Dean Ott to young business leaders: Engage with your community

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dean Steven OttBy Dean Steven Ott

(Originally published in the Charlotte Business Journal)

As the dean of the business school in the fastest-growing university of the UNC system, I have the opportunity to meet inspirational and successful alumni every single day.

In fact, because of our location in one of the most vibrant business cities in the country, UNC Charlotte has an impressive list of alumni who are business leaders and innovators, including many C-suite executives in Fortune 500 companies.

When I talk to executives or emerging business professionals who have graduated from our business school, there is a common thread among them. They are engaged in service to their communities, and they give back to others with their time, talent and treasures. A few examples:

  • Alumnus Robert Niblock, chairman, president and CEO of Lowe’s Cos. Last fall, he returned to campus to share his personal story with more than 600 students. Like Robert, many of our students are the first in their families to attend college. Robert connected his leadership at Lowe’s to his father’s love for community and service. After his talk, he announced a $2.5 million gift to the Belk College of Business to support and name the Robert A. Niblock Student Center for Professional Development.
  • Manuel Zapata, president of Zapata Engineering and one of our first MBA alumni. He believes in strong civic engagement and has worked tirelessly to strengthen Charlotte’s economic ties to the world – through the Sister Cities program, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and more. He serves on an impressive number of boards, including our college advisory board.
  • Our alumni Joanna Gammon and Bryan Delaney, two of the panelists for the first #NextGenCLT program – featuring millennials talking to millennials. Joanna is on the UNC Charlotte Foundation Board and has served on at least 25 boards or committees over the past 11 years. Bryan, a recent 40 Under 40 award winner and co-founder of Skookum, is active in the community around his areas of passion– technology and entrepreneurship.


Belk College alumni and students volunteering in the Charlotte community

These are just a few examples of graduates who I see making a difference. There are many more examples in our community. There is a real need for young business professionals to rise up and become engaged in their communities. #NextGenCLT is discussing this topic head on.

What would I say to new business professionals if I could?

  1. Don’t wait to get engaged in your community. Get involved as early as possible. It doesn’t matter if you are still a student, just graduated, or not yet working. If you are interested in a group or cause, reach out and see how you can help. The earlier you get experience, the better for the community and the better for your career. We have Alumni Council members who volunteer as soon as they graduate.
  2. Treat volunteering like a business opportunity. Recently, a prominent executive gave me a compliment about one of our graduate students. In fact, he wanted to offer him a job. The student was simply volunteering in a parking lot at one of our events, and he went the extra mile to welcome this person, and it was noticed. Even if you are volunteering in shorts and a T-shirt, act like you are interviewing for a position. It will pay off.
  3. As you progress in your career, never forget what it felt like when youbegan your career. Hire interns. Be a mentor. Volunteer or speak to a classroom. Remember, there is always a new crop of business professionals coming up behind you who would like your wisdom, support and encouragement.

As BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly King recently shared with our students: “Life is about those around you.” That is to say, you have a responsibility to your community, as well as to yourself.

To young business professionals who are engaged in their communities, we say thank you, we recognize you and we need you.

The Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte is North Carolina’s urban research business school. Accredited by AACSB International, the Belk College of Business offers business education programs at the undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and executive levels. Get more information at The Belk College of Business is proud to be the academic partner of #NextGenCLT. Join the first event on June 23.