Gen. Colin Powell entertains as he shares leadership experience in sold-out lecture
October 23, 2013
He loves working on Volvos, sailing through the EZ Pass lane, and that red onion relish you can only get from New York City hot dog vendors.
And what Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.) misses most about being Secretary of State is having his own 757.
“When it was time to leave, I’d put down my teacup, and I’d walk down my red carpet, and a band would be playing. People would salute me. I’d get to my bottom step, put my foot on the step, and the one engine would start turning,” said Gen. Powell, recalling that as a flight attendant placed his Diet Coke on the tray at his seat, the airplane would lift into the air. “It was so cool, man. And then they took my plane away and gave it to Condi. Then Hillary got it. I don’t know where the heck John Kerry has it.”
During his visit to Loyola University Maryland’s Reitz Arena on Oct. 22, Gen. Powell filled the second Hanway Lecture in Global Studies with humor and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, as he also made clear to his audience that one of his real passions is ensuring that everyone is able to take advantage of the opportunity offered in the United States.
“Perhaps the most significant part of my life is working with young people,” he told the sold-out crowd of 3,000 students, parents, alumni, friends of the University, and members of the Baltimore community. “In this country of great wealth, such promise, such talent, how is it that we have such a high drop-out rate?”
Gen. Powell praised Loyola University Maryland for offering ongoing support to Baltimore’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, one of a national network of Cristo Rey schools that combine a college-preparatory curriculum with an internship program.
“What these schools are doing to prepare our young people for college is just fantastic,” he said, turning to speak directly to Loyola President Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., who introduced him. “Father, I want to thank you for your support of Cristo Rey. Keep it up. We need a lot more schools like Cristo Rey.”
Gen. Powell reflected on his own educational experience as a child raised in the Bronx who earned his college degree at City College of New York. He spoke of his low grades, and how the school administrators were trying to figure out how to graduate him.
“Let’s take all his ROTC grades—they’re all As—and put them in with his GPA. It took me up to a 2.0,” he said. Today he’s one of his alma mater’s most esteemed graduates. “I’ve got professors rolling over in their graves all over the city of New York.”
The Hanway Lecture in Global Studies is an endowed lecture series made possible by a gift from Ed Hanway, a member of the University’s Class of 1974 and current chair of its Board of Trustees, and his wife, Ellen. The inaugural lecture was held in April 2013 and featured Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
During his first visit to Loyola University Maryland, Gen. Powell spoke about getting to know Ed Hanway as members of the board of the Eisenhower Fellowship Program.
Gen. Powell also remembered what he learned about leadership from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan one morning during a morning briefing. He sat in the Oval Office telling Reagan about a problem, and he noticed the president wasn’t really listening.
“He’s paying no attention to me, looking over my shoulder, out into the Rose Garden,” said Gen. Powell, who started talking more loudly, but Reagan continued to look past him. “When I could think of nothing else to do, he says, ‘Colin, Colin, look, look, the squirrels just came for the nuts I put out this morning.’”
Gen. Powell left Reagan’s office in frustration.
“Then it struck me,” he said. “What he was saying was ‘Colin, I love you, and I will sit here and listen while you tell me about your problem. But until you tell me about a problem I need to handle, I’m just going to watch the squirrels in the Rose Garden.’”
The former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff led his audience through a discussion of a number of topics.
On health care: “We should have universal care. I’m not endorsing Obamacare. I don’t know enough about it.”
On resolving the personal post-retirement blues: “I thought about it. How do I deal with the depressive emptiness that I feel? And it hit me. It was so easy. I bought a Corvette. I’m telling you if there’s anyone in their 70s who has this problem, just go and buy a Corvette.”
On the writers of the Constitution: “They were able to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. These were men of strong will. They fought for their beliefs, but at the same time they understood that in order to get movement, you have to have compromise,” he said. “You’re telling me that 535 people in Washington can’t even pass a simple budget? It’s a disgrace. You owe our citizens better than this. But I also say to my citizens don’t sit around waiting for Superman…. The solution to this problem is sitting here. We have got to start judging people based on their performance.”
On going through airport security: “I stand there and I see them all whispering to each other. Remember there are no exceptions to the rules,” he said. “They bring out a guy who’s an honor graduate of wanding school and … I just stand there and he demonstrates why he’s an honor graduate of wanding school…. I want to get mad and I can’t get mad. I helped put this system in place.”
On terrorism: “You’re not going to terrorize us. You’re going to lose this battle at the end of the day.”
On his friend Tom Clancy, ’69: “You should be so proud to have someone like him who graduated from this place…and gave him the opportunity not only to sell insurance, but to never forget what was in his heart, which was to write books. I know I will miss Tom Clancy as much as the rest of the world will miss never having another Tom Clancy book come out.”
On the importance of growing the U.S. economy: “It’s economic growth and economic development that is pulling the world into the 21st century,” he said, noting that China is not at war. China is working on growing its economy. “The real world is moving to a different dynamic, and that dynamic is wealth creation, which is why it is so imperative for America to get its fiscal health in order.”
On remembering that every individual has a contribution to make: “Put humans in the best possible environment, empower them, and trust them. And always remember at the end of the day, you really are no better than anyone else.”
His advice for students: “Find something you love. Do it well. Find satisfaction every single day.”