I love my job as Dean, but I love my downtime, too. That’s when I dive into reading or jump on my bike sans BlackBerry; it is a time when I can be alone and think. Photography is one of my downtime passions as well. The camera forces me to see things I sometimes wouldn’t see. It helps me focus.
Some time ago my wife, Susan, and I were trekking through Zion National Park in Utah. It’s a beautiful, hilly place with spectacular red rock formations. I had injured my ankle climbing the day before, so while my wife was able to walk down into a deep canyon—which I desperately wanted to photograph—I was stuck waiting on the side of the road in what seemed to me a very uninteresting place. I thought my morning would be wasted.
I wasn’t too happy about my circumstance that morning, but I was determined to make the most of what appeared to be a bad situation and began to look around me. What was there for me to see? What new opportunity might I find? As I refocused my efforts, I found a perfect but unusual geological formation—one I had studied years ago in college. A long line separated two strata of rock that had once been joined; seismic pressures had caused a fault and created a beautiful formation. I began to photograph it and lost myself in the moment.
Years later I still have a photo from that day in my office. It reminds me of one of my favorite moments—a moment when I forgot about my expectations and looked at the world around me in a new way. It sparked a moment of creativity in me that was unexpected. A bad day turned into a memorable experience.
Likewise, in these uncertain and sometimes maddening times, the students and business leaders who learn to see the world in a different way, to view and embrace challenging times as times of opportunity and new perspective, are the ones who will find ways to thrive. The ability to adapt and reorder our thinking is hard to teach, but it’s something we can encourage and nurture. It is a lesson for us all, and I keep the photograph before me to remind myself of what opportunities are in front of us if we refocus and look at life through a different lens.
David Ingram, who is profiled in this issue, is a great example of a business leader who found a way through a difficult environment by diversifying his entertainment company with the addition of beer distributorships. He’s been an integral part of our Board of Visitors team, serving as chair since its inception. The real-world perspective and involvement of a leader such as David are critically important as we continue to develop and expand into new growth areas.
Alumni like David have been an integral part of our efforts to support our graduates as they make their way into a difficult world. As any business veteran knows, an economic downturn is just one of the many challenges that will come up in a career. How we adapt to those challenges shows a lot about character.
The truly successful students and alumni of Owen will continue to shape the world in good times and bad by their versatility and willingness to see things in a different way. They will look for opportunities to shift their focus and question their viewpoints, even in difficult times. That’s not something we can teach but something we hope to inspire by what we do and the innovative culture that is Owen’s hallmark.
James W. Bradford
Dean, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management
Ralph Owen Professor of Management