Lessons in Leadership

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Business leaders representing five companies either based or having big operations in the Atlanta…

Georgia (Mar 1, 2011)

Business leaders representing five companies either based or having big operations in the Atlanta area shared their ideas on how to achieve success with 400 Coles College of Business Executive M.B.A. students and alumni on Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

As panelists in the college’s Executive M.B.A.’s 11th Annual Lessons in Leadership forum, the executives offered practical lessons for successful leadership: take responsibility, know your goals, project a winning attitude, be willing to take risks and work hard.

“Take yourself seriously, but not so seriously people don’t want to work for you,” said Michael Coles, the benefactor of Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University and executive chairman and president of Global Onboard Partners.

Coles said important lessons are learned from mistakes, as when one of his companies failed years ago because he concentrated too much on sales and marketing instead of overall operations.

“Instead of blaming my accountant, it fell on my shoulders because it was my company,” he said. “If you run a company, it’s all your responsibility.”

The other panelists at the Lessons in Leadership forum were Littie D. Brown, vice president of Southeast commercial sales at Grainger Industrial Supply; Marie-Jose G. Labaye, CEO and managing director of Keystone Strategy Consulting Group LLC;

Jerry Nix, chief financial officer and vice chairman of the board of directors of Genuine Parts Company; and Jennifer Van Buskirk, senior vice president of consumer strategy at AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets.

This year’s theme was “Secrets of Success.”

Grainger Industrial Supply’s Brown said future leaders display certain qualities. They are smart, adaptable, decipher information quickly and communicate well with peers and customers. Ultimately, she said, success comes down to performance.

“If you understand what your goals are and what you’re striving to achieve, that’s the ticket to your success,” she said.

Van Buskirk, of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, said leaders need to project a winning attitude.

“It’s always important to see the opportunity in every challenge,” she said. “It’s remaining optimistic – not unrealistic – and seeing the glass half full.”

Becoming a leader can strain relations with one’s former peers and team members, she said. Sending out a clear vision for the team is important, as is facing up to tough responsibilities such as terminating an employee.

 “If you don’t directly manage that, people on the team will lose respect for you,” she said.

Labaye, of Keystone Strategy Consulting Group, said breaking into a new career takes perseverance, confidence and “the humility to listen and absorb like a sponge. Have the humility or you’ll miss a lot.”

Labaye said leaders must be willing to take chances. “Taking no risk is a failure,” she said.

Nix, of Genuine Parts Company, said his company likes to hire people who have demonstrated a drive to succeed.

“We look for somebody who worked their way through school, earned their education, and wants to put themselves ahead,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, the secret of success is not so hard to find.

 “I think the secret is hard work,” Nix said. “Everybody works 8 to 5. It’s what you do before and after that makes a difference.”

The event was presented in partnership with The Henssler Financial Group and the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The publication’s broadcast editor, Crystal Edmonson, served as mistress of ceremonies. Paul Lopez, a lecturer in the Executive M.B.A. program and executive vice president of Element Funding, moderated the panel discussion.

Lessons in Leadership is presented annually by the Coles Colleges Executive M.B.A. program, which has been recently recognized by CEO Magazine and BusinessWeek as a top executive M.B.A. program. The Coles College of Business is the second largest business school in the state.



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu