Richard Vogel ’87, a marketing expert and an adviser and champion for startup businesses, recalled feeling proud, but also uneasy about his future, when he attended his UConn graduation 35 years ago.
“Don’t ever let that feeling stop you from going boldly into your work. Instead, use fear and anxiety as a motivator and source of focus,” he told 800 enthusiastic undergraduates, their families, and friends at Saturday’s School of Business Commencement ceremony in Gampel Pavilion.
“There are no dreams too big, there are no walls too high, there are no problems too complicated,” Vogel said. “Attack it all with the grit and ambition that it took you to successfully navigate the roller coaster ride of the last four years!”
Vogel is the founding partner, COO and CFO of Loeb Enterprises in New York City. He and his business partner, Michael Loeb, have helped launch dozens of startups through their firm. They’ve also hired almost two dozen UConn graduates.
Vogel described the students from his alma mater as remarkable, with an entrepreneurial mindset, drive, curiosity, a strong technical foundation, and the creativity needed to solve problems. They present themselves with confidence and authentic humility, and have a tenacious perseverance ‘that I wish I could bottle,’ he said.
Class Thrived Despite Jarring, Unpredictable Twists
Due to the pandemic, the commencement was the first traditional commencement ceremony since 2019. Interim President Radenka Maric was in attendance and she and Dean John A. Elliott welcomed the Class of 2022 and lauded its accomplishments. The moment wasn’t lost on Vogel.
“None of us could have imagined the path that this graduating class would take to get here,” Vogel said. “Many of you lived on campus, then you didn’t, then you did again. You were in class, you were virtual, you took PCR tests and antigen tests. Mandates were debated, imposed, un-imposed and re-debated. Yet through every jarring and unpredictable twist and turn, you learned, you thrived, and, best of all, you have graduated!”
Every disruption creates a new operating reality in business, and the pandemic was no exception, he said. It has heralded unprecedented acceleration of trends in the workplace, from mobility tech to education tech to insure-tech. Game-changing ideas are turning into ‘wildly valuable’ enterprises more quickly than ever, he said.
“Any business doing things the same way it did 25 years ago is likely overdue for disruption,” he said. “Likewise, any job that’s being done the same way it was yesterday can, and must, be done better tomorrow. Those pieces on the chessboard of your career are laid out beautifully. They spell massive opportunity for you.”
A Wonderful Career Started with a Bump in the Road
Vogel, an Honors student and finance major, earned a bachelor of science degree in business magna cum laude, from the School of Business in 1987. In 1990, he earned an MBA in finance from New York University. Vogel is also a member of the Werth Institute Advisory Board and an enthusiastic supporter of the student-run Hillside Ventures program. He received an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.
But his initial foray into business started with disappointment. Vogel told the audience that he was convinced that he wanted a career on Wall Street, and within three weeks after starting work, he realized he hated the job. A few months later, he got fired.
“That turned out to be the beginning of a wonderful journey,” he said.
Vogel said that the workplace has undergone many changes in the last two years, including the prioritization of employees’ wellness.
“During your senior year, someone coined the phrase, ‘The Great Resignation.’ I believer that is a misnomer. It should be called the Great Re-Set,” he said. “Providing flexibility in how you work, where you work, when you work, the quality of the people you work with—those are no longer ‘cherries on top,’ they are fundamental. You are more self-aware, more tuned in to the things that are inherently rewarding, than any generation before you. Your happiness matters, and I urge you to search for the things in your work that inspire and delight you.”
The world needs the courage of young people to address daunting problems, from the environment to education to humanitarian horrors, he told the audience.
Make Valuable Friends at Work
Vogel left the graduates with several ‘pearls of wisdom.’
In the age of remote work, you have to build relationships in a more deliberate way, he said.
“Please go out of your way to spend face-to-face time with your co-workers, your bosses, your clients, your constituents,” he said. “You’ll find a correlation between those relations and your happiness, and, likely, your success.”
Let your core values guide you to the right opportunities and the right people, he recommended.
“Find those around you who embrace gratitude over grievance, kindness over contention and respect over ridicule. Try to leave every organization just a little better than you found it,” he said. “Lastly, when you find a mission that deeply inspires you, give it everything you have.”