Panelists: ‘Turbulent Times’ Provide Opportunities for Leaders to Emerge
Former U.S. Navy SEAL commander David Cooper knows a few things about leading in turbulent times.
Cooper served the elite unit for 25 years, ventured on dozens of dangerous deployments, and earned an array of medals, including one Silver Star and six Bronze Stars.
So when he talked about the U.S. Navy Seals’ 10-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden, and his killing in May 2011, the audience of UConn graduate business students, alumni and friends were engrossed.
“In the [Osama] bin Laden raid, a helicopter smashed into the ground, but that didn’t slow down the team,” Cooper said. “It shows the importance of being prepared, regardless of what industry you’re in.”
Signature Event Featured Top Panelists
Cooper was one of three panelists at the UConn School of Business’ signature NYC alumni event, focused on “Leading in Turbulent Times.” The Nov. 15 program was hosted at the Manhattan headquarters of consulting firm GLG, which links businesspeople with other expert problem solvers. The event was moderated by Patrick Donegan ’95 MBA, a managing director at GLG.
Other panelists included: Melinda Brown ’77, ’85 MBA, a senior vice president and corporate controller for the luxury accessory company Coach, and former senior vice president at PepsiCo.; and Tony Scott, the third Chief Information Officer of the U.S., appointed by President Obama in 2015. Prior to his position at the White House, Scott served as CIO at Microsoft for five years, as CIO of Walt Disney Co. for three years, and as chief technology officer at General Motors for six years.
Never Waste a Good Crisis!
“Never waste a good crisis. It serves as a rallying point for leadership and institutions,” Scott told the audience.
Scott described the 2015 U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) crisis when 21 million federal employee records were hacked. These records, he said, contained the most intimate personal information—from an employee’s medical conditions to the names of their friends.
“It was a wake-up call and a call to action for the entire federal government,” he said. At the time, only 40 percent of employees had activated a two-step identity authentication process. Scott and others led a “cyber sprint” and within six weeks, that number had jumped to 84 percent.
“The moral is that the crisis was a rallying point on how to lead and react to a situation and at the same time, drive institutional change,” he said.
When a Competitor is Threatening, Reinvent Your Company
Brown said in a rapidly changing world, it is vital to be engaged in risk management and preparedness. She spoke briefly about how Coach was losing customers to the Michael Kors brand and others. In 2014, the company acknowledged its problems, including sliding stock value, and charted a course to reinvent and reinvigorate its line. Coach’s corporate parent recently acquired high-end designer companies Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.
“What I would like to see us do is figure out where we want to be 10 to 15 years from now,” she said. “When I worked at PepsiCo that strategic view is what made the difference in our success.”
Phenomenal Opportunity… and Risk
“One person’s turbulence is another’s opportunity,” Scott said. “These times offer a phenomenal opportunity and phenomenal risk. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s what we do with it that matters. Progress comes in uneven spurts. It is a world for the agile.
“I tell students to be open to opportunities that you didn’t think about before. Keep an open mind and consider things outside your comfort zone,” he said. “It may lead to the adventure of a lifetime.”