Noted Business Leaders Offer Advice at Leadership Conference
Leadership. Many try to define it. Books are written about it. But how do you truly achieve it? Four men who grew up in Atchison, Kan., and rose to top level management at publicly-traded companies offered a close-up look at what leadership means to them and how students can follow in their footsteps.
The Atchison Youth Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce and Benedictine College, put four top business leaders in front of about 200 high school and college students, faculty, staff and local business leaders. Bud Cray, former CEO at MGP Ingredients, Inc.; Jim Ferrell, CEO at Ferrellgas; Mike Haverty, CEO at Kansas City Southern Railway; and Tim Newkirk, current CEO at MGP Ingredients, Inc. provided insight into their youth in Atchison and their thoughts on what it takes to be a leader.
Select students from Maur Hill-Mount Academy and Atchison High School attended to program, which started with some leadership group training in the Ralph Nolan Gymnasium. Lorin Affield, executive director of the Atchison YMCA, conducted an exercise designed to encourage their public speaking ability and build self-confidence, then the group headed to the college’s O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium to hear the presentations.
Cray ran MGPI with a team leadership style in the late 1960s. He described himself as knowing everyone in the company on a first-name basis, partly because this was before computers, but mostly because he enjoyed what he was doing.
“Communication is the most important thing a leader does,” Cray said. “They have to keep everybody positive, because people follow a leader who has confidence in the future.”
Ferrell was a true self-made man. He started with nothing and joked about the fact that he actually started in the hole, since his father’s company was losing money. With a car as his only tangible asset, he went on to build a fallen Ferrellgas into a multi-million dollar company. Ferrell described leaders to be value-driven people, possessing common sense, that care about others. He pointed out that the best type of leader is a teacher and team builder.
“Live like the leader you want to be.” Ferrell said. “Make a difference with the life you were given. Go for it, the world is counting on you.”
Personal success must be present before you are a leader according to Haverty. He described five key ways to be successful in a leadership role and in life:
1. Love and enjoy what you do.
2. Work hard.
3. Set goals and stay persistent.
4. Be honest and do the right thing.
5. Never get too high or low, because life is a series of ups and downs.
He mentioned respect as more important than winning a popularity contest. He said you will not be able to please everyone and often a leader must say “no” to do the right thing.
Haverty said leaders must stand by their word and spread the credit to those that contribute because a business is never run by just one person. These actions, he explained, are steps in building loyalty from others.
Newkirk’s journey of becoming a leader started as a junior in high school when his coach explained that he not only needed to be a leader on the court, but off the court as well. Ultimately, he was a part of two state championship basketball teams at Atchison High School.
“Only through effective leadership are we able to accomplish great things.” Newkirk said. “It’s one ability we all wish we had more of.”
Leadership is a personal advantage that can be used for the rest of your life, he concluded.
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