Former UK Prime Minister addresses Olin MBAs

| Staff Reporter

On Tuesday, Sir John Major, former U.K. prime minister, came to speak to Olin Business School MBA students in a session about leadership as part of the MBA “Creating Exceptional Value” course co-taught by former Emerson CEO Chuck Knight and Olin professor Anjan Thakor.

The two-hour event took place in the Knight Center and consisted of a lecture followed by a question-and-answer session. A one-hour reception afterward completed the program.

Per the policy of professor Chuck Knight, Student Life and other media outlets were not given access to the event.

While Major spoke to students in one of the main classrooms at the Knight Center, simulcasts were projected into two neighboring rooms, where guests including students, alumni and friends watched.

Major discussed a variety of issues ranging from climate change and population control to the free-market system and the role of government.

“It was better than what I expected,” said Prasanna Ayer, a local alumnus who obtained his MBA from Olin. “It was very insightful, not just from a political perspective but from [a global economic] perspective. [It was] not something you expect to hear from politicians. He [was] very straightforward with his feelings.”

Like others, Ayer was surprised by the quality of questions coming from the classroom.

Often lengthy questions were asked on many topics including how to unite world leaders, the media’s role in politics, leadership in the face of adversity, universal healthcare, and the debate between capitalism and a centralized free-market system.

Major answered each question, with the exception of a question directed toward criticizing president Obama’s health care plan, often adding anecdotes from his experience as prime minister.

Emphasis was placed on the enormous change that has taken place in the world, as well as the even greater change that can be anticipated of the future. Major expressed the need to adapt to these changes and for politicians to “look at the world with an honest and critical eye”.

When speaking about the debate between capitalism and a free-market system, Major explained that there was a trade-off between speedy decision-making and the benefits of a completely free-market system without government intervention.

Additionally, Major spoke about the difference between leadership and power, explaining that leadership means doing the right thing, even in the face of opposition. He recalled the health care changes he had implemented as prime minister, stating that there was great opposition, but “a degree of stubbornness and consistency” gave him strength in carrying out his policies, which he believes have been vindicated by history.

While many enjoyed the talk, some of the audience felt that more could have been discussed at a deeper level, such as issues of terrorism and reducing the deficit.

“I think we talked about a lot of difficult and critical problems in the world,” said Raj Talwar, an attendee of the event. “I do understand he’s not a magician, but I wish he had gone into a little bit more depth.”

The audience was very receptive, and appreciated that Major spoke candidly.

“[He was] very different from what you would see from current American politicians,” Ayer said.

  • Crystal

    I’m so glad to see that Sir John Major came back to WashU. He was the Commencement speaker at my graduation in 2006 and I know I and many others thoroughly enjoyed hearing him!