Every year, ambitious graduates with a fresh new master’s degree have to deal with the reality of having to prove themselves all over again in an organisation.
It can be easy to feel resentful and trudge through the work until dues are paid, but this can also be a time to excel, explained Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman in her commencement address Friday at her alma mater, the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management.
She told the graduates about to receive their MBAs that in a culture of fast-moving innovation, they need to prioritise doing things the right way. “I admit to being a bit concerned that we’re moving into a culture that values ideas too much and execution too little,” Friedman said.
When she was 28, four years out of Vanderbilt’s b-school, her boss at Nasdaq gave her her first product to oversee, and it was a total dud. It was the Mutual Fund Quotation Service, which Friedman described as “an antiquated system with a neglected client base that no one more senior than me at the company seemed to think had much of a future.”
Friedman portrayed the situation as a project handed to a young manager without the intention of making much out of it — it was worth trying to revive, but not worth the time of a seasoned executive with abundant resources.
But Friedman “went all in,” she said. She began by speaking with each of the product’s clients to discover how they were using it and what they wanted from it.
Now she had goals for improving the product, but couldn’t find any Nasdaq engineer who wanted to work on a project they found insignificant. Friedman said she was eventually able to convince a veteran guy from the IT department to help her out — she figured he joined “just for the entertainment value of my certain failure” — and that allowed her to recruit a few more.
The small, uninspired team went to their first project meeting and discovered that Friedman had crafted a detail-rich project schedule, and she explained each step with clarity and optimism.
Friedman said that when she finished her presentation, the veteran IT guy she recruited said, “Holy cow, I think she can actually get this done.” This person ended up becoming the project’s biggest champion and, motivated by Friedman’s dedication, gave it his full effort.
The project took off and the product is thriving today, according to Friedman. “The success got me noticed in the organisation, and set me on a path to run Nasdaq’s data products division,” she said.
She told the Vanderbilt crowd that this project was the culmination of five lessons she learned early in her career:
• “Play well with others.”
• “Ideas are only as good as your ability to communicate them.”
• “Always be listening and learning.”
• “Be the optimist in the room.”
• “Be the brains, but also the boots. In other words, value execution.”
As she ended her speech, Friedman made it clear that she could have told plenty of stories where she gave her best effort and failed. Those scenarios can be just as valuable as the wins as you grow into your career, she explained.
The point is to focus on those principles she mentioned, regardless of what your boss (or life) throws at you, and, “no matter what happens, you’re going to be OK.”
More from Richard Feloni:
- Nasdaq’s CEO told Vanderbilt MBA grads how going ‘all in’ on a project no one else wanted in her 20s changed the course of her career
- I woke up at 3 a.m. to spend 12 hours learning what it takes to be a leader from former Navy SEALs
- 7 people who were rejected before reaching incredible success
- Steve Harvey said he doesn’t apologise for his brutal staff rules, which include ‘do not attempt to walk with me’ and ‘do not wait in any hallway to speak to me’
- The author of a business classic says a mistake he made in college is still one of the worst of his career
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