Nigel Hoffman’s graduation speech: ‘Values-based, data-driven is a lifelong obligation’

  • May 31, 2024
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 4 minute read

Good afternoon, everyone. You're probably all wondering why I've called you here for this all hands.

I would like to start with our collective gratitude and enthusiastic welcome to our esteemed guests, professors, parents, partners, friends, miscellaneous gate crashers and last, but not least, the illustrious Washington University in St. Louis, Olin School of Business MBA class of 2024.

My friends, we did it. Nearly 90 weeks since we returned from global immersion, and most of us are still on speaking terms. Mostly. Over the last 24 months, we have flown across the world, navigated flight cancellations, explored the wonders of entrepreneurship, business strategy and policy in Washington DC, Barcelona, and Santiago, and St. Louis.

The graduating class of 2024 voted for its choice of student speaker for its graduation celebration ceremony on May 13, 2024. Nigel Hoffman, MBA 2024, was the class's choice. This is his address to his classmates.

In typical business school student fashion, with inspiration from the ever-iconic Professor Trish Gorman, I will now analyze some of our core courses in a 2x2 matrix, so please try to follow along. I don’t think that any of us are capable of processing the last 24 months without some framework. Unfortunately, I was not able to bring confetti, a drone, nor signs, so you’ll have to excuse me and follow along verbally. We'll be using high/low, and in-class caffeine dependency/post-class happy hour necessity as our chart.

Under high-caffeine, high-happy-hour, we have accounting. I'm sorry Tom, your classes were early in the morning. But the way you made credits and debits alive on a balance sheet was simply inspirational.

Under high-caffeine but low-happy-hour we have managerial economics. John, you taught us the mechanisms of change of the world, but those exams needed a pot of coffee and a nap afterwards.

Under low-caffeine, high-happy-hour, I place marketing with Cindy. Mid-afternoon, Cindy’s energy was nothing short of exceptional. I learned about blue oceans, and what to do—and what not to do in a marketing campaign. 

Low-caffeine, low-happy-hour, we have Clive’s Building Business Narratives. We started our MBA here, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, just getting to know each other—and had not discovered the Bear yet. 

For the last two years, we have looked at the Four Pillars of Olin for guidance—well, metaphorically, at least—and, of course, we can look to the fifth pillar, wine, at the reception afterwards. Since day one, we've had values-based, data-driven drilled into our consciousness, reminded of it in our dreams, and incessantly prompted to talk about it in every single course evaluation. In fact, one of our classmates even had it monogrammed on all of his suits. I’m not naming names, but it might have been me. 

But values-based, data-driven means more than a tagline. It is a lifelong obligation that we take on to do not only good in this world but to do better than those who came before us.  

Nigel Hoffman

As we exit the starkly identical classroom doors in Knight, Bauer and Simon Hall, or quietly say goodnight to Debbie at the Bear before slipping out Thursday evening, our journey continues in earnest.

What we've learned over the last two years has given us the means, modalities and frameworks to understand the world, but we must not forget that the goal is to change it. We have in front of us a mission to not simply accept the old standards of civility for the sake of conformity, nor are we obligated to pursue endless shareholder value without consideration for the impact on the stakeholders of the communities in which we live.

As Olin graduates, we make up a new generation of MBAs more concerned with a social humanity, and a sustainable society.

Today, I would like to leave all of us here in this room this challenge of praxis, of taking values-based, data-driven and making that lasting impact on the world, on business, on the people around us. Olin’s MBA program has taught us to understand the complexity of the world, to solve the most challenging business problems facing society today and understanding that “it depends” is not just two words, but a statement and a concept for discussion, debate, and collaboration.

We Olin Class of 2024 graduates come from all corners of the world, with different and differing perspectives and views, but are united in the common goal of supporting our peers and loved ones, and leaving the world in a better place.

Good night and good luck, and may the force be with you, always. Beers are on Daddy Lux at the Bear afterwards.

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