The world awaits the innovation that will come from Thunderbird School of Global Management graduates in the coming decades, retired Target Chairman and CEO Bob Ulrich said during his keynote address Dec. 16, 2011, at winter commencement.
“Your creative ideas are what the world is waiting for,” said Ulrich, who received an honorary Doctor of International Law from Thunderbird during the ceremony. “Your ideas will help shape how we live in the rest of the 21st century.”
Ulrich, who serves today as Founding Board Chairman at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona, spoke to more than 170 graduates from 30 countries at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel and Spa near Thunderbird’s main campus in Glendale, Arizona.
“Ideas create products, processes and also profits that help everyone prosper,” Ulrich said. “Ideas build companies, employ people, improve education, improve lives and make communities better places to live,” he said.
Unfortunately, Ulrich said, innovators with the best ideas must prepare themselves for ridicule, rejection and resistance. “Are new ideas universally embraced?” he said. “Unfortunately, no.”
Ulrich quoted Harvard physics professor Howard Aiken, who built the first large-scale digital computer in 1943. “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas,” Aiken told his students. “If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Ulrich said innovators must resist the temptation to imitate the competition. “Be yourself,” he said, “not a clone or a lookalike.”
As CEO of Target, he said he helped the retail giant distinguish itself from Wal-Mart. “We knew we could never beat them at their own game,” he said, “but we could succeed by being different.” When he and Belgian friend Marc Felix launched the Musical Instrument Museum, they focused on building a museum unlike any other in the world. “MIM enriches the world community by making accessible musical instruments, video recordings and music from every country in the world,” he said. “We believe that music enriches the human condition.”