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Alumni Tell Ross Graduates, "The Best is Yet to Come" :: Video

5/4/2011 --

Commencement speakers Jeff Blau, BBA '90, Darys Estrella Mordan, MBA '02, and Al Leandre, MBA '02, encourage Ross graduates to seize opportunity.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich.—"Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity, and are able to turn both to their advantage."—Niccolo Machiavelli

With these words, Jeff Blau, BBA '90, inspired members of the BBA Class of 2011 to capitalize on the unlimited prospects that lay before them, despite an uncertain economic climate.

"Be fearless," he said during his presentation at spring commencement April 29. "If the plan you had when you entered Ross did not come together, or your dream job did not appear, do not be disappointed. View this as an opportunity, not an impediment."

Blau, president of New York-based Related Companies, LP, founded and sold a successful business while pursuing his BBA studies and has maintained an entrepreneurial mindset throughout his career. He joined Related as an intern 21 years ago with the intent to depart in one year. But then his boss (and now partner) Stephen M. Ross, BBA '62, created a culture of innovation and creativity that fed Blau's passion and compelled him to stay with the firm.

Together they grew Related into the largest private real estate development firm in the country with more than 2,000 employees. But in the wake of the catastrophic economic meltdown in 2008, Blau and Ross stood at a crossroads.

"We could have downsized and simply operated the current portfolio," Blau said. But instead he and Ross reverted to their entrepreneurial roots and relied on talent who shared their commitment to bold ideas and limitless potential.

"We found opportunity in adversity. We invested in advisory services, international expansion, fund management, and banking platforms. And today we have more employees, more lines of business, and more revenue than we did before the recession."

Blau encouraged newly minted Ross BBAs to follow his example and embrace the belief that the best is yet to come.

"Act on your talent and create your destiny," he said, citing such innovative companies as Microsoft, Apple, Dell, GE, and Ford Motor Co., all of which were launched in the midst of economic turmoil. Imagine our world today if the founders behind those firms had opted for a traditional route.

"Be the change drivers," Blau urged. "You will be the ones called upon to take us out of the recession, balance our budgets, and fix our healthcare and education systems. You're the problem solvers, the inventors, the investors, and the creative thinkers who finally will break our dependence on foreign oil, preserve our natural resources, and ensure that our country remains the intellectual capital of the world."

Leadership talent is the currency that will drive economic growth, said Darys Estrella Mordan, MBA '02, who together with Al Leandre, MBA '02, addressed the MBA Class of 2011.

"Being a leader is not to get others to follow you but to empower others to lead," said Estrella, who currently is CEO of the Stock Exchange of the Dominican Republic. She left a job at Goldman Sachs in New York to return to her home country and help build its financial industry. "It is nice to get the high salary, the promotions, the nice title, but leadership is about much more than that. It's about personal growth, helping others develop, treating others with respect, taking on social causes, and making a difference in the world. That is what Ross was about for me."

For Haitian-born Leandre, CEO and president of Vyalex Management Solutions Inc., the key to success is embracing and welcoming change. He said Ross delivered the knowledge, leadership skills, and confidence he needed to launch and grow his successful engineering and program management consulting firm, which provides goods and services to the Department of Defense, other government agencies, and private industry.

"Regardless of how you feel right now," Leandre said, "Everything will be different six months from now. You should be comforted knowing that you have the best preparation money can buy and you can take on whatever is next."



For more information, contact:
Deborah Holdship, (734) 647-4626, holdship@umich.edu