| John Chisholm ('76)
In two ceremonies on Saturday, May 3, more than 500 Fort Lewis College graduates and their families packed Whalen Gym for Spring Commencement. The speaker chosen to offer the Commencement Address was FLC alumnus John Chisholm (’76).
“In the few minutes I have today I want to share just three life events that I have tried to live by since leaving Fort Lewis College: failing, leadership while making a difference, and enjoying the moment,” he told the graduates.
One of Mr. Chisholm’s distinctions is being a member of the FLC Athletic Hall of Fame for his years playing quarterback for the school. He excelled in college and made it onto the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles, but was eventually cut.
“I failed,” he said of his NFL career. “So I did what a lot of ‘not good enough’ players do, I sold life insurance. But as an only child I didn't have many relatives so I went broke or nearly broke doing that. So that was two failed careers that didn't work. I then went on to work in the energy service industry for a company and after four years of running their sales organization was told I wasn't needed. That's three failed efforts.”
Yet it was those failures that drove Mr. Chisholm to start his own company. That first company began out of the back of his pickup truck, but in ten years he’d grown it into a global firm before selling it. From there, it was on to bigger things.
“I now have the pleasure to run a New York Stock Exchange company that we took from being on the edge of bankruptcy and valued at $30 million dollars on the NYSE to being worth today over $1.5 billion in under four years. Thank you, Fort Lewis business department!”
His philosophy on business and leadership is part of what made him so successful in his career. Some of that philosophy was formed while at Fort Lewis College, both in the classroom and on the football field.
“While playing football and quarterback right here, I learned from my head coach Jay McNitt that great quarterbacks always take more of the blame and less of the credit,” he said. “I carried that thought of leadership to my professional life. Thank you, Fort Lewis College Athletics.”
“I learned here at Fort Lewis that in my accounting, statistics and economics classes I was for sure not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so it’s easy for me to hire people that are smarter than me,” he continued.
“My job is to give employees confidence in themselves and their fellow workers so they believe they can make the impossible possible and many times they do. I don't need the credit. They get the credit. They deserve it. This is the philosophy that was instrumental in increasing my company’s value by 50 times in just four years.”
As he brought his remarks to a close, Mr. Chisholm used lyrics from his favorite band to touch on his final point: enjoying the moment.
“My favorite musical group is Rush, as I find, not just the music, but the lyrics have such a deep meaning to me. My favorite lyric is: ‘future disappears into memory with only a moment between.’ Make sure you enjoy the moments of life before they become memories. Make sure you make an effort to effect life and the lives you will touch. Most importantly, make sure you live and don't just be alive.”