Competing and Collaborating for Success By Karen Doss Bowman As a student at George School, David Miller ’67, wanted to wrestle. Though he admits he was a “terrible” wrestler, then-coach Russell Weimar gave everyone a fair chance to compete by holding “wrestle-offs” the day before each match to determine who would appear on the next day’s roster. With determination and preparation, he had the same opportunity as any other boy to earn a spot on the team. “You learned very quickly that if you were not mentally alert and physically fit, you weren’t going to make the cut,” says David, operations manager at Southeast Frozen Foods, one of the largest regional food distribution companies in the nation. “It’s the same with business. If you have not prepared, your chances of failure far and away will exceed your chances of success.” Like David, many George School alumni have learned the benefits of competition through sports. Preparing for athletic contests has instilled in many the desire to pursue excellence and to perform at the highest level. In the process of continually striving to improve, many have discovered more about themselves—their strengths and weaknesses—and gain confidence to take risks. “My coaches and teachers created an environment of understanding that was still goal-oriented across the line,” David says. “The rest was up to you, to take that into anything you did. I was willing to pay the price to do it. That gave me the discipline, regimentation, and structure to understand and tolerate the politics or nuances to survive the business world.” Being competitive requires preparation, practice, drive, and motivation. For William “Bill” Nelson ’52, striving for excellence served as the best means to rise above the poverty that defined his childhood.
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Bill studied hard at George School, becoming an outstanding student-athlete. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College, an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a Ph.D. from Rice University, Bill became an economics professor at Washington University and later a business executive who served at the helm of numerous leading companies, including Pilot Software, Geac Computer Corporation, Ltd., Pansophic Systems, Inc., and On-Line Software. He was the founding investor and is on the board of directors of Carbonite Inc. “I was handed a bad hand, if you will, so life wasn’t going to be very good for me if I didn’t do something about it in a competitive world,” Bill says. “So I began to do the things that help you win and that I thought would get me ahead. I trained myself to compete and to compete fairly.”
Collaboration and Competition Competition isn’t always an individual endeavor. For Tod Rustein ’79, learning to achieve his best while cooperating with teammates was a lesson in how collaboration and competition intersect to bring about positive results. Thus, the playing field became an extension of the classroom at George School. “The balance of competition and collaboration is a natural element in any decent educational experience,” says Tod, a history teacher at Friends School of Baltimore. “In the same way that you cannot understand light without darkness, good without bad, happiness without misery, I don’t think you can really understand collaboration without competition. They are, in a sense, two aspects of a united whole. When a group of individuals collaborates, a natural clashing of ideas is likely to occur. And if these different views are considered with an aim for achieving unity of thought, a