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Keurig founder explores inequality, leadership, success at ACC leadership symposium

| Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mendoza College of Business adjunct instructor Christopher Stevens delivered the keynote address at the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Leadership Symposium on Sunday morning at Legends of Notre Dame.

The symposium focused on promoting a welcoming and tolerant atmosphere via strong leadership. Stevens’s remarks touched on a variety of topics related to these issues and the broader theme of what determines successful leadership.

Stevens said inequality is growing problem. He cited the rising incomes of the wealthy and the stagnant and even declining incomes of the poor as well as underrepresentation of women in leadership positions at major companies. He said these issues need to be addressed by the next generation of young leaders.

“You’re not going to do it alone,” he said. “Your success will be determined not by how high you climb or many mountains you conquer, but by how many people that you bring with you.”

Stevens said his own experience as one of the founders of Keurig Premium Coffee Systems taught him about the driving forces behind success as a leader in the business world and beyond.

He played of a video clip of retired Gen. Colin Powell describing the essence of leadership after a reporter asked him to distill leadership into one word. Powell answered this question by saying trust was the most important component of leadership in his life. Stevens said this illustrates the value of working and serving those you lead with humility.

Disagreement and debate, however, are crucial to cultivating cultures of success, Stevens said, in order to avoid complacency.

“If two partners always agree in business, one of them is unnecessary,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens, leaders need to have a powerful vision behind what they are doing. He used the examples of Walt Disney, Mary Anne Radmacher, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dolly Parton and Henry David Thoreau to illustrate the importance of this kind of creative dreaming and commitment to a cause.

“People don’t buy what you’re selling,” he said. “They buy why you’re selling it and what you believe in.”

Stevens said finding success in sales and business requires channeling these values into a recognizable brand. He said examples of this abound, including McDonald’s, GEICO and BMW.

Stevens said building a strong reputation is not a simple task, however.

“Creativity can make the difference between an acceptable solution and an exceptional one,” Stevens said.

Failure is a universal experience but too many lose hope after stumbling at first and not learning from their mistakes, Stevens said.

“’No’ is an invitation to dialogue,” he said. “It means you haven’t given me enough reasons to say ‘yes’ yet.”

Stevens said he learned this lesson from his work growing Keurig against competitors ranging from the standard cheap coffee that most offices previously bought and the ubiquitous luxury option of Starbucks.

Stevens said the three rules of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz simplify many of the themes he discussed: Always do the right thing, do the best you can at whatever you’re doing and show people you care.

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