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Appalachian Graduates Learn Keys to Success

BOONE—If you look for examples of success, Erskine Bowles, president elect of the University of North Carolina System, would certainly be on the list.

Bowles served in President Clinton’s administration as director of the Small Business Administration from 1993-94, as deputy White House chief of staff from 1994-95 and White House chief of staff from 1996-98.

He helped launch the investment banking firm of Bowles Hollowell Conner. He also has served as a general partner of Forstmann Little, a New York-based private equity firm.

Speaking to more than 950 graduates during Dec. 10 commencement at Appalachian State University, Bowles shared the principles that have helped him achieve success in business, government, public service and education.

Encouraging creativity and embracing change are paramount to success, Bowles said as he shared one of his experiences from his time as director of the Small Business Association. During a series of town hall meetings, business owners talked about the nightmare of forms needed to get an SBA loan.

When Bowles asked his district directors to find a way to make SBA loans more accessible, they responded by streamlining an inch-thick application process to a single-page application.

“If you are going to be successful, you can’t ever believe that the way you are doing it today is as good as it can be done,” he said. “You can make substantive change, you can improve your product — even in the government — but you have to create an atmosphere that encourages creativity,” he said. “You have to have the courage to change.”

Perhaps one of the most important keys to success is remembering to thank others and recognize their work. “Gain the reputation for appreciating the work of others,” he urged. “You’ll find that a simple thank you or word of encouragement often means the difference in getting a job out on time or having it languish in the ‘in basket.’ Take time to show you are grateful and you’ll find that others will work to make you look good.”

Bowles cautioned graduates not to “over promise” when asked to complete a task or project. “I see this all the time,” he said of individuals and businesses that fail to deliver when they couldn’t meet self-imposed deadlines. “Be that person who under promises,” he suggested. “If you produce beyond the expectations of the American people, or your boss or client, you’ll have a hard time not being given more and more responsibility.”

He also told graduates to always do quality work. “You have heard that a million times here at Appalachian, but it’s true,” Bowles said. “There is absolutely no substitute for quality. A job well done is the best advertising you can have.”

Balancing work with volunteerism and devotion to family also are important keys to success as well as happiness in life.

“Give back to community,” he said. “All of us can find the time to make this world a better place. When you do give to your community, you will experience a pride and sense of purpose like no other.”

When looking for a job, look for companies that are family friendly. “Save time for your family. There is nothing in my life that has meant more to me than my wife and children,” he said.

While each person’s definition of success may vary, he said, it usually results from being happy in the home, at work and in the community.