Larry Gies urges 2018 graduates to “Find your why”

The 2018 Convocation of Gies College of Business was a time to celebrate the success and accomplishments of the 1,824 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree recipients who participated in the ceremony. Included among that graduating class were 32 members of the Senior 100, a recognition of the top students at the University of Illinois based on classroom achievement as well as impact on the campus community, and 26 recipients of the Bronze Tablet recognition, which is the highest academic honor the University of Illinois bestows.

This convocation was significant, because, as Dean Jeffrey R. Brown stated, “All of you who are graduating today have the distinct honor of being the first students to graduate from Gies College of Business.”

As Brown stated, the $150 million naming gift from Larry Gies ACCY ’88 and his wife Beth, which the college announced in October 2017, has had a significant impact on the atmosphere of the College. “It was a remarkable and unprecedented gift,” Brown said. “But as I often say, I actually think the most meaningful gift they gave us was their name. The Gies name is synonymous with vision, hard work, humility, success, and perhaps most importantly, a focus on making the world better.”

Larry Gies is the founder, president, and CEO of Madison Industries, one of the largest and most successful privately held companies in the world. He served the keynote speaker at this 2018 Convocation. In his remarks, he urged the graduates to “find your why.”

When he was graduating from undergraduate program, Gies said that he knew what he wanted to do for his career and how he wanted to do it, but he didn’t know why. “Knowing your why is critical. It is the ability to connect the dots between what you’re doing each and every day and a higher purpose,” Gies said. “Our why is what drives us, inspires others around us, and allows us to persevere during those difficult moments. To put it simply, when you find your why, you love what you do.”

Gies shared a story of how, several years ago, he had executives at his company write their own personal eulogy—what they wanted to be remembered for. Although the company had been very successful and had given excellent returns to investors throughout its existence, providing excellent returns was not something that appeared in any of the eulogies. Instead, everyone wrote about how they wanted to be remembered for the impact they had in the lives of others, and how they wanted to build something that was truly remarkable.

This exercise had a profound impact on Madison Industries and on Gies himself. It help him discover his own passion for what he wanted to do. “I was forty-five before I found my why,” he said.

For Gies, part of that why was expanding education opportunities for others. Work he has done to improve the educational opportunities in inner-city Chicago and his very generous support of Gies College of Business are two key examples of his efforts to expand the impact education can have. For each graduate, Gies said, the answer may be different, but the questions would be the same: “How can I make the world a better place? How can I connect the dots to a higher purpose for myself and those around me?”