January 07, 2015

Kevin Cummings Keynote Speech NJICF 11 14

K Cummings

 Global Awareness…An Educational Priority; A Business Advantage


Good Morning!

I am honored to join you today at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Independent College Fund of New Jersey. Today marks a milestone in your history of ensuring the long-term financial health of our state’s outstanding private colleges and universities. These institutions are a point of great pride for all of us here in New Jersey – including my bank and other companies that call this state home.  


Let me tell you about how I got to know this wonderful organization. Pat Grant, my former chairman who passed away a few years back, was a steadfast supporter and longtime trustee of the College Fund.  In fact, there are two scholarships in his name at both Bloomfield College and Drew University funded by the Investors Foundation in his memory.

But even before I joined Investors Bank, I was well-acquainted with the Independent College Fund. Bill Cozine, a former partner of mine at KPMG, was also an active trustee of this organization and has been a great supporter of St. Peter’s College — university — where my wife, 2 brothers and 2 brother-in-laws all graduated. In fact, I grew up on the campus of St. Peter’s and was always being chased out of Collins Gym by Tom the janitor or Don Kennedy the legendary coach at the time. 


When I think of St Peters, I also think of Frank Mertz who I met when he was a director at Commercial Trust/UJB/Summit Bank.  He went on to be the president of the Independent College Fund and the president of FDU.


These individuals are role models for me and great examples of leaders who have compassion and who serve others. I worked with all three, and was able to observe their values and work ethic. They all had local college experiences and understood, in the words of Winston Churchill, that you make a living by what you get, but you make a life what you give back.


To this day, I am very grounded by my roots here in New Jersey, where I grew up the son of a police officer — who worked a 2nd job as an ironworker — in a close-knit Irish family.  My experiences during my days growing up in Jersey City and going to high school at St Peter’s Prep had a real impact on me — especially the teachers and coaches who became my mentors.  New Jersey — a simple and diverse place; with honest, decent people — these are the leaders and educators that helped shape my own life, my sense of community, and my global perspective.


Recently, I spoke at a conference in Madison for high school and Drew University students.  After the presentations, the first question from the audience was “Why should I go to college?”


Good question, after I just invested a million dollars in my own kids’ educations.  Well, if you desire to get ahead and compete in this ever-changing world — you need an education. It is the great equalizer in this land of opportunity. Now, for some it may not be a college degree. But to be competitive in today’s labor market, you need to be a continuous learner.


I also responded that in addition to education, there are — in my view — 5 key habits or attributes that are necessary to survive and prosper in today’s global economy.  Character, first and foremost will define where you go and how far. Your reputation is what others think of you — your character is who you are and what your habits are. Next, hard work never becomes old fashion and in the current economy, it is even more important due to the intense competition. Third, a sense of humility. It’s not all about you — get over yourself — be a giver and not a taker. I call it the Derek Jeter rule versus the A-Rod syndrome. Look at Yogi Berra, a New Jersey icon — what better compliment to get than being called a great teammate.  Fourth, the ability to listen because that’s how you truly learn.  How many people know how to listen, really listen — most times they’re too busy thinking of how they are going to respond to your comments — than truly listening and communicating. And finally, you have to give back to your community.


As our Chairman Bob Cashell, another St. Peter’s alum, always says — “you can do good and do well.”  Anyone can be successful and make a good salary, but it is moving from success to significance that you create a purpose and legacy.


Young people who cultivate these kinds of attributes — and make education a priority — will be well-prepared to succeed in the 21st century.


When I look back at my own college experience where 2 of my roommates went on to become ministers and the third became a brain surgeon, it was those late night discussions in the dorm that I remember most — versus the rigors of academia in the classrooms. It was my failures and disappointments that created the greatest opportunities for growth. I started out in pre-med but that didn’t go so well due to the labs conflicting with basketball practice. But it was my openness to change and doing something challenging that led me to the MBA program at Rutgers and a 26-year career at KPMG. It will be that openness to change and growth that will be the key to success in the 21st century.


Simply put, we need a flexible and well-educated workforce to compete in the global economy in the 21st century. The colleges here in New Jersey are paving the way.


The 14 institutions here in New Jersey have deep roots, rich histories, and a long list of highly successful graduates. Many of those grads have gone on to transform communities and corporations — some with great fanfare, but far more with quiet dignity. 


Their success has touched nearly every corner of the globe. Yet those accomplishments began here at home — in lecture halls and classrooms at New Jersey’s schools.


 With 8.9 million citizens, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, but we’re still just a fraction of the 7.3 billion people worldwide.  We have one of the highest per capita income levels in the world; a fantastic education and transportation system that allow us to reap the benefits of our proximity to New York City.


Just imagine what we could accomplish here in New Jersey with our highly educated workforce and our great location if we had a more friendly business and regulatory environment. 


