, which stabilized the economy and gave it a foundation on which to recover.

Sue Siegel and George BarrettSue Siegel
GE Ventures and healthymagination

George Barrett
Chairman and CEO
Cardinal Health

Innovation can benefit many industries, but there’s a pressing need for it in health care, according to two preeminent leaders in the field, Sue Siegel and George Barrett. The pair were keynote speakers at October’s seventh annual student-run Health Care Conference.

Siegel is a GE corporate officer as well as CEO of two of the company’s growth and innovation initiatives. GE Ventures provides expertise, capital and commercialization opportunities to entrepreneurs and startups. GE’s healthymagination is its $6 billion global commitment to provide better health care for more people at lower costs.

In those roles, Siegel oversees health care innovation and new health delivery models, among other responsibilities. She and Barrett both addressed the need for innovation in health care in areas such as consumer pricing, service delivery and targeted drug discovery.

Barrett, whose Cardinal Health provides pharmaceuticals and medical products and services to more than 100,000 locations each day, discussed how big companies can’t just talk about nurturing innovation. They must live it by “creating new soil” in which innovation can thrive.

Both speakers also highlighted the demographic challenges now starting to hit the health care system. Currently, there are 11 million 80-year-olds in the United States. With that population expected to double in 10 years, health care must adapt.

Their suggestions for innovation include increased education for and participation by consumers in health care decisions; more effective health care delivery through new business models (Siegel pointed to Uber as a company that successfully transformed existing assets—drivers and smartphones—into a business); and the simultaneous explosions of biomedical advances and digital data. Barrett said the costs for an FDA trial could decline significantly with better drug targeting, and Siegel pointed to the work Vanderbilt University Medical Center is doing in personalized medicine.

David Goldhill, president and CEO of Game Show Network and author of Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father—and How We Can Fix It, gave a third keynote, and industry professionals participated in Owen Talks—presentations on themes such as patient engagement, health care delivery and technology.

Brady DouganBrady Dougan
Credit Suisse

The man who led Credit Suisse successfully through the recent financial crisis had leadership advice for the Owen community during his November visit. Brady Dougan, the company’s CEO, said that it’s important to look at why people want to lead and be wary of those who seem in it for fame or power.

Good leaders seek leadership positions with the goal of making an organization and the people within it better, he said, and those they lead are savvy enough to realize when motivations are less than pure. Dougan, the first American to head Credit Suisse, spoke on a Distinguished Speakers Series panel with two of the international firm’s Atlanta managing directors, Robert Durham and Craig Savage, BS’92, MBA’98.

From left: Dean Eric Johnson, Distinguished Speaker Series board member Austin Tuell, MBA’15, Dougan, Distinguished Speaker Series board member Shannon Fugina, MBA’15, Durham and Savage

Elissa SangsterElissa Sangster
Executive Director
Forté Foundation

When Elissa Sangster looked across the crowded room, she had reason to be pleased. More than 100 women—many of them potential MBA students—were gathered to hear her as the keynote speaker of Owen’s Women in Business Symposium in February. Sangster heads the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit consortium of universities and businesses dedicated to encouraging women to pursue business careers. Owen was invited to join Forté last fall and has committed to increasing the number of women admitted to the school. Sangster advised that schools need to focus on encouraging more women to think about business—especially undergraduates who are liberal arts or engineering majors—and the earlier, the better. The ultimate goal is to have more women in C-level careers and sitting on corporate boards, she said.

Keith WandellKeith Wandell
Chairman, President and CEO
Harley-Davidson Inc.

Everyone wanted to touch the bright, powerful bike that Harley-Davidson’s Keith Wandell brought to campus in December for his Distinguished Speaker presentation. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise: At 111-years-old, Harley-Davidson is one of the most iconic brands in the world. Wandell is charged with keeping the brand fresh while responding to a new global market. He says he does so by respecting the heritage of the brand and everything it stands for, while at the same time preparing Harley-Davidson for new challenges and markets. One of these emerging markets is the first generation of “urban riders”—people who are centered in urban areas and need smaller, more agile products, such as a new street bike the company has introduced, as well as LiveWire, a prototype electric bike that is still in testing. “I think it’s nothing but future opportunity for us,” he said.


To watch videos of these and other speakers who visit Owen, visit our YouTube channel.