Nikki Bracy (right) is an MA student in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business. Last week, she attended two events featuring Robert Holland, a managing partner and advisory board member of Essex Lake Group and a former CEO at Ben & Jerry’s Homemade.
Here, she shares her thoughts of Holland’s morning conversation and afternoon lecture on the ingredients for success.
What is success? How do you measure it? How do you define it? And most importantly -- how do you achieve it?
I ran into Worrell at 7:59 am excited to have breakfast with Bob Holland and some of my fellow MAs. And while that was far too early in the morning for my brain to function properly, I knew today would be the day that I would receive the necessary tools to embark on my own “Quest for Success.”
Mr. Holland gave a nice overview of his accomplishments. Then he told us different stories that have shaped his life. He spoke of the importance of character and communication. He spoke fondly of his kind, hard-working mother, who was moved by someone who simply had a genuine interest in her life. He talked about peoples’ unwillingness to help a homeless woman whose only goal was to move off of the sidewalk and stay out of the way of busy passersby. He told us an amazing story about motivating inner city youth to stay out of gangs, focus on their education, and ultimately take control of their future. As I heard him speaking, I found myself attempting to connect the dots. How did these events lead him to where he is today?
Later that day, as I sat listening to his speech in the Law Auditorium, I could feel myself (and everyone around me) waiting for him to spill the beans. What was his secret? How did he manage to do so much with his life, motivate so many people, and (let’s be honest), make so much money? The question and answer section came and someone asked him “what is your definition of success?” Finally, I thought, someone was brave enough to ask what we were all dying to know. We were finally going to hear how a CEO achieved success. But he simply said, “I don’t know. I’m still a work in progress.”
He said he’s “still searching.” How? How could he still be searching for success when it’s etched into every inch of his past? PR professionals always told me that success should be measurable. So surely the 44 high school students he helped graduate could be considered successful. My teachers always measured success with the letters ‘A’ through ‘F’; so obviously, Mr. Holland’s ability to achieve outstanding grades at Union College made him successful. My mother always said I could only be successful by “having an impact on others and staying true to myself.” So naturally, his positions on 14 different publicly traded company’s corporate boards and his work with numerous nonprofits is proof that he’d been successful. So what was he “still searching” for?
He said that in order to know what success is you have to know what is important to you. He said, “Unto thine own self, be true.” And isn’t that what we’ve been learning all of this time? Finding our passion is the key to life. Well, our passions, desires, and strengths all differ from person to person. And so does success.
So while I went to the speech hoping to leave knowing exactly what I needed on my “Quest,” I learned that success is an anomaly, and that’s ok. We are each the biggest stakeholders in our future. In fact, we are the stakeholders, the company, AND the client. Think about it. Who else can determine what you accomplish? The way I define success cannot be found in Webster’s dictionary, on Wikipedia, or in the mouth, mind, or heart of anyone else. So the way I achieve success must be my own as well.
We go to speeches by CEOs because they’re good opportunities. But in the back of our minds we are hoping to unlock their secrets or perhaps we are hoping that some of their luck, knowledge, or talent will rub off onto us. Not likely. So what should we go to these speeches hoping to gain? We should go to get a glimpse into the life of someone who stayed true to themselves. We should leave with the appreciation that all of us can achieve even more than we dreamt we could, if we work hard enough.
So what is the true definition of “success?” The world may never know. And really … who cares? As Mr. Holland said, even he continues to search for success, which he said may only be measured by others.