Daniel Hesse, MBA ’77, Sprint Nextel CEO and recipient the inaugural L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award, on “The Evolving Role of America’s Business Leaders”
In his speech, “The Evolving Role of America’s Business Leaders,” Hesse reflected on his experience in the telecommunications industry, and how it has changed. “Telecom technology has changed a lot since we were students. The first portable device that I ever owned was a TI calculator,” he said. “It had two functions on it, and that was so impressive for that time.”
In recent years, wireless technology has become the most rapidly adopted technology in history. “It has been growing faster than TVs, PCs, and automobiles combined,” Hess said. A recent survey suggests that four out of 10 students on college campuses cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking one of their wireless devices. “In my day, we couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without checking out a member of the opposite sex,” Hesse joked.
Despite the rapid growth of the industry, Hesse explained that American business in general has been in trouble over the past few years. “In my view, principal business leaders will need to build our nation's leadership back up from the mess left by the lack of political leadership from our increasingly ineffective two-party political system,” Hesse said. “The imperative for corporate social responsibility by America’s business leaders to build our country’s leadership back up has never been greater.”
According to Hesse, one of the main problems with the American economy is the changing attitude towards capitalism. “Mitt Romney’s business background should be an asset, but instead, it’s a political liability,” he said.
Another issue, he believes, is that the nation is losing interest in the future. “I was talking to the CEO of a major corporation just last week, and he said that investors would prefer a higher profit next quarter even if it meant killing his business over the long term,” Hesse said. What’s even worse, he said, is that this is a widely held sentiment.
As the first recipient of the L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award, Hesse said he could not be prouder of his alma mater, and its success under the leadership of Dean Thomas. “I thought back to my Cornell years and remembered the quaintness of the campus, the town of Ithaca, the physical beauty, and the friendly people. The pace of life and the beautiful setting is a custom-made environment for the Johnson school to teach corporate social responsibility and to make these great young minds decide what vocation or purpose they want their lives to have,” Hesse reflects. Alluding to a quote from Anwar Sadat, Hesse believes that “‘without vocation, man’s existence would be meaningless,’ and business leadership, with the effect it has on so many lives and livelihoods, can be a very noble vocation.”
Maria Minsker ’13 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.