Missouri congressman and former presidential nominee Richard Gephardt recently visited the Wisconsin School of Business to speak with MBA students about the importance of human capital in today’s global economy.
Gephardt served 28 years in the United States Congress. In 2005, he founded his own consulting firm, Gephardt Group, which represents an array of Fortune 100 clients. Having transitioned his political leadership experiences into the business world, Gephardt offered students a unique perspective on how to bring the best out of people. He spoke to students as part of the M. Keith Weikel Speaker Series at the school.
Gephardt said he believes that aligning leadership correctly can make an incredible difference. He used what he thinks was one of the biggest struggles he has ever faced in Congress—balancing the federal budget from 1990 to 1993—as an example.
“When I saw the economy in the later 1990s and early 2000s, I felt I had offered a good service, I had done something really good for the country and the people—that’s the real reward of public service and servant leadership,” he said.
Gephardt stressed that students could receive the same reward in the business world as long as they led with honor.
“Treat people like human beings, not robots,” Gephardt said. “People want to be part of a leading organization. They want to go home at night and tell their families that they are involved in something really good and are making a contribution to a really important effort.”
MBA student Lizzy Tomber said Gephardt allowed her to better understand the value of empowering employees and the positive impact on the bottom line.
“The [M. Keith Weikel Speaker Series] is a much needed supplement to our classroom activities. These events prepare us to be better informed managers,” Tomber said. “Congressman Gephardt's message about leadership and people-focused management really spoke to the skills we will need to be inspiring leaders, not just effective managers.”
Wisconsin MBA Assistant Director Odette Ahn said the speaker series is meant to be a complement to the traditional classroom experience.
“Interacting with business leaders like Richard Gephardt gives our MBA students the aspirations to aim high and be the difference,” Ahn said.
During the speech, Gephardt used his work with Ford Motor Company as an illustration of how leadership in organizations can inspire. Gephardt’s company helped bring in Alan Mulally as CEO of Ford in 2006 to help the struggling automaker. After the 2008-2011 financial crisis wreaked havoc on the auto industry, Ford didn’t take a federal bailout, but needed to make some significant changes.
The company created the “One Ford” plan, which seeks to motivate people at all levels in the company. From janitors to the board of directors, Ford leadership used a singular plan, along with team work to make the company profitable.
A crucial part of the initiative is a weekly leadership meeting. Leaders from all over the world are brought in, connected via video broadcast, to check the status of the One Ford mission in each department. To ensure that the One Ford efforts make an impact throughout the company, the leadership includes line workers to give their point of view.
Gephardt described a particularly moving moment he witnessed in one of the meetings.
“A woman line-worker got her chance to come to the microphone,” Gephardt recalled. “I remember she said getting invited to this meeting was the greatest honor of her life because she now knew what everyone in the world was doing to make Ford a successful enterprise. She knew she was a part of that success.”
Gephardt’s full speech is available here.