December 20, 2016
Celebrating a storied legacy of principled leadership
When Carolina Tovar Fuentes found out she would be sharing a table with Les Wexner at a special event on The Oval, the junior finance student went to work learning all she could about the founder, chairman and CEO of L Brands.
What Tovar Fuentes discovered was a man who embodied a value central to her family.
“As my parents used to say: when you are proud of something, you want to make it better,” she said. “What struck me more than anything else was that after all his success and the global businesses he built, Mr. Wexner chose to stay here in Columbus and make a difference in his community and for his alma mater.
“To be as successful as he is, is extraordinary. But to be this successful and this humble is phenomenal. Mr. Wexner never forgot where he came from, and the people who helped him become the leader he is today … and neither will I.”
Tovar Fuentes was one of a handful of Fisher College of Business students who joined Ohio State President Michael V. Drake, MD and Fisher Dean Anil K. Makhija in honoring Wexner at The Max M. Fisher College of Business Centennial Celebration.
David Sherman, the grandson of the late Max Fisher, presented Wexner (BSBA ’59) with the college’s Centennial Award of Distinction for his transformational leadership in business and philanthropy.
“Les is a role model for our students, not only because of his remarkable achievements in business, but also because of his steadfast belief in the power of effective leadership,” Makhija said. “On numerous occasions, Les has brought to our campus the idea that great leadership inspires others to bring about change, to move people to a better place, improve their businesses, their community and our world.”
“Leadership is really the most important thing. Because it’s not about others, it’s about you. When I look back at my formative years, what I recognize is that real leaders lead themselves very effectively.”
LesWexnerFOUNDER, CHAIRMAN, CEO, L Brands
The event, which packed Mershon Auditorium with students, alumni, faculty, staff, friends and partners, also brought to campus Dr. Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, contributing editor at The Atlantic, and Washington Post columnist. He delivered the keynote address in which he spoke about innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.
“If you really want to produce innovation and an innovative society, and you had to choose between self-esteem and science, I wonder which is more important,” Zakaria said. “Because the one thing you do need as an entrepreneur is a healthy sense of confidence. You need to have confidence in yourself and your ideas, because you have to get other people excited, get other people to fund it.”
Wexner is arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, having created one of the world’s most recognizable brands from a single store in Columbus in 1963. He is the longest-serving Fortune 500 CEO.
In sitting down with Zakaria for an exclusive and intimate discussion, Wexner explored a number of topics, including the curiosity that has driven him to innovate as well as the critical importance of principled leadership.
“Leadership is really the most important thing,” Wexner said. “Because it’s not about others, it’s about you. When I look back at my formative years, what I recognize is that real leaders lead themselves very effectively.”
Zakaria praised Wexner for all the ways his principled leadership has brought about positive change in business and in the community.
“In the United States, there are many different paths to getting rich and being successful. But I think that what you’ve heard and have seen in Les is the thing I admire most, which is principle-based leadership and principle-based wealth creation,” Zakaria told Wexner “… You’ve done it in a way where you have honored your partners, you’ve honored your suppliers. You’ve been able to give back to your community in an extraordinary way at so many different levels.
“I don’t know that it is the only way to succeed, but I do know this, that it is the most honorable way to succeed.”
In accepting the Centennial Award of Distinction, Wexner paid homage to Max Fisher, his friend, mentor and a man he credited with changing his life and instilling in him the tenets of principled leadership that guide him today.
“My intention was that this is really a joint award, and maybe I’m the junior partner, and it’s really from the Fisher College of Business to Max, because he should be recognized for what he did,” Wexner said. “The notion of participating in community never would have happened but for Max. My path wasn’t exactly his, but that influence of thinking about participating — using the stuff between your ears and maybe the stuff in your pocket — to try and make the world a better place, to try to encourage justice in the world: Max was my mentor.
“But for Max Fisher, my life would have been very different.”