Greg Barron (BBA ’91), Founder and CEO, the Barron Companies, Inc.

Greg Barron is the founder and current Chief Executive Officer of the GL Barron Company, Inc. and Barron Design Group, LP. He has over two decades of experience working in the design, construction and development industry. He is also a founding member and current President of the National Association of Church Design Builders and the Nehemiah Foundation of Texas, and he serves on the Board of Directors of Weatherford National Bank (an affiliate of NASDAQ listed First Financial) and MedCon, a consortium of medical construction and development companies. Greg holds degrees in Finance and Management from the University of Texas at Arlington and Dallas Baptist University and is presently a student/candidate at Harvard Business School in the Owner/President Program. Greg serves on the advisory council of the UT Arlington College of Business.

Commencement Address
UT Arlington School of Business
December 13, 2009

Good Afternoon! Dr. Gray, Dr. Mack, parents, grandparents, friends, and most of all graduating class of 2009! Welcome!

Fellow Mavericks, your families are extremely proud of you. You can’t imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing. The feeling of warmth just flowing all over them. This afternoon would be a great time to ask for money!

You know, parents, now that I have four children, my great hope is that they are all out of the house before I die.

I want to thank this great University and the administration for allowing me to speak. I stand here in amazement because it has been over 20 years now, and the cumulative GPA of both of my degrees I would bet doesn’t total many of your single degrees. I was a horrible student! I wear this ring, my UTA class ring to remind me of the pain, the night classes, the sacrifices that it took to personally pay my way through college. I’m one of you! I can still remember sitting in my counselor’s office in the Admin building, she looked over my transcript, noticed my age, sighed and said “Mr. Barron, why don’t you like Biology?”.

Back then, we didn’t have Red Bull, we had Vivran to stay awake and Sominex to go to sleep and of course very black coffee. Starbucks was a name we gave something we hunted in the Hill Country. Mobil phones were telephones with very long cords, back-office was somewhere you didn’t want to be, hedge funds were normally associated with landscaping and financial gurus had yet to invent off balance sheet transactions. By the way, parents, you may not understand what I just said but your graduates do.

I am proud to be a fellow UTA graduate. But I think the real reason I was selected as your commencement speaker: If this average North Texan can graduate, if I can take my education, apply it to real life situations, fail miserably a couple of times, survive several recessions, anybody can!

So, congratulations! The only thing that stands in the way of getting your diploma is my speech.

Actually, I was incredibly uptight about this day, I lost sleep, I’d close my door at the office, and I missed opportunities worrying about the words I should say. Until a friend asked me, “You’ve got a couple of degrees, right?” “That’s correct,” I said. “Well, who spoke at your graduation ceremonies?” “You know, I really don’t remember their names.” “Well, surely you can tell me a couple of points because commencement speakers are chosen for their wisdom, their insight, their standing in the community.” “Not only do I not remember who they were, but I don’t remember a word they said!” do you know how liberating that was! So I stand here knowing that at best, you’ll remember six words! So here they are: “So what?”; “What if?”; and “Who with?”

So now your feeling pretty good about yourself until you realize unemployment is at 10%, the federal deficit is at an all time high, GDP is struggling to move forward. So you’ve got a degree, or in the case of some, another degree. So if you’re like me, I asked myself the question:

So what?

Now you’re thrust into a world that’s not insulated anymore. Try sleeping in in this economic disruption. So here’s the straight talk. The journey starts the moment you grab that diploma, hopefully new job offerings so let me tell you again what should be one of the gems that you take away…so what? You need to start defining your “so what” because if you don’t, somebody else will do it for you.

Your “so what” will and should change. I get asked all the time, “how did you know what you wanted to do?” My response is, “at what point in time?” Because you will most likely change. Events will impact you, you’ll feel things differently, you’ll have kids, if you don’t already, hopefully, and you’ll be moved by the needs of others. At every step of the way though, ask yourself, “So what? I’m an incredible financial analyst; so what? What makes me different? I understand the Straddle strategies, strike prices and protective puts for options now that I have a degree. So what? What makes you different than thousands of others? Keep that sword called your mind sharpened. Don’t stop with your present level of education. Do not stop learning. Most everyone sitting in front of me will retire around 2060! Can you imagine what will be needed, what new technologies will be developed, what huge leaps will be made by the time you retire?

In the last few years, I’ve traveled and worked extensively overseas in third world countries so I know something about this phenomena we call the middle class explosion. Let me recite some recent figures which hopefully will keep you at the well of education and innovation. A popular YouTube video, “Did You Know”, states that the top in-demand jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004. The top 25% of all Indian honors students is greater than the total population of the United States. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist; using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet. In the course of this speech, approximately 350 babies will be born in the United States, 750 in China and over 1,200 in India! Guess what, Americans? For every one of you, there are at least five more of you being born at the same time in countries that want your job and with governments now willing to pay for it.

Innovation will be what sets our western culture apart!

One of the most significant things you can do now is expand your ability to be innovative. Most of your years in school have penalized you for failure.

I’m going to actually ask you to fail every now and then. I hope you don’t stop at “no”. I hope you don’t stop at failure because, if you do, you won’t come up with anything original. This concept I know well. In 1989 I had 150 employees and two companies. One year later I had one employee that came in at 10:00 with a Big Gulp and a portable TV and I was glad to have the company. I can tell you I learned more from those few years in the abyss than the other 21 years I’ve been in business.

