An impressive list of big names and great speeches in the Aula called in the start of EFR’s Business Week 2010 on 30 March.

The day’s theme was inspiration. The CEO of Airbus: Thomas Enders, President Obama’s personal photographer: Callie Shell and Commander of US Central Command: General David Petraeus were among the speakers on this day, as well as British stuntman Steve Truglia, and Canadian success analyst: Richard St. John. Well-known Dutch journalist Twan Huys was invited to lead the day, including the discussion with a panel half-way through the programme. With his excellent command of the English language and great interviewing skills, the entire programme unfolded smoothly and without a doubt all in the audience got inspired one way or another.

Lead from the front

After the opening speech by the chairman of the EFR-Business Week Casper de Leeuw, the floor was given to Thomas Enders, the leader of one of Europe’s most successful, but also one of Europe’s most troubled and most complicated corporations: Airbus. Good leadership takes courage Enders explained. “Think for instance of the guys leading the A400 (military plane) project. They need courage to fight seven different governments. But it starts with the CEO. They are better paid precisely because they must take a personal risk and must lead from the front”, so as to “confront problems head on”, he said. “If you want to lead, don’t hide behind consultants and Powerpoint presentations; go to the shop floor”, he continued saying. The A380 project was a good example of how a CEO can really benefit from these principles. Because despite the airlines loving the A380, much went wrong in the development stages. Airbus managed the project mainly by emails, and secondly, problems were not anticipated. Also, Mr Enders said that a good leader should stay physically fit and humble, despite all the privileges. Mr Enders was subsequently presented the EFR-Business Week Award.

Face it head on

Following a short film showing some of his extreme stunts, Steve Truglia gave his key-note presentation. In his life as a professional stuntman there have been two decisive moments. One was a conversation with the father of a girlfriend, who regretted not having done exciting things in his life like mountaineering. Secondly, the film ‘The Bucket List’ proved a huge inspiration and Truglia came up with his own bucket list of things he wanted to do in life. Nevertheless, there is a price to pay. You can’t jump off a building and land on a small air cushion without a great amount of preparation, and being able to overcome fear. But interestingly, there is also a price to pay if you don’t do the things you want to do: regret, as demonstrated by the girlfriend’s father. “If it is scary, face it head on”, Truglia said, and “Inspiration is the thing that makes you step out of bed in the morning”.   

‘Women are less ambitious’

A panel discussion was next during which four leading Dutch CEOs: CEO of Robeco: Roderick Munster, Chairman of KPMG Netherlands: Herman Dijkuizen, CEO of Marsh Netherlands: Marcel Polk and CEO of Coolblue: Pieter Zwart debated issues such as the lack of women in the boardroom. Marcel Polk argued that women are less ambitious than men. The ensuing  silence almost proved him right until a female student in the audience stood up and explained she is as ambitious as any guy could ever be because she wants to be the example – and inspire other girls. Also, men should be more involved in family life, she argued.

The right big ideas

That would have concluded any successful afternoon, but at this point the programme was only half-way and it was time for a break. Perhaps the biggest name of all was up next: General David Petraeus, Commander of US Central Command. A top military leader, who should know a thing or two about leadership. He explained that good leadership starts with the right ‘big idea’, and took the surge in Iraq in 2007 as the example. Big ideas derive from a process, “they don’t fall out of a tree like Newton’s apple”, he said. It took several years to get the big ideas right for the surge and they had the Iraqi people at the basis. Then he explained a series of subsequent, crucial steps, like good communication, overseeing the execution of the big ideas, and having to learn and adapt in order for strategic leadership to work well. And as the world today faces numerous threats, these four steps are essential in dealing with these threats.      

General Petraeus was also presented the EFR-Business Week Award, which he accepted on behalf of the Dutch and US militaries.


Obama’s journey

Like General Petraeus, the next speaker also personally knows President Obama: Callie Shell, Obama’s personal photographer. And where the others spoke about their own leadership and success – “I have no idea how I got here; the story of my life” – she spoke about Obama, and his success, while showing a slideshow of fantastic photographs. “What propelled this man”, she said, “is he loves people”. By engaging himself with everyone, including his opponents, he got where he is now. In the photos he is seen visiting ordinary people and talking with them. She also included a photo of the president asleep in a van on the campaign trail. A personal photo, which she had to explain for to Obama’s press secretary. But as this was the only few hours of sleep Obama was going to have, she argued it was important to document this precious moment. Furthermore she praised Michelle Obama because she makes her husband remember where he came from. Also, she said that people never thought she herself would become a good photographer, just like Obama was told he would never become president.

Success in eight steps

After all these successful people, success analyst Richard St. John, the last speaker, explained how one becomes successful by breaking the road to success down into eight principles. Passion, hard work, focus, pushing yourself, or being pushed, good ideas, improvement, serve and persistence are these eight components. With each of these, he had several examples of rich and famous people to prove him right. Ted Turner’s idea for a 24 hour news channel, CNN, was an example of a very good idea. He also said: “The richest people never chose to be rich”, and “most millionaires don’t spend money on their egos.” Successful people are not better looking, smarter or luckier. However, ninety percent of millionaires are college or university graduates, because at university one learns to persist among other things.

With that last important bit of inspiration, the Opening Day was concluded and Mark van der Maas was given the floor for a short speech. He is the guy who organised the Opening Day, and as everything went without a hitch and the audience got inspired by this incredible line-up of speakers, it is fair to say Mark’s job was a job well done. KL