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Stephen M. Ross
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Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, Tells Graduates, "You are Lucky" :: Video

5/4/2009 --

Related Companies' chairman, CEO, and founder says resilience, reinvention are keys to success.

Watch video of Ross speaking at commencement.

Read text of Ross' speech.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In today's economy, Ross graduates will be challenged to realize, regroup, and reassert their passions on the quest toward career success, said real estate magnate Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, at the 2009 Ross School Commencement May 1.

The Related Companies' chairman, CEO, and founder was bullish on students' professional prospects, despite the 180-degree reversal in the economy that began after they entered business school. He urged graduates to look at the world through a new prism, something he is doing today with Related. He founded the company in 1972 to develop, finance, and manage government-assisted rental apartments. Today, Related counts more than 2,000 employees who oversee a real estate portfolio valued in excess of $15 billion. But in response to the current business climate, Ross is seeking to transform the firm.

"Being a real estate developer today is an oxymoron," Ross said. "And obviously reinvention is required. If there's no money, there's no business. But we can't have a strategy of waiting. You have to transform and adapt to the times and opportunities today, which is what we are doing with our company."

It's a strategy Ross has followed throughout his career. Shortly after graduating with his BBA degree, he took a job with Bear Stearns -- and was fired soon after.

"What is the lesson?" he asked. "Bear Stearns is gone. Steve Ross is still here."

Admittedly, the two events are unrelated, but "it's still worth noting," Ross said. "I made that event the beginning of a life of entrepreneurship. You need to take control of your own destiny. You may not obtain the job you want or a job at all for a while. But you must critically examine your strengths and weaknesses, and then determine what you are best suited to do."

Ross stressed resilience as a key trait necessary to thrive in today's economy. Resilience will determine whether a bump along the career path turns into a bounce back or a crash. Resilience gives one the courage to call upon one's goals.

"Coping and growing are going to be the twin pillars of your success," he said. "Bear Stearns was a bump for me -- I turned this stumbling block into a stepping stone that changed my life."

Ross warned students to avoid the temptation to be skeptical, cynical, and critical during these turbulent economic times.

"I believe you are lucky to be graduating in this environment," he said. "The economic system is going through some fundamental changes. Experience is still helpful, but in many ways your inexperience might actually be a competitive advantage. Open minds, energetic thinking, new horizons: That is the order of your new day. Bring to your jobs and lives a sense of purpose, hope, and determined spirit, and the road traveled will lead to your destination of choice."

Ross offered the following top-10 list as his prescription for success:

  • If it's too good to be true, it's just that.
  • Hire people who are not about themselves, but can work as a team.
  • Be the first person to give bad news so you can spin it. Let the person on the other side know you're in control.
  • Build a core foundation.
  • Hire the best people possible; they are your most important asset.
  • Be totally aware of what is happening and think ahead. Have a vision.
  • Learn from your mistakes and always look for the silver lining.
  • Don't micromanage or you won't grow and gain the leverage of talent around you, which is as important as financial leverage.
  • Don't do something just because everybody else is.
  • The most important thing you have is your word and your reputation. Once lost, they are never regained.
In addition to serving as the 2009 Ross School commencement speaker, Ross was the recipient of the 2009 David D. Alger Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. In 2004, he gave the $100 million naming gift to the business school and led the campaign for construction of its new 270,000-square-foot facility, which opened in January 2009.

—Deborah Holdship



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu