The Liberal Arts of Leadership
September 18, 2019
By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA
Five executives share how a well-rounded education at Rollins prepared them for success, and what they’re looking for in the next generation of graduates.
Business. Accounting. Engineering. These oft-trodden paths to the corporate C-suite aren’t the only—or best—routes to the top of the business food chain. In fact, the number of Fortune 500 CEOs who own a liberal arts degree might surprise you.
Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein were history majors. Longtime Starbucks head Howard Schultz and Disney’s Bob Iger majored in communications. Former Hewlett-Packard leader Carly Fiorina and Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey have philosophy degrees.
The trend toward liberally educated CEOs is even more pronounced in tech, where the world’s ninth-most valuable company, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is helmed by Jack Ma, an English major. Airbnb’s Brian Chesky (fine arts), YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki (history and literature), and Slack’s Stewart Butterfield (philosophy) are among the many other tech titans whose leadership of the 21st-century economy is rooted in the liberal arts.
In 2016, the World Economic Forum surveyed 350 top executives from nine leading industries about the skills necessary for business success. Its study, “The Future of Jobs,” listed 10 essential traits, all of which are nurtured through Rollins’ 21st-century liberal arts curriculum: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation skills, and cognitive flexibility.
So, in today’s—and tomorrow’s—economy, can a liberal arts education take you to the top? These Rollins grads are proof it can. Here’s what they had to say, in their own words, about the value of the liberal arts.
Rod Adkins ’81
- President, 3RAM Group; Former senior vice president, IBM
- Major: Physics
After 33 years at IBM, retiring as senior vice president in 2014, Rod Adkins ’81 now presides over 3RAM Group, a business consulting firm specializing in capital investments and property management. He serves on the board of five Fortune 500 companies (UPS, PayPal, Grainger, PPL Electric Utilities, and Avnet) and is a trustee at Rollins and Georgia Tech.
Full STEAM Ahead
“One of the things you learn through a liberal arts education is how to deal with the complexities that are introduced around human behavior. In the tech world we talk about STEM, and I’ve been a strong proponent who says when you think about the workers of the 21st century, STEM is not enough. You need the “A”—arts. I’m a good example that when you combine the arts with science, you get a more equipped contributor in the business world.”
Comfortable with Complexity
“In tech, there’s a misperception that success is really just about deep technical expertise. But you also need business acumen and personal skills, and that’s an area where I had an advantage with my Rollins education. It helped me look at things in a broad, holistic way that tuned my critical-thinking ability and gave me a broader set of skills for managing in a complex environment.”
Flexibility to Thrive
“Employers today, especially in the STEM fields, are looking for workers who can think critically and analytically, while also taking an entrepreneurial-type approach to problem solving. They want people who are socially aware, have a global appreciation, and exercise good self-management.”
Passing the Torch
“Rollins was, no doubt, one of the most critical times in my life. It had a huge impact on my overall success, and I’m proud to help the next generation continue that tradition of excellence.”
Pat Loret de Mola ’78 ’80MBA
- Founder, chairwoman, and CEO, HashLynx
- Majors: Biology and philosophy
Pat Loret de Mola ’78 ’80MBA is a serial entrepreneur with four decades of experience in the financial services industry. Her new startup, HashLynx, is using blockchain solutions to improve the efficiency and transparency of capital markets. At Rollins, Loret de Mola developed her leadership acumen as captain of the women’s crew team for three years.
“Customers have options in this very competitive world, and the soft skills learned at Rollins improve human interaction and outcomes with clients, staff, and other relevant market participants. For example, understanding and learning to listen to different points of view, which may differ from your own, helps you deliver a better customer experience and gain a market reputation for excellent client service.”
“In addition to the classroom, Rollins fosters that type of relational engagement through everyday campus life. For me, leading and interacting with diverse groups of peers, professors, housing staff, and athletic coaches contributed to learning how to grow relationships, manage people, and try to always bring out the best in others. These
things really built my self-confidence and provided the management skills to become a serial entrepreneur, creating and leading innovative fintech companies.”
Flexibility That Works
“As technology and automation continue to roll out, liberal arts students with the ability to communicate, adapt, and think differently will have a stronger advantage in our future automated workforce. At my company, we will be looking for smart, hardworking grads with broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.”
“Grads with global exposure, prior internships, research, senior projects, and community engagements always stand out, as it clearly indicates they are students who want experiences that make a positive contribution to society.”
