May 222017

Commencement Speaker 2017

This year’s commencement keynote address at the Maryland Smith Bschool ceremony on May 22, 2017, was delivered by  Richard Dickson ’90, who serves as president and chief operating officer at Mattel with responsibility for all aspects of the toymaker’s portfolio of iconic brands, including Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, Monster High, and Thomas & Friends, as well as Toy Box, Mattel’s hub of toy innovation and invention.

As I listened to his speech, I thought to myself that his personal branding advice was really practical and relevant not only the to the new graduates, but for everyone in the audience at the Xfinity Center and those watching the live stream. At a few points during his speech, my colleagues and I broke out into spontaneous applause.

Dickson told graduates he had a big dream when he graduated from the University of Maryland – he wanted to run a large company with well-known brands in California, and he wanted to have a family “and be able to give them everything I possibly could to make their life experiences wonderful.”

He recalled how he went from bussing tables at SeaWorld in San Diego to leading one of the world’s most-loved toy brands, creating his own personal brand along the way.

“We each are defined by our own values, mission, character and boundaries,” he said. “Authentically living up to your promises and potential make your personal brand effective, and will make you more successful.”

He told the graduating students they can now stop focusing on their GPAs and start focusing on their GPS,  “The internal compass that helps you navigate the world and your career.”

“A lot changes in your life with this milestone today,” he told them, “but the most dramatic and most important change may be the firehose of decisions large and small you’ll now be facing every day. And that’s where personal brand management helps so much.”

Finally, he imparted some practical advice to the graduating students.

  • Look people in the eye. Give them a firm handshake, a sincere smile and speak clearly
  • Check your spelling
  • Write thank you notes (on paper)
  • Respect experience
  • Think before you post
  • Fail forward. Failure is inevitable; learn from it

This is an excerpt from the story I wrote for the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business website. Check out the entire story, see video and photo highlights here.


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