One year ago, a large trade association invited me to develop and deliver a talk based on lessons learned during the first six years of hosting C-Suite Conversations. The invitation was a welcome surprise, affording me an opportunity to reflect on more than 30 unscripted conversations we had hosted with leaders from a variety of industries between 2011 and 2017.

I spent last summer reviewing my notes and video recordings of the events we had held with Michael Dan of Brink’s, Charlie Luck of Luck Stone, successful grocer Bobby Ukrop, B'69, and so many others. These included PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem, R'69, Bill Goodwin of CCA Industries, as well as Anne Waleski of Markel and Melanie Healey, B'83, of Procter & Gamble. Each of the conversations contained dozens of leadership lessons and I struggled to reduce the material to a 45-minute talk. (See the latest issue of University of Richmond Magazine for a brief summary of five of those lessons.)

For 2017-18, we decided to pursue executives from the largest and best-known companies in the hope of raising the school’s profile and bringing fresh, new perspectives to campus. With help from a very generous network of alumni and friends, we were fortunate to book leaders from Starbucks, Caterpillar, SunTrust, CarMax and CEB. As a bonus, we also landed the General Manager of Toronto FC just a few months after the soccer club had captured the MLS Championship.

The fall began with Beto Guajardo, senior vice president of Global Strategy at Starbucks. From the first moments of the conversation, it was evident that the large crowd that had gathered was in for a treat. Beto’s intellect and sense of humor combined for an entertaining and educational hour filled with lessons on culture, customer service, innovation, and so many other business topics.

Just 16 days later, we welcomed Bill Rogers, CEO of SunTrust. He spoke in great detail about the firm’s values-based culture and its growth over the last two decades. He also addressed the challenges facing the banking industry and opportunities that the firm is pursuing through its investments in and acquisitions of small fintech companies.

In mid-November, we moved a C-Suite Conversation to the evening for the first time ever. I began by asking CarMax CEO Bill Nash to describe a typical evening at the company’s headquarters and we continued our conversation through a variety of topics from the firm’s reputation as a great place to work to his first ride in an autonomous vehicle. We may not have ever had a more down-to-earth executive on the Ukrop Auditorium stage. Bill’s ability to pivot from subject to subject impressed so many in the audience that night.

The first of three spring events featured Tim Bezbatchenko, ’04, GM of Toronto FC. A former soccer player at Richmond, Tim talked about the lessons he had learned in his Jepson School courses and how those lessons applied to the world of professional sports. It was great fun to hear him talk about working with some of the greatest athletes in the world, especially during their championship season. Also, his commentary on the role that technology now plays in the sport was a fascinating and unexpected development.

Tom Monahan, former CEO of CEB, was our February guest. He told of helping to build the firm to nearly a billion dollars in revenues and the decision to sell the company to Gartner just before he stepped down from his position. Tom had a unique position in industry because his firm’s clients included almost all of the Fortune 500. The data CEB collected on best practices in client companies allowed them to bring many of those practices to bear inside the firm.

Our final guest of the year was Denise Johnson, group president at Caterpillar. As with many of our guests, I never spoke to Denise prior to the event. However, as I conducted my research, I was certain our audience would find her fascinating. One of the things that struck me was Caterpillar’s commitment to developing very deep relationships with its customers. Denise told a story of a mining firm in Peru that invited Caterpillar to partner in the design of a mining site a full year before the first piece of equipment would be in place. She also talked about how autonomous machines were boosting productivity, in part by allowing Cat’s technology to connect with equipment provided by some of its competitors.

Together, these six guests provided the kind of unique educational opportunity we envisioned when the series was launched in the fall of 2011. It has been incredibly rewarding to attract members of both the business community and campus community to these events and we look forward to getting started again next fall!