Patti Cazzato ’84
- CEO, Timbuk2
- Majors: Business and sociology
At San Francisco-based bag manufacturer Timbuk2, Patti Cazzato ’84 oversees a company “raised on the backs of bike messengers” that’s been making “tough-as-hell custom bags” since 1989. A former senior vice president at Gap and Levi Strauss & Co., Cazzato was president of Kappa Alpha Theta at Rollins.
“Overall, Rollins taught us how to be creative thinkers. This meant constantly asking questions, staying curious, and challenging the status quo. Creative thinking encourages connections, it sets you apart from others, and it defines who you are in your life, career, and beyond. We had small class sizes and engaged, passionate professors, so Rollins fostered an environment where you can do all of these things in order to get a more robust understanding of the curriculum, rather than memorizing words on a page.”
“These conversations and experiences created a well-rounded education and gave me a much stronger worldview as I moved into my professional career, but they also taught me the importance of staying in that student mindset and being open to constantly learning and staying curious.”
“Looking at Timbuk2 as a company today, you can clearly see this Rollins mindset implemented within our day-to-day operations, as well as our general brand ethos. It starts with our team, a diverse mix of creatives who aren’t afraid to take risks and do the unthinkable. It’s so fun at HQ; it’s an open-office environment and we’re constantly jumping back and forth with ideas, whether that’s what our next fall line is going to look like or how we plan to launch the next big travel item. In a way, it’s like being back in a Rollins classroom—we’re asking questions, challenging each other, and learning collectively along the way.”
“My liberal arts degree helps me see the bigger picture and shows me my place in the world, including how to build a better company that is ultimately going to leave a positive and lasting imprint.”
Josh Meyers ’97
- CEO, Slickdeals
- Major: Political science
Josh Meyers ’97 runs Los Angeles-based Slickdeals, a leading crowdsourced shopping platform where 11 million users share the latest information on online shopping deals and coupons. “We combine the utility of Amazon with the addictiveness of Instagram,” says Meyers. He is the former CEO of People Media, which was acquired by Match.com.
Not What but How to Think
“When I entered the internet field, there were no established rules or ways of doing things. The creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that I developed at Rollins were essential tools in creating entirely new applications and business models.”
Ready for Anything
“A CEO is a generalist. You need to be fluent—and sometimes even an expert—in sales, finance, product development, human resources, and more. A liberal arts education can prepare you for all of these disciplines and instill an adaptability to handle anything that comes your way.”
“As a leader, my personal capital is my most valuable asset. The very best people have many choices and options and will only follow leaders who they truly respect—and that respect is earned not only by what you know but also by your ability to truly partner to solve problems.”
“A liberal arts education fosters an understanding of human behavior as well as empathy and self-awareness. As a CEO, I need to understand our consumer, mobilize and motivate our team to pursue our mission, and be aware of my own idiosyncrasies and what I need to surround myself with to be successful.”
Doug Satzman ’96
- CEO, XpresSpa
- Majors: Economics and psychology
At New York-based XpresSpa, Doug Satzman ’96 leads a Nasdaq-traded luxury travel spa business with 57 locations in the U.S. and overseas. He has been the CEO of two food-service companies and a senior vice president at Starbucks. Satzman was a member of Rollins’ Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter.
“At Rollins, I really learned agile thinking and the ability to approach problems from a range of perspectives, and I’ve used these skills every day throughout my career.”
A Broad Base
“As a CEO, I might start my day sitting with the finance team reviewing business models on strategic partnerships, and later that morning I’m with the marketing team reviewing creative collateral for our next campaign. It makes the job interesting, but I also feel equipped to contribute to a wide range of topics every CEO needs to be fluent in to lead a company of 700 people.”
“My economics degree helped with my basic blocking and tackling in the business world, while psychology is what taught me how people learn what might be behind behaviors and how to influence others—including on my way up without the CEO title—and you certainly develop that muscle in a liberal arts environment.”
Triumph of Teamwork
“At Rollins, I gained a lot of experience working in small teams, which is most common in startups and small companies. Being able to do a lot with a few can be a competitive advantage, especially trying to tap into the gifts of a diverse group of people.”
Diversity Drives Innovation
“Flexibility, adaptability, and nimble thinking are becoming much more important to my selection of employees, especially young recruits. We can teach them the business, but we can’t teach people how to think. In big companies, you can get a lot of like-minded thinkers. But in today’s economy, you need much more agility and collaboration, and I got exposure to that at a small, private school with a lot of motivated peers.”
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