Graduation address given by David Westbrook Anstice

David Westbrook Anstice gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Economics and Business graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 9 October 2009 in the Great Hall. Mr Anstice is President of the University of Sydney USA Foundation and recipient of the title of Honorary Fellow of the University.

The photo below is copyright, Memento Photography.

David Westbrook Anstice

Graduation address

Thank you Chancellor Bashir for your very kind remarks and for today’s honorary Fellowship Award. I thank you and the University for this honour. Chancellor, it is also a privilege for me to have received this award from you. I commend you for your extraordinary public service in many roles, including of course your critical roles as Chancellor of this great University and Governor of New South Wales.

And to Professor Peter Wolnizer I cannot let this occasion pass without thanking you also. Peter, I commend you for your extraordinary leadership of the Faculty of Economics and Business - as Dean - for over a decade. I have very much enjoyed getting to know you over these past several years, and I am delighted that in receiving today’s award I am returning to the Faculty from which I graduated.

It means a great deal to me to receive an honorary fellowship from the University of Sydney. This University has very directly contributed to, and nourished, my life, professionally and personally. I learned a great deal here which has stood me in good stead in the 40 years of my professional career, and I have made life-long friends, some here today - and particularly at St Andrew’s College where I was privileged to live during my University years.

And today the University is allowing me another privilege - that of re-engaging with some of its parts:

  • In the innovation and entrepreneurship research group within this Faculty where we are working together on a research project,
  • As a board member of the recently created United States Studies Centre at the University,
  • And as Chairman of the University’s USA Foundation, which provides for those of our several thousand US-based alumni who wish to make charitable donations to our University.

Most importantly – for today - I congratulate the parents, relatives, friends and graduating students that are gathered here in this magnificent Great Hall. I congratulate those of you receiving Bachelor degrees and, for many of you here today, for the attainment of your Masters degree.

I commend your choice of University and faculty, your perseverance, your application, and your success in gaining the degree you received today.

I can identify with the sense of excitement, anticipation and pride each of you present must possess today.

Forty years ago I was sitting exactly where you are seated today, with my parents and grandmother in attendance then, just as other close family members are with me today, and, like you must be now, wondering what the world had in store for me. It was an exciting moment for a young man from Wagga Wagga, the town where I was born and grew up.

I wish all of you great success for the future - doing whatever it is you decide to do. What you choose to do should be what you want to do. As the speaker said, at my nephew’s graduation ceremony at Williams College in Massachusetts two years ago: “Don’t make a living, go out and make a life”. That is a good message - whether it is as a teacher, a public servant, an academic, a business person, or any other life choice you might make.

I chose the business world, a decision I have never regretted.

I have worked in one industry for the so far 40 years of my professional life - the research based pharmaceutical industry - and with one, global company for the 35 years up until the end of last year.

Now. I am not advocating that you approach your career with that expectation of longevity in any one company, but as I will describe in a moment I am suggesting that you follow a course in life that engages you, indeed a path in life which engages you with passion.

As a Division President where I worked I was always asked, in gatherings of recent, and not so recent, graduates, to what I attributed my success.

If you bear with me for a few minutes, I will give you the same three answers I gave those groups over the years. The summary, and if you remember anything of what I say today this perhaps can be it, is “CVP”: curiosity, values and passion.
Your education here at the University has taught you many things, but most importantly I trust it has taught you how to think, and even more importantly I hope it has taught you to want to think. Use that power!

Ask questions, challenge assumptions and question conclusions, learn all the time, and seek alternative diagnoses and solutions to issues - above all maintain intellectual curiosity in all that you do. If you do this I assure you that there will never be a day pass that you do not learn new things, and you will add value to the issue at hand.

My second message: the critical importance of conducting whatever it is you do with a strong sense of values.
Values beget the culture of any group - on the planet - and culture is critical to an institution’s progress and achievements. As one CEO I worked for said: “Culture eats strategy for lunch, every day”. He is right. The values of an organization are all.

What are my top choices for the values that you should sign up for?:

  • Ethical behaviour in all that you do is an absolutely critical starting point;
  • How you treat people, whether subordinates, peers, bosses or suppliers - and which should be with fairness, dignity, and openness - is also critical in my view;
  • As is fully respecting the importance of real diversity in organizations;
  • Listening well, the most under-appreciated way to behave in most fields of human endeavour, is a too rarely used but extremely valuable behaviour;
  • Collaboration is a very powerful weapon for success in any organization;
  • And, transparency and directness in discussions is critical so that the common good can prevail, not narrow sectional interests.

My third encouragement is to become fully engaged in what you choose to do, and become passionate about the mission and task at hand. You are going to spend a great proportion of your waking hours in your chosen working life, so you will be much better off if you also derive immense satisfaction from that effort. And be optimistic, and positive, as you work and collaborate with others - nobody enjoys working with pessimists and sad sacks. Optimists provide oxygen to a room; pessimists suck the oxygen out of a room faster than an extractor!

Finding your passion is not necessarily easy. You may know it today, it may change over time, or you may need to search for it still. But look for it - and when you find it, embrace it!

Very quickly. As I reflect on my career it became apparent to me, sometime in my early 20’s after I had been working for a couple of years, that my interest was not only in business but in a business that was truly international, or global in scope. I deliberately chose to join an industry and a company that could provide that stimulus.

As a result I have had the privilege of working with people of many countries and cultures for now 40 years, 24 of them living outside Australia. I am delighted to recognize that so many of you graduating today are from other countries and that you chose Australia for this part of your education.

Every day has taught me new things about the world, and the many ways of getting things done. Living with diversity is a wonderful experience and has been very enriching for me, and by observation for all those I worked with.

Lastly, my bonus in joining a global business was to discover the critical nexus between the business world, the world of government and the world of academia. Let me illustrate. Laws protecting intellectual property and providing for regulation and oversight, to pick just two examples, are good things. Basic research which can only be done at universities is a critical part of the innovation process, which in turn directly contributes to economic growth. Being world class in the pursuit of research goals is also essential to being truly successful in a global world - and being entrepreneurial with that research is also a good and necessary thing – for Australia as well I would add. But that is all a theme for another day.

Enjoy and celebrate this day and take delight in your achievements. Be sure to thank those who have made it all possible, in your family, perhaps from the outside, and among those who taught you, here and in your earlier schooling, wherever that may have been. They all contributed to your success.

And please - engage fully in whatever it is you decide to do: always maintain your intellectual curiosity, bring a strong sense of values to your behaviours, and perform your life’s work with passion, no matter which path you choose.