Corzine spoke at Farleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey to a room of about 100 undergraduate and graduate business students.
The 68-year-old’s speech was entitled “Life with Purpose: Reflections on Success and Failure.”
“It has not been a straight shot to my dreams. Those particular periods in one’s life require resilience. Resiliency is an important characteristic,” he said at the beginning of his speech.
“In my life, there have been some rough spots. I learned how to deal with those. I have a phrase for it — ‘Buckle up.'”
During the hour-long talk, Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs CEO and former New Jersey Governor and US Senator, shared his best advice for success and briefly alluded to MF Global, without mentioning the firm by name.
‘A struggling corporate franchise’
Following his defeat for reelection as New Jersey governor to Chris Christie, Corzine took the helm at MF Global in 2010. He had aspirations to turn the small futures and derivatives brokerdealer into a fullblown financial services firm.
A year later, MF Global filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,066 employees after Corzine had authorised a disastrous $6 billion bet on European sovereign debt.
The CFTC later charged Corzine with ‘unlawful misuse’ of nearly $1 billion in customer funds, and he was sued by creditors over their losses. Legal proceedings have dragged on for years.
“Five years ago, I took on a struggling corporate franchise. The objective was to turn it around, give it health, give it vitality,” he said. “I wanted to do that in a way that if we were successful I could build up my capacity as a philanthropist in the remaining years of my life.”
He noted that he was “confident” that if he surrounded himself with good people he could do just that.
“Regrettably, I was wrong.”
“In defeat it’s not just the individual who has hardships, it’s been disruptive and painful for many innocent bystanders. I don’t like that.”
He said that he’d like to address it more fully, but he can’t at the moment.
“Someday, I hope I can speak directly to this issue fully.”
Advice for young people
Corzine’s intention for the evening was to offer perspective to young people on how to build a career.
He spent 24 years at Goldman Sachs, becoming the youngest person to ever be named senior partner and later becoming the bank’s CEO. He then transitioned into public service, serving as five years as a US Senator before being elected to governor of New Jersey.
Below are the key takeaways from his talk:
- How will you judge yourself?: “As you begin your career, set off on a course of achieving success. Keeping asking, ‘how will I judge myself?” Corzine said, adding that it’s “really important that you know yourself when answering those questions.”
- Ambition is a good thing: “I hope that we look at ambition as a positive. I think Sheryl Sandberg said it pretty well. ‘Lean in.’ Using your talent and ambition can change the world.”
- Have integrity: “The pursuit of aspirations should always be tempered by how the outcomes are achieved. Real success comes when it’s achieved in the context of excellence…. Winning at all costs, it isn’t worth it. It isn’t acceptable. Integrity is fundamental.”
- Teamwork: “No one does anything by themselves in this life — writers have editors, surgeons are supported with nurses, and presidents have aides,” he said. “It’s great to have partners to work with. My life has been blessed with great teammates. I know any success I’ve had is because others have made it possible.”
- Take risks: “Without some risk of failure, there’s almost no chance of getting to a positive conclusion,” he said, later adding, “Without risk our capitalist system wouldn’t function.”
- Bad things test your character: “When bad things happen, keep in mind the greatest test in one’s character is how you deal with those things,” he said, adding that it’s also important to understand the causes of the situation that you’re dealing with, offering you the opportunity to reset.
- Giving up is not an option: “Starting over is an option and something everyone should be willing to do.”
- “Buckle up”: In 2007, when Corzine was governor, he was in a terrible car accident and was not wearing his seatbelt. “I ended up having a really serious outcome…I was in induced coma for 11 days. I recovered.” He said he used that opportunity to do a public service announcement on the importance of wearing a seatbelt.
“I don’t know how many lives it save, but people paid attention. My point is if you have a purpose in life, you can make a difference. I hope that’s one of the things I’m conveying to you tonight. Buckle up, go for it, succeed and have a purpose.”
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