Graduates: Listen to Your Mother!

John Y. Kim '87 MBA, president and CIO of New York Life, offers advice to School of Business graduates during commencement on May 8. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)
John Y. Kim ’87 MBA, president and CIO of New York Life, offers advice to School of Business graduates during commencement on May 8. (Nathan Oldham/UConn School of Business)

New York Life President John Y. Kim ’87 MBA Delivers Light-hearted, Advice-Filled Commencement Speech

Be kind to your siblings and your co-workers, never show up at a celebration empty handed, and listen to your mothers.

That was some of the advice that alumnus John Y. Kim ’87 MBA, the president and CIO of New York Life, offered to School of Business graduates during commencement on May 8.

In a lively and fun-filled speech, Kim managed to celebrate graduates, pay tribute to their mothers and offer valuable life advice to the jubilant crowd, which included UConn President Susan Herbst and other dignitaries, at Gampel Pavilion.

Rule No. 1, he said, is never to show up at someone’s house empty handed, either literally or metaphorically.

“It is not about the value of the gift, rather the thought. The fact that you thought about the person enough to give something,” he said. “It works in your personal life and it will in your business career.”

Kim said some 18,000 people work for him at New York Life, the nation’s largest mutual life insurance company, and it isn’t his speeches or strategic decisions that most remember, but rather a note, a lunch or a small gift. “Your career and life are nothing more than the sum of thoughtful, individual connections,” he said.

Commencement coincided with Mother’s Day again this year, and Kim said the essence of his speech was “what would Mom say?”

“For some, they would be relieved that this day has finally arrived. For others, how reflective they would be of your long life ahead and that you are truly an adult now,” he said.

“A few may say: ‘I wish he would get out of my house and start paying me back!,'” he added gleefully. “Let’s be honest!'”

Kim went on to offer several other tips for success in business and in life, such as:

Rule No. 2: Be kind and love your sisters (or brothers).

Harvard business professor Amy Cuddy says that when we meet someone new, we quickly ask two questions: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? In business, as in life, warmth is valued over competence, Kim said.

“UConn has given you an excellent education and I have no doubt that you are all very competent,” he said. “But please take your mother’s advice, and be nice to your siblings and co-workers.”

Another crowd-favorite was:

Kim’s Rule No. 5: Always put on some lipstick…it will make you feel good. And if you are not into lipstick, parallel advice is, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

“Self-esteem is a strong predictor of leadership potential in the business world. In my 33 years in business, I have never met a leader of a large company or organization who did not possess a strong degree of self-esteem,” he said. “Now we also do know the negative aspects of self-esteem—vanity, narcissism and arrogance—so don’t go too far.”

At 21, most of the UConn graduates have remarkable credentials, said Kim, humbly acknowledging he was less accomplished in his early years.

“So I can say without equivocation, ‘You too can one day become president of a Fortune 100 company!,” he said.

Rule No. 6, Kim said, is: Never miss an opportunity to learn a new skill.

Most of the technology we use daily—from Wikipedia to Facebook to the iPhone—hadn’t been conceived when the graduating class was, he said.

“You are probably wondering what your parents did in their leisure time without all of this technology?” he said. “Well, they had you—and thank God for that!”

“Technology is changing every aspect of our lives and its impact on business is accelerating,” Kim said. “Therefore, I believe you will have to learn new skills, more so than at any point in the history of business and business leadership.”

Kim’s last rule, Rule No. 7, was the most important: Smell the flowers, marvel at the creatures, plant trees and recycle.

“Live in the moment and be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “Don’t forget, ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present!'”

He told the students they are graduating from one of the finest universities in America. “Move forward into the next phase of your lives with gusto. Make your friends and families proud! Make UConn proud! Make yourself proud!”

Related Commencement 2016 Stories

2016 School of Business Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony (Video)

View a copy of the 2016 Commencement Program

2016 Commencement Student Speaker: Parth Rajesh Rana ’16

Graduate Profiles

When School of Business Dean John A. Elliott introduced the Class of 2016 at Commencement on May 8, he congratulated them on the significant milestone of graduation and reassured them that they are well prepared for what lies ahead.

“You are poised to become prominent members of your communities, voters whose votes will guide our choices, leaders whose words will affect others,” he said. “You are prepared to continue to learn, to leave your mark on our world, to innovate and create, to produce new products and new companies and to be leaders in your communities.”

Below, some of the top students from the Class of 2016 share their future plans: