Regular readers of this column probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that one of my satellite radio presets is the MLB Network. In the weeks leading up to the start of the current major league baseball season, personalities on the network discussed who they think constituted “Mount Rushmore” in the history of every MLB team, that is. i.e. the four greatest players on that particular team.
These discussions made me reflect on my personal Mount Rushmore. As I have lived in Georgia for most of the past 35 years, I thought I would share with you my Georgia Mount Rushmore – four people who have each provided me with lessons that I believe apply not only to business , but to all of us .
Perhaps surprisingly, three were politicians and the fourth had at one time political aspirations. I have never met two of these people and the two I met taught me their lessons both near and far.
Here they are, and what I learned from them:
I’m cheating a bit here, because the main lesson I learned from US Senator from Georgia, Sam Nunn, happened mostly before I moved to Georgia.
In the mid to late 1980s, I was a junior officer in the United States Air Force, helping to manage the research and development programs that were part of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, more widely known as program name “Star Wars”. SDI’s goal was to develop a system that would protect the United States from nuclear ballistic missiles.
I participated in a team of military officers and government executives that evaluated initial concepts for such a system, then managed programs that developed potential alternatives for command, control, and communications of the system. As a young officer, I found it discouraging to see the program I was working on being regularly covered by the national media.
Because SDI had such notoriety, politicians from both parties spoke about it often during this period of the mid to late 1980s, particularly during the presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988. Unfortunately, as someone working on the program , I found that both sides twisted the facts about the program to make their own party look better.
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However, the shining light of truth in all this distortion was Senator Nunn. The information he could share publicly on SDI was always correct and provided the American people with accurate insight while others were not. The lesson I learned from Senator Nunn was to not sacrifice your integrity and credibility for potential self-interest and to provide others with the information they need to make their best decisions.
Although I have never met Senator Nunn, this lesson has stayed with me throughout my career and I hope it stays with you.
I have spent the past 20 years working at institutions in the University System of Georgia as a faculty member and administrator (Department Chair, Associate Dean, and Dean). From my arrival at Kennesaw State University in 2002 until my current tenure at Augusta University, I have proudly watched USG continue to see its institutions rank among the top public institutions in the nation. .
USG began this trajectory in the 1990s with the creation of the HOPE Fellowship under the leadership of Governor Zell Miller. The HOPE Scholarship, which provides several types of college and technical school funding to academically successful students, has helped Georgia State keep its top students in Georgia. As the quality of students improved and state investment in higher education increased, US government institutions were able to recruit better faculty, improving their reputations and the quality of their teaching.
It is no coincidence that since the establishment of the HOPE stock exchange, Georgia has become an economic powerhouse, becoming one of the most attractive states for business. The main reason for this is that investment in higher education through the HOPE scholarship and strong budgets, USG institutions provide the workforce desired by businesses.
The lesson I learned from Zell Miller is that investing in education leads to economic success. Therefore, all of us in business should support investment not only in higher education, but also in primary and secondary education for the future economic prosperity of our state.
I had the good fortune to meet US Senator Johnny Isakson on a few occasions and, although relatively short, they had a significant impact on me. The first time was at a meeting where the major parties were not particularly in agreement. However, I watched in awe as Senator Isakson worked to find common ground between the parties that led to an agreement when it didn’t seem likely.
I learned first hand that day from Senator Isakson and many other stories about him to always seek common ground, so that we can reach a solution that brings value to all. This is an important lesson for business and society.
A second interaction I had with Senator Isakson was while I was lining up outside the White House for a tour with many other people who had requested tickets from their legislators. My family and I got ours from our representative at the time, not from Senator Isakson. On this rainy morning, I saw an older man rush to the queue in a khaki, windbreaker and bucket hat carrying a worn-out University of Georgia umbrella . I believe I was the only one online who realized that this humble man was a senator, making sure all was well for those online.
From Senator Isakson and the fourth member of my Mount Rushmore, I learned humility and how to treat others.
Let me be very clear that I am not a Georgia Bulldog fan. In my senior year at Notre Dame, UGA beat the Irish in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship, and I’m also a Georgia Tech alum. However, I had the privilege of serving with Coach Dooley to help bring football to Kennesaw State University. During that time, Coach Dooley and I shared lunches and other times together, and I consider us friends.
Spending time with Coach Dooley was an education for me in how to treat people. I can’t think of a more caring man and I wish everyone had the opportunity to learn what I’ve done. Coach Dooley taught me to respect and be kind to others and do it humbly. While it helps to be a winner, it’s these traits that make him so beloved in this state.
Your Georgia Mount Rushmore may be different from mine, but I’m proud to have learned from mine and had the chance to meet two of his figures. I hope you will take the lessons I learned from them and I hope you will reflect on your own Mounts Rushmore.
The author is Dean of the Hull College of Business at Augusta University.