A Higher Measure of Success

April 16, 2010  | 4 min read

By Linda A. Livingstone
Dean, Graziadio School of Business and Management

This summer, legendary film producer Oliver Stone will release the sequel to his infamous 1987 film Wall Street. The original, which introduced pseudofictitious archetypical 80s Wall Street villain Gordon Gekko as the central character, portrayed how corporate raiders went about their ruthless business in the pursuit of “success.” The film delivered countless quips and one-liners. In fact the quote from Gekko that “greed is good,” was named one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie quotations of all time.

Little is known about the story line of the new film and I have no opinion on it. However, it is almost certain to raise interesting questions about the idea of “success”—by 1980s standards and today.

Even in recent years the meaning of success has been closely linked with material wealth, amassing a large amount of money (think “dot com”-era investing or “flipping” real estate), or achieving fame, status, and power. However, at Pepperdine, we believe there is a higher standard than this by which to measure success—a standard reflected in the University’s mission to prepare students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership and in the Graziadio School’s mission which notes that, “as a professional school growing out of the tradition of a Christian University, we seek to positively impact both society at large, and the organizations and communities in which our students and graduates are members. Therefore, we affirm a higher purpose for business practice than the exclusive pursuit of shareholder wealth.

We believe that successful management seeks collective good along with individual profit and is anchored in core values such as integrity, stewardship, courage, and compassion.”

At Pepperdine, we are guided by biblical principles in how we teach and learn, what we believe, and who we are. Our desire is to instill higher standards of success including principles such as giving cheerfully, bearing one another’s burdens, and walking the extra mile for someone else’s benefit. To put it plainly: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4).

Thankfully, we have real-life heroes that demonstrate how Pepperdine is achieving this definition of success. At the top is George Pepperdine, the University’s founder. A successful businessman, George Pepperdine was motivated by a desire to help men and women prepare themselves for a life of usefulness in a competitive world. Mr. Pepperdine himself considered it wrong to build up a great fortune and use it selfishly. He poured his time and wealth into building the University.

George Pepperdine showed through his words and actions that when collective good and a desire to serve others is put ahead of individual profit that a better measure of success can be accomplished. He showed how values such as integrity, stewardship, courage, and compassion can be interwoven with business and a life well lived.

Flash forward to today and you can see the fruit of George Pepperdine’s legacy in Pepperdine students and alumni. One example is a recent Graziadio School graduate from Botswana, Jerry Darko. While earning his master’s degree, Darko applied his learning to develop a diversity-inspiring program teaching elementary school students how to play age-appropriate games from various countries around the world. The end goal of the “Just Like You” program is to educate children about other cultures as well as encourage respect for those who are different. Now major organizations and companies such as Nike and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America are lining up to learn how they can work with Darko and the program.

Another example: senior-level executives enrolled in the Pepperdine Presidential and Key Executive MBA program. Each year several dozen senior-executive students work with employable but homeless people to help them on resume building, role playing, and job-search strategies. The program has helped numerous homeless people gain self confidence and reestablish their employment. At the same time, senior executives walk away from the program humbled by the experience with a new appreciation for others’ challenges.

These stories of character and heart speak to the higher purpose that always has been core to a Pepperdine education and that define true success. It means allowing ourselves to be guided by principles and values that reflect God’s character and Pepperdine’s mission, not the ever-changing cultural milieu.

Several times a year, Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management hosts senior-level executives as a part of our Dean’s Executive Leadership Series. We have had many senior executives describe their work history, industry challenges, and management style. Rarely is money or financial acumen a part of their stories or advice on achieving success.

Speakers have included people like Sheri Miksa, who served as CEO of restaurant chain Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc., and food and juice company Robeks Corp. In describing her philosophy, she reflects on those who equipped her to be successful and says for her, “helping others get ahead is one of the most important things in life.” Similarly, Priscilla Stewart-Jones, senior vice president of human resources at McKesson Corporation urged a large audience: “Make sure that you have values and that you live by and walk those values.” In describing high-stakes business in the entertainment industry, Bruce Rosenblum, president, Warner Bros. Television, talked about doing what you promise. Simply but profoundly, he says: “Your word needs to stand up.”

In these and countless other examples we see across the Pepperdine community, there is another measure of success which centers not on money and power but on demonstrating honesty, integrity, cooperation, and a servant heart for others. As Winston Churchill so aptly stated, “You make a living by what you earn; you make a life by what you give.”

Certainly there are those who adhere to the Gordon Gekko measure of success. However, based on the success of our institution, our graduates, and others in the Pepperdine community, we can say with confidence that the pursuit of money and power at any cost is ultimately futile. Indeed, by our measure, “Greed is not good.” Instead, “Giving is good.”