C.E. Andrews has seen it all – from the demise of Arthur Anderson to the conflicts at Sallie Mae, his business career has been full of challenges. Andrews transformed these difficult situations into learning situations and joined students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business to share common myths of the business world and tips for being a successful leader in whom others can place their trust.
On February 7, 2012, Andrews joined these students, along with faculty and staff, as part of the Smith School’s CEO @ Smith speaker series. He is currently president of RSM Business Services and former President and CEO of RSM McGladrey, Inc. Prior to these positions, Andrews served as president of SLM Corporation (“Sallie Mae”) following a 29-year career with Arthur Andersen. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1974.
“I decided to talk about things I would have liked to know when I was in your shoes,” he said to introduce his talk. “I’ll call my talk ‘How to achieve business success,’ a.k.a. if I knew then what I know now,” adding that sometimes the business world isn’t quite what you think it will be.
“There are unfortunately limitations on all of us so sometimes we can’t really be what we want to be. You can’t be a stellar athlete if you are slow – and speed can’t be taught,” he explained. “There are similar limitations in the business world – it is a complicated place and doesn’t follow a simple set of rules. But you are here taking a great step: College is preparing you to get in the race. It prepares you to start your journey.”
Andrews shared his tips for building your personal brand or your “business DNA”:
Maintain rock-solid integrity and ethics
“When you get in the business world if anyone questions your integrity, you’re dead. You don’t get do-overs if you get a black mark on your integrity. Make sure you deploy the burden of truth, proof and facts. Don’t let yourself be a BSer – it can destroy people’s confidence in you. It’s OK to admit you don’t know something or don’t know the answer, but that you’ll figure it out.”
“Don’t forget to be humble. Healthy self-confidence is important, but it needs to have the umbrella of humility. Arrogance is a disease you never want to catch.”
Develop and use common sense
“Avoid self-inflicted wounds. We live in a world that is very public. Don’t be so naïve to think that what you do or say is not in the public domain. Also, make sure you listen to your “too good to be true” voice. If something looks like it is too good to be true, it probably is. Common sense will lead you to right answer most of the time.”
Surround yourself with a good team
“It’s normal to want to be the smartest person in the room, but surrounding yourself with people smarter than you will present you with great learning opportunities. Similarly, use mentors – don’t be a lone ranger. Surround yourself with input from other people. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Be an effective communicator
“This is a continuous work in progress. Good communicators listen a lot more than they talk. If things get heated, as they often do in the business world, learn to avoid emotional decisions. Condition yourself to back away until things settle down and you can make a rational decision.”
He finished his talk by encouraging students to develop these skills and to build their business DNA: “Being successful in business is totally in your control.”
Jessica Smith, Writer and Editor, Office of Marketing Communications