University of Rochester

Wegmans CEO Shares 'Counterintuitive' Advice on Success at University of Rochester Commencement Ceremony

May 16, 2010

Danny Wegman, the chief executive officer of the grocery chain known and emulated for innovation and service, attributes his personal and professional success to listening to others and giving them the power to contribute to the enterprise they share.

"I really believe if you help others, give credit to others, and live with humility, you are a success," he told about 1,200 graduates of the University of Rochester's School of Arts and Sciences, and the Hajim School of Engineering. "Is success what others think about you? I believe success is how you feel about yourself."

In his commencement address Sunday at the 9 a.m. ceremony on the River Campus, Wegman chose the theme of success and embellished it with a few stories of employees who contribute to making Wegmans an exceptional company. "If you want to get credit, give credit to others," he advised the new graduates. "Make the people you work with successful. They will make you a superstar."

He described his views on success as "counterintuitive," and likened them to the approach he takes to skiing in winter. "There you stand at the top of a steep hill. Your first reaction is to lean back—totally wrong. You have to lean down the hill and then everything works, most of the time," said Wegman.

A Rochester native and University trustee, he also received the George Eastman Medal, which recognizes outstanding achievement and dedicated service, from University President Joel Seligman. "If you grew up in Rochester," Wegman said as he began his address, "George Eastman cast a pretty big shadow. He was committed to making the community better."

At the Eastman School of Music's commencement at 11:15 a.m., Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson urged the graduates to "go for the things that matter and that you believe in." As commencement speaker, Gillinson recounted how Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich once performed for an audience of only five people, all former Soviet political prisoners, because of his philosophy that "music matters."

Gillinson, who received the Eastman Luminary Award for extraordinary service and contributions to music in the United States and abroad, emphasized the need for people to be curious and ask the right questions. "The right question is 'what's best for music.' If you answer this honestly, you will be doing the right thing," he said. The Eastman ceremony was held in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

During the River Campus' outdoor ceremony under sunny skies, Seligman congratulated students and called them "exceptionally well prepared to advance your careers in a world unimaginable to our founders and barely imaginable to more recent generations. But our founders were united by the desire to make the world a better place.

"They were committed to pursuing academic quality of the highest order, nurturing exemplary leadership, and forging bonds with the community through service. You have already demonstrated the same ambition, ideals, and community spirit," Seligman said.

Tal Cushmaro, president of the Senior Class Council, evoked a similar sense of excitement and reminded the graduates of the Class of 2010 not to "take for granted that this school has allowed us to experiment in so many fields." He also encouraged them to express appreciation to the many people who have helped them through their college years.

The 160th commencement ceremony also included awards to Cornelius Eady, a native Rochesterian who is an acclaimed poet and playwright; alumnus and former faculty member Richard H. Thaler, who is a pioneer and preeminent theorist in the field of behavioral economics at the University of Chicago; Cathy E. Minehan, former president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and a University trustee and alumna; and William Scott Green, dean emeritus of the College at the University of Rochester, and senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education as well as professor of religious studies at the University of Miami.

During the May 14 to 16 weekend, 2,688 graduates received bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from all of the schools.