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Mo Rocca
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Mo Rocca Demonstrates the Art of Storytelling at Ross

9/30/2009 --

Correspondent, commentator, and comic brings insight and fashion sense to Reunion Weekend.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As quirky media personality Mo Rocca prepared to deliver the Ross School's Reunion Lecture Sept. 25, Dean Robert Dolan posed a question to the audience in Blau Auditorium: "Why would a business school invite the kind of speaker who might show up in pink pants?" Answer: To demonstrate the value of storytelling.

"We talk a lot about leadership at Ross," Dolan said. "What are the characteristics of great leaders? Number one, they're great innovators. The second characteristic of great leaders is that they can tell a good story. We actually teach a section on this in the opening module of the Ross Leadership Initiative. So I was thinking, 'Gee, who do I know that seems to be able to look at things a little bit differently than the rest of us and can tell an interesting story?'"

Rocca, a self-proclaimed fact lover, has a resume that speaks to his keen ability to tell a compelling tale. He is a regular panelist on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and contributor to CBS' Sunday Morning. He was a running commentator on VH1's Best Week Ever as well as the network's I Love The... specials. From 1998-2003, Rocca was a well-known contributor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He also appears as a guest judge on the Food Network's Iron Chef America ("and lesser known Iron Chef Great Britain," he joked, flashing a picture of that country's infamously unsightly cuisine).

Despite his long list of credits and life experiences, Rocca admitted he didn't know much about the experience inside an actual business school. But like any good leader, he did his research before the presentation. He discussed the Ross a cappella group The CEOhs, alluded to finance professor Gautam Kaul's well-known assertion that "finance is love," and shared his understanding of the action-based Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) course by describing president George W. Bush's eight years in office as "one long MAP project gone bad."

Rocca also proved that the best comics tend to be incredibly smart. He claimed to be able to name any world capital and challenged the audience to shout out countries they thought might stump him. Audience members offered up Suriname, South Africa, and Tajikistan ("My favorite 'stan,'" Rocca said), among others. He nailed the capital every time.

"Learning the capital of every country was important to me for a variety of reasons," he said. "The most practical was when I moved to New York to get into show biz. I worked at Macy's selling fragrance, and I operated on commission. A lot of diplomats would shop at Macy's, and it was a great way to ingratiate myself because in most countries, the largest city is the capital. So a diplomat, very standoffish, would walk over to the counter and I would say, 'Excuse me, where are you from?' and he'd say, 'I am from Malawi.' I would say, 'Oh! Are you from Lilongwe [capital of Malawi]?' and he'd say, 'Oh my goodness, how do you know so much about my country?!'"

Rocca's capacity to establish common ground with foreign diplomats demonstrates his dictum to "know a lot of stuff [but] act like you know even more." To that end, he also encouraged the audience members to follow his example and always be confident.

Few could argue with that advice, even if it did come from a man wearing pink pants.

—Leah Sipher-Mann



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