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Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
Nationally recognized health expert Woodrow Myers, MBA '82, urged Stanford MBA students to aim to fix the world's most pressing challenges using the skills they take with them from business school.
"There are huge problems left to solve, and what you have learned here are exactly the skills needed to solve them," he told the 27th annual conference of the Black Business Students Association, held at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on April 24.
Myers, a physician and managing director of Myers Ventures LLC, is the 2010 recipient of the association's Tapestry Award, which honors an African American business school alumnus who has woven inspirational leadership, intellectual excellence, and service to others through his or her professional and personal life.
Myers said skills he mastered at the business school "allowed me to optimize my effectiveness as a physician, as a business executive, as a member of the community and – most importantly – as a leader. This was the key to my success."
A director at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics, Myers said problems now straining the American health care system result from both inefficiency and the failure to value equality. Both are troublesome issues Myers said he has struggled with during his nearly four decades as a physician and educator.
In the mid-1980s, as Indiana state health commissioner, Myers was in the eye of a national debate when he argued that a student named Ryan White posed no threat to his teachers and classmates in Kokomo, Ind., and should be allowed to attend classes. White, a hemophiliac, was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through a blood transfusion. At the time AIDS was not well understood by the population at large. Eventually Indiana law was changed to allow White to attend school. In 1987, Myers resigned as vice chairman of the National AIDS Commission, arguing that the Reagan administration was not supporting efforts to control the disease. He later served as New York City Health Commissioner.
As he has done throughout his own career, Myers encouraged students to travel to the world's top business centers as well as to less prosperous regions to gain new perspectives. "You learn not to complain about shoes when you see as many people as I have with no legs," said Myers, who chairs the Mozambique Healthcare Consortium. "Here in the U.S., we struggle with problems of childhood obesity, while in Mozambique they struggle with the worst forms of childhood starvation."
Myers urged students to unleash their talents on fixing problems his generation has failed to solve.
Leaders are made, not born, and leadership is an acquired set of skills, he explained. "If you continuously nourish and reinforce what you have acquired here, you will become the generation that solves the big problems like clean energy, increased agricultural yields to improve global nutrition, and [access to] inexpensive pharmaceuticals," Myers said.
Early in his career, Myers received an MD degree from Harvard Medical School. He went on to be a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Stanford and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. He has served as a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees and is past chairman of the Visiting Committee for the Harvard School of Public Health. He is a past executive vice president and chief medical officer at health benefits firm WellPoint and was the director of health care management at the Ford Motor Co. Currently, Myers serves on the boards of Genomic Health, a maker of medical diagnostic technology, and Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager.
Other conference speakers included James Lowry, senior advisor of the Boston Consulting Group’s workforce diversity efforts, and Candace Matthews, MBA '85. In her keynote address, Matthews outlined the lessons she learned on the way to becoming global chief marketing officer at multilevel marketing giant Amway Corp.- Michele Chandler
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Helen K. Chang