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Jeb Bush Brings Lessons in Leadership to UM School of Business

April 28, 2008
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 Jeb Bush
 Jeb Bush addresses the Storer Auditorium audience


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush outlined what he sees as essential elements of leadership during a presentation at the University of Miami (UM) School of Business on April 28. The talk, which drew more than 200 UM students, faculty, staff and alumni, was part of the School’s Cobb Leadership Lecture Series. The long-running series is made possible by an endowment gift made by Ambassador Sue Cobb for the birthday of her husband Ambassador Chuck Cobb in 1986.

“Each year we have really interesting leaders from across the country and they have brought really important messages,” said Cobb, who along with his wife introduced the former governor.

“Jeb Bush is a visionary…he sets audacious goals and sets about meeting them,” added Mrs. Cobb who served during Bush’s governorship as Florida secretary of state and interim director of the Florida Lottery.

Bush, who was governor from 1999 through 2006, reflected on his time in office to offer the audience “Lessons Learned from Public Leadership through Trial and Error,” the title of his talk. Bush began by saying that he believes the nation and the world are in a challenging time, which takes a special kind of leadership.

“Risk-taking is essential,” he said. “There’s no such thing as the status quo. The minute you get comfortable is the first day of your decline.”

Risk-taking was the first of six elements of leadership Bush outlined as essential today. He pointed to Tiger Woods as his risk-taking role model, noting the golf star took a big chance in revamping his swing, but today continues as the sport’s top-ranked player. Bush also pointed to the successes resulting from the risks taken by his administration when he was governor, from creating “the most significant change in Medicaid” to vetoing more than $2.3 billion in earmarks and reducing the state government workforce by more than 13,000.

Bush Group
Jeb Bush speaking with Chuck Cobb (right) and lecture guest

“Leaders in a world of tumult and change need to ask the ‘why not’ question,” said Bush.

He said the second essential element of leadership, which he also learned as governor, is the need to have BHAGs, an acronym used in his administration to describe “big, hairy, audacious goals.” Bush said the number one BHAG for his administration was rising student achievement.

“During the eight years, we turned the education system upside down. We shook it up a bit,” he told the audience, noting that in education Florida has gone from the back of the pack to the front of the pack.

Bush went on to tell the audience that conviction and “sticking with it” are essential in leadership even though, he said, it is easy today to “surrender your convictions to just get along.”

As essential, Bush said, is the need to listen.

“I learned through hard work to listen,” he said. “When you listen, it gives you humility…but then it allows you to communicate in a way that resonates much better.”

Bush described how his administration implemented a system whereby constituents could e-mail the governor directly and through which all issues would be addressed in a timely manner by the appropriate department. He noted that he had had received 560,000 e-mails as governor.

 Bush Deans Office
 Pictured (l-r) Jeb Bush, Sue Cobb, Barbara Kahn, and Chuck Cobb

 Bush pointed to significant challenges faced by his administration as providing lessons on leadership, including the eight hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005. He said having a “servant’s heart” is essential and noted how that was illustrated as hundreds of thousands of volunteers acted on their hearts to help others in the aftermath of the storms.

Bush, who is now the president of the consulting firm Jeb Bush and Associates, occasionally steered from his time as governor and state politics to national issues, such as this year’s presidential election and energy security for the U.S. He said he was watching “with amazement” the political process this year, particularly on the democratic side. He tied the national political campaigns to his message on leadership, rounding out his lecture by maintaining that strong leaders must first say what they are going to do and then make sure “they do what they say they are going to do.”

“The School of Business and wider University community are very fortunate to have the opportunity to gain insight from such prominent leaders as Governor Bush,” said Barbara Kahn, dean of the University of Miami School of Business. “I want to thank him, as well as the Cobbs, whose commitment makes these rare learning opportunities possible for our community.”

Past speakers in the Cobb Leadership Lecture Series include Steven Sample, president of the University of Southern California; David Gergen, presidential advisor and author, Albert Dunlap, chairman and CEO of Sunbeam Corporation; Henry Kravis, founding partner of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.; David Stern, National Basketball Association commissioner; Barbara Franklin, former U.S. secretary of commerce; Robert Galvin, CEO of Motorola; C. William Verity, former U.S. secretary of commerce and former CEO of ARMCO; Casper Weinberger, former U.S. secretary of defense; and H. Ross Perot, chairman emeritus of Perot Systems Corporation.

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