SYMPOSIUM SYNOPSIS HEATHER BRIGHT
ido Qubein is a man who has undoubtedly persevered. He came to the United States with very little knowledge of English, no contacts and only $50 in his pocket. He has gone on to make an enduring success of himself. He started a bank in 1986 and is currently on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of a Fortune 500 corporation with $110 billion in assets. He was pursued by High Point University for the post of president which he has now held since 2004. He founded the Qubein Foundation to award scholarships to deserving students each year and the foundation has granted more than 600 scholarships since its inception in 1972. While Nido’s professional credentials and awards are many, he has found true significance in being a university president and considers himself a millionaire not because of his net worth, but because of the many lives he is able to touch.
When Nido Qubein became president at High Point University, the school was losing money. He recalls approaching the administrative building on his first day as university president; he saw—or rather, didn’t see—something that disturbed him. Still standing outside, he picked up the phone to speak to the head of maintenance. He was looking right where the library should be, but could not see the building! In his line of sight were trees that had grown so large, you could not even make out the building behind them. His first order of business as university president was to have these trees cut down. In order to avoid the wrath of naturalists, he had this done covertly; under cover of night. The next morning, everyone felt like there was something different about the campus, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on what it was. Before too long, tracks began to form through the grass leading to the library. Students could now see the building and they were going there
to use the resources housed in this beautiful facility. Once again, Nido phoned the maintenance department, this time to discuss these paths. The maintenance head was apologetic, stating that he had tried to keep foot traffic off of the grass, but the students would merely step over the barriers and trek across the lawn anyway. Nido declared that since the students now wanted to get to the library, it should be easy for them get there! He had those paths through the grass converted into actual sidewalks. This process literally and figuratively uncovered a place for in-depth learning, thoughtful dialogue, lively debate and quiet respite. What happens when you’re brave enough to remove the obstacles? What obstacles do you face today? In your mind? In your mind-set? Your beliefs? Your practice? Your relationships? What is in your way of a clear view? What is blocking your path? Imagine what would happen if we all just had the guts to chop the trees down; removing the barriers that are in our way. Nido implores us to listen to the customer, whomever that may be in any given situation. Focus on the student. Remove the obstacles and look out because the world is getting ready to be transformed.
Nido shared wisdom he gained from his mother with Symposium attendees: If you want to be a great leader, you must first walk hand in hand and side by side with people who are great. If you’re going to be happy, you have to be around people who are happy. If you want to be successful, be around people who are successful. If you want to be rich, find out what poor people do and don’t do it! In other words: Whom you spend time with is who you will become. Koi fish grow proportionally to the environment in which they live. If you keep them in a bowl, they will remain about two inches long. When placed in a pond, they can grow to be over a foot long. They will thrive when placed in the right environment. Nido believes the most important thing he’s done in life is to raise his four children. He
spent more time preparing short dinner table lessons for his children than he did preparing his speech to General Motors. Teaching children is the mark Nido has chosen to make above anything else. This is his way to improve the future of the world. He whole-heartedly believes that beliefs create behaviors and behaviors lead to results. Nido himself is living proof of this.
Nido revealed more wisdom from his mother: What you choose is what you get, so quit your whining. At High Point University, Nido really drives this home. Every staff member has a clicker—the type commonly used by dog trainers. This has become a powerful behavior modification tool and is known as the “no whine” clicker. “If you whine at High Point University,” says Nido, “we click your butt.” This tool is incredibly powerful. When someone hears whining they simply reach into their pocket and get the clicker. You don’t need to have a conversation about whining; people instantly know when they hear clicking. People who are prone to whining eventually hear the clicking in their mind before even opening their mouth to whine. They stop whining about problems and find solutions instead.
We all have endless to-do lists. Whether written or mental, there are laundry lists of things to do all the time. Nido is impressed with people who have “to-be” lists rather than “to-do” lists. He believes life is really about being and becoming. Doing is merely a function of living; accomplishing the day-to-day aspects of life. Becoming has to do with what is in your heart and soul. Most of us don’t make the choices necessary to become the person we want to be. Immigrants are four times as likely to become millionaires in America as citizens. Why is this? Nido’s theory is that immigrants believe in themselves. They have the desire to do what they have to in ways that haven’t been thought of before. They find balance—physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally, socially and economically. What good would it be to gain the whole world and lose your own soul? Nido feels that he has achieved this balance and while it
may not be utopia, it is not far from it. He is in absolute amazement at the blessings in life. Nido suggests we not choose to be commonplace. He is on a crusade to change the world and that is the reason he became a university president. That is the reason he flew 17 hours to speak at the 2008 Seattle Study Club Symposium. He made the journey because he knows Seattle Study Club is a group of learned people who can change the world and he wanted to be there to help affect that change. He is on a crusade to help everyone travel the road to excellence. Think about Hershey’s Kisses® vs. Godiva® chocolate. Godiva® is ten times more expensive. If you want to eat chocolate, you buy Hershey’s®. If you want to give chocolate as a gift you buy Godiva®. Nido posed the following question to Symposium attendees: Is your office a Hershey’s® or a Godiva®? The only real difference is the presentation. You buy Hershey’s® at the market in a sloppy bag full of little hunks of chocolate from a shelf lined with other sloppy bags. You walk into a boutique to buy Godiva® chocolates. They are special. They’re packaged in gold boxes. Each one has a specially shaped tray that was made to carefully cradle that particular chocolate creation and keep it safe and intact. Hershey’s® does not have a differential advantage. There is no unique selling proposition. It is not well-branded and there is no intentional congruence. If they did these things, Hershey’s® would also be selling chocolate for $40, instead of $4. Nido chooses to be extraordinary. The branding statement for High Point University is extraordinary education in an inspiring environment with caring people. In only two academic cycles, High Point went from losing 5-8 percent on the freshman side to tripling the size of the freshman class. They took the discount level down—demonstrating a higher socioeconomic profile. Every single barometer was increasing by double digits. He chose to implement a variety of fun bits and pieces into the University in an effort to create balance for the students: free ice cream, free valet parking, music in the cafeteria to encourage fellowship, free laundry facilities, free food kiosks between buildings, among other things. Attrition dropped from 20 percent to
7 percent. He chose to model joy and generosity because you can’t teach these qualities. Nido pointed out that life is not about giving back. It is about giving because you feel like giving. It’s about connecting, not communicating.
In his keynote address at the 2008 Symposium, Nido shared many of his life’s experiences. Woven through all of his stories was the message of becoming the best and surrounding yourself with the best. This is parallel to Seattle Study Club’s vision of cultivating excellence in comprehensive dentistry. Choose to be excellent. This is exactly what he’s doing for the companies with which he is involved, as well as for the young leaders that come through High Point University. After coming to America with practically nothing and getting to where he is today from scratch, Nido is not afraid of anything. He is inspired and motivated. In closing Nido proposed the following question to Symposium attendees: If you had only six months to live, what would you be doing for those six months? Nido feels that a person’s answer to this question tells him everything he needs to know about who a person is and what they stand for. So many people are focused on selling instead of serving. They are focused on communicating instead of connecting. They are interested in success instead of significance. They aim to train others rather than give them an education. It’s not just what goes into your head that matters, it’s what goes into your heart and soul. You are only as good as the person you are. When you train someone you show the how. When you educate you show the why and you teach the student how to be. Both the how and the why are essential to education. Being must always come before doing. Excellence is not an act; it’s a habit. Whom you spend time with is who you become. What are the obstacles standing in your way? What are you willing to do to go to the next level?