More than 100 student leaders representing dozens of campus organizations converged yesterday to learn from eight distinguished alumni and University affiliates, including four current White House staffers and the chairman and CEO of Domino’s Pizza.
The Michigan Student Assembly sponsored the Campus Leadership Colloquium, an invitation-only event held at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, during which speakers briefly described their leadership experiences to the large group. Students also had the opportunity to ask questions in smaller breakout sessions.
The represented organizations ranged from mainstays like Dance Marathon to lesser-known clubs like the Michigan Backpacking Club and Shmooze, a Jewish organization whose members meet to network and promote Jewish culture.
“In the past, we’ve had this event … for the more political organizations on campus,” said Ian Margolis, an MSA representative and event co-organizer. “This year, we wanted to appeal to more students, so we brought in a wider variety of speakers.”
During a breakout session, Domino’s CEO and Chairman David Brandon compared running his company to leading a sports team. Brandon, who played quarterback for the Wolverines in the early 1970s under Bo Schembechler, said that as an undergraduate he had hoped to have a career in teaching or coaching.
“But I spend most of my time now actually teaching and coaching,” Brandon said. “We recruit, we prepare, go out and execute. We’re a multibillion-dollar company, so we’re competing at a very high level. But now I worry about gyrations in the price of cheese.”
Brandon described a Wall Street Journal article printed after he was chosen as Domino’s CEO that highlighted his inexperience in the quick-service industry.
“I cut that article out, laminated it and put it in the corner of my desk for my first two years as a CEO,” Brandon said. “Every day I saw this son of a bitch telling me I couldn’t do it, and every day it motivated me to prove him wrong.”
Grace Singleton, a managing partner at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, said she was excited when MSA asked someone from Zingerman’s to speak. During her breakout session, she offered advice about students’ struggles with campus leadership. Singleton also described unusual business decisions that Zingerman’s has made and how that has led to the company’s success.
Singleton said when the owners of Zingerman’s had the opportunity to franchise the business, they decided to grow the business within Ann Arbor instead because franchising didn’t fit with the company’s mission. Zingerman’s now has eight businesses in the Ann Arbor area.
Student leaders also heard from three White House staffers, all of who worked in different areas of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and graduated from the University.
Lisa Ellman, who works in the Office of Legal Policy in the Department of Justice, described the path that led her to work for Obama.
“I went to the University of Chicago Law School and had a professor named Barack Obama,” Ellman said. “After being voted a delegate for John Kerry, I moved back to Chicago and was a policy staffer during Obama’s campaign.”
Business junior Lee Quackenbush said he was impressed by the accomplishments of the speakers, particularly Nick Colvin, special assistant to the White House Counsel and a 2006 LSA graduate.
“He’s so young and yet he’s already worked with the first lady, the president and soon-to-be (Supreme Court) Justice Sonia Sotomayor,” Quackenbush said.
White House Staffer Eugene Kang, a 2006 LSA graduate, described a few of his experiences while working on Obama’s presidential campaign.
“Toward the end of the primary season, when they were deciding if Michigan and Florida would count, the decision came out at 1 p.m. I was in a room with Barack Obama, and he turned to me to ask what we should say,” Kang said. “He actually used one of my lines in the press conference later that day.”
The White House staffers, who all worked in different areas of Obama’s presidential campaign and currently work on his staff, are recent University graduates.
Additional speakers included President of the Alumni Association Steve Grafton and former presidential candidate for the Czech Republic Jan Svejnar, a professor in LSA, the Ross School of Business and the Ford School of Public Policy.
LSA senior Anudeep Mukkamala, the executive director of InnoWorks — an organization that encourages kids to be involved in math and science — said he was impressed by the range of speakers and student leaders who attended the event.
“I’m trying to connect with others. I wanted to hear about their struggles and successes and learn from that,” Mukkamala said. “I am planning to go back and share what I heard here with the rest of my organization.”
Margolis said he hoped participants could use the event as a way to network with other student leaders.
“Especially now, with the tight financial situation, it’d be great if a lot of these organizations could collaborate and co-sponsor events,” Margolis said.
Engineering junior Ambreen Sayed, chief of staff for MSA, said she would like the event to continue in the future.
“Every year, we need to start … with this,” she said. “It spearheads the discussion for what we have the potential to do. This motivation needs to infiltrate campus organizations.”
— Daily News Editor Trevor Calero, Editor in Chief Gary Graca and Managing News Editor Jacob Smilovitz attended this event. None of these individuals edited this story.