Failure is to success like oxygen is to life.

Now that you have your business degree, I encourage you to look for opportunities to be creative. And while you’re at it, be an individual.

I find it interesting that we try to teach innovation and originality in College, and then for the last ceremony, we give you matching robes and a square cap to put on your heads. Usually, when someone’s wearing a robe in the afternoon, it means they’ve given up.

Find your “So what?”
Be unique, be an innovator, and be creative.

I love the story of the schoolteacher that told her second grade class to spend a few minutes coloring something on a blank sheet of paper. The teacher walked back to a little girl and said, “Shelly what are you drawing?” Shelly answered, “I’m drawing God on my paper.” The teacher said, “Shelly, you know nobody knows what God looks like!” Shelly paused for a moment and said, “They will in a couple of minutes!”

My advice to you: ask questions. Some of the most brilliant people I’m around got that way by asking great questions. Peter Drucker calls it the power of provocative questioning. One of the things my wife and I always discuss after leaving a social gathering is how little people ask thoughtful questions. It’s usually about them. So try being a provocative questioner.

So what? Find it, or someone else will for you!

Now, “What if?”

When I was in my early twenties, I was on my own. I had left home at 18, not because I was asked but because it was my choice. I distinctly remember my Dad saying, “You know, son, you don’t have to go.” I had passed up a commission to the Air Force Academy and then I embarked on my career in aviation, which I thought would be for a lifetime.

Somewhere along the way, I changed careers. I became interested in real estate, construction, and business in my mid-twenties. I went back to school and I ultimately started my first company in 1988.

What if I hadn’t started companies? What if I didn’t exist? What if I wasn’t a father to four children? What if I wasn’t a mentor, friend, and teacher? If there wasn’t a company, our social philanthropy wouldn’t have existed, water wells wouldn’t have been drilled in Mumbai, approximately 16,000 people as we sit here wouldn’t have fresh water in Asia. Schools wouldn’t have been started in slums. Over 150 children daily wouldn’t be fed, educated, and clothed. Now that’s just me. You have no idea what lies ahead of you if you realize that you singularly can change the course of people’s lives all over this world. So, What is your “what if?”

Recently, I was attending a short semester at Harvard Business School. I had just been through a few rigorous weeks of case studies. The air was crisp and temperature cool on this autumn day. I sat in front of the Baker Library, the cornerstone of the Harvard campus, right across from the Charles River. I was in my sweats, had my headset on listening to John Coltrane. This Swiss friend sits down next to me on the park bench and we engaged in a deep conversation about family, success, and life in general. By the way, that’s what you do when you get older. Tom was the owner of a software company that developed programs for the hedge fund industry, and was about 40 years old. I asked him a question that stopped him for a moment. I asked him, “Tom, you’re a brilliant guy, what if you didn’t exist, what difference would it make?” Then I asked him, “What is your purpose and why are you here?”

In asking the question of purpose, one of my favorite professors, Rohit Deshpande, took an informal poll of students at the different schools and asked them what their particular purpose was.

  • School of Education…Transform lives through education and learning
  • School of Medicine….Save or extend lives through Medicine

Oddly enough, when they came across the river to the Business School in Cambridge and asked business students like you their purpose in life, most were like a calf looking at a new gate. Most hadn’t thought about what their purpose was, what their “what if I didn’t exist” would mean.

Let me give you a hint. As business students, to start you off with something that will probably rock your boss or employer if you go back and tell them this. Next time you see them, tell them you’ve figured out your purpose at their business. Tell them your purpose is to help them create value. That’s really what business students learn to do.

And what a great purpose that is in our free world: to create value.

Now I’ve given you four of the six words, “so what” and “what if”, now the last two.

“Who with?”

A friend of mine, Bob Beaudine, who is probably the number one athletic director and coach recruiter for colleges in the nation, recently wrote a book called “The Power of Who”. In the book, Bob describes that in this world, we need to know people, we need our “who” but we really don’t need to go out and find more “who’s”, we just need to make sure that we’re taking care of the one’s we have. In other words, the people we really need to know we’re probably able to connect with already. In our society, connectivity has exploded. But how’s the relationship going with your “who”?

Graduates, if there’s one area your going to need to succeed it’s relationship. If there’s one social avenue that’s decreasing, it’s face time.

What you need are real connectors, real influencers in your lives. Most of us are not real good at it.

The next reason you need a “who” is because we weren’t designed to go it alone. I truly believe we were created for each other. Designed to counsel, mentor, teach, learn from, and walk alongside. People, you’ve got to get some “who” in your life and you’ve got to develop networks, influencers, and contacts to help you along the way.

Personally, I make it a habit to always try to have someone I’m mentoring, someone who’s mentoring me and others who are great encouragers. I call it my “cord of three strand rule”.

And while you’re at it, I have one last word. I realize this makes seven but I think you can remember them. “Give”. I didn’t really understand this word until I sat on the dirt floor in a tin and cloth shelter in the largest slum in Asia holding the frail, malnourished body of a little girl. As tears streamed down my cheeks, I looked on her swollen belly and brown hair tinted red from malnutrition knowing that this could be my daughter too. But instead of feeling guilt, I realized then and there that my abilities to create value were needed to make a difference in the life of this precious little girl. So graduates, as you leave here today, as you define your “so what”, as you think about “what if I didn’t exist” and as you determine “who with”, create some value so that you can give it away.

Make a difference, Class of 2009! Congratulations!