And yet, our state’s colleges — in collaboration with the business community — are expanding New Jersey’s global reach and creating positive change around the world. And I’m confident that today’s current students, a “small” group of 64,000, will continue to one day make a big difference in our world. 


Today, there are three topics that I’d like to talk about in relation to this idea of an expanding global footprint.


The first is New Jersey — our history, our wealth of knowledge, talent, and innovation.


The second is Education — specifically higher education.


And the third is Leadership — with a focus on how it is important for today’s educators and business leaders to help develop the next generation of strong, decisive leaders. This is imperative if we want to remain not just competitive, but relevant — at the top of an expanding, ever changing global economy.


But before we go global, allow me to share a little local color. I know I am not the only person in this room that has a deep interest and investment in New Jersey.


As you know, Investors Bank has its roots here.  In recent years, we have been growing, and expanding our footprint. Through hard work and innovation, we’re becoming a recognized leader throughout our state, as well as in New York City and Long Island. 


Investors has gone global already by completing 3 acquisitions with Banks which are domiciled in Greece, Portugal and Puerto Rico.


At Investors, we believe that the opportunities here in our local markets are boundless. Our geographic advantage needs to be leveraged.  Our optimism has its foundation in a stellar cast of New Jersey innovators and business leaders who preceded us.


Over the years, the Chamber of Commerce has developed a list of 25 Innovators who hail from New Jersey. Dubbed “world-changers,” they include Einstein and Edison – pretty impressive! – but, it also includes a soup maker, 2 astronauts and a pharmaceutical researcher. We have a rich tradition of innovation right here in the Garden State.  Just think what Bell Labs has accomplished right here in Murray Hill over the past 70 or 80 years.


When you look at those great New Jersey inventors, global awareness may not have been important during their lifetimes, but it certainly was part of their DNA. And, global awareness absolutely must be part of the DNA of today’s generation, as well.


Now let’s focus for a few moments on today’s higher education system. Educators are powerful people. They’re important as they help to shape the minds of tomorrow’s business leaders.


Are the goals of today’s colleges in line with the realities of a global world? What skillsets will be required of an educated person in the 21st Century?  For that matter, what does it actually mean to “be educated” in the 21st century?


Well, for starters, knowledge is not enough. A real education isn’t about memorizing a bunch of facts; it’s about expanding one’s world view.


It’s about opening one’s mind to other approaches, other ways of thinking. A truly educated person is knowledgeable, but more importantly, open, understanding and adaptable. It is only through understanding — that we can build partnerships, and better compete in a global business climate.


An educated person in the 21st century will need both a mindset and a skillset to function in a dynamic and constantly changing world.


That means that colleges must develop a culture that supports diversity and true transformation. As the economy moves toward less standardization, there will be a need to prepare students for a world of differences. Tolerance and an appreciation for our differences will be key factors for success.


We have to educate a generation that is ready to embrace change, because we are living in a time of constant transitions. We must continually choose between change or a slow death. That’s what it means to truly succeed in the global world.


New Jersey and its colleges in partnership with our business leaders have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this global change.


In a businessman’s vernacular, we need to turn toward education—from technical and trade to advanced degrees — to connect academia with innovative leaders in business and industry. It is only through collaboration and cooperation that a new generation of students will be prepared to address the needs of a global society — and more importantly to excel in a global economy. 


Getting there will require exceptional leadership.  Leadership is the key to our success.  When you look at any professional sports team, corporation or university, its success is a function of its leadership at the top.


More than five years ago, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition of educators and business leaders identified “global awareness” as one of six core skills that all students need to acquire. 


As noted by Harvard professor Fernando Ree-mers, we need global awareness of cultural differences and better skills to work effectively. This makes good sense — and it applies to business as well as governments.  As many of you know, the world of finance is highly-competitive. It’s a field where we, at Investors Bank, work hard to distinguish ourselves from our competitors.


So, just how do we do that? Well, it’s not simply by creating the right logo or ad campaign.


Here’s what smart companies do: They stay acutely aware and are poised to take action during times of transition. Because so often, market share is won and lost during cultural, demographic, or marketplace shifts. It was the market turmoil of the great recession in 2008 and 2009 which allowed Investors Bank to grow from a $5.8 billion savings bank to the largest New Jersey commercial bank with almost $18 billion in assets today.


It was the fear in the markets during that period that allowed us to gain market share when our competitors were pulling back due to exposure in the commercial and residential real estate markets.


Consider what Dr. Craig Barrett, the former CEO and Chairman of Intel, had to say about the cell phone industry. As he put it, there used to be a company called Motorola, but they missed the analog-to-digital cell phone transition. Then there was Nokia – but they missed the digital-to-smartphone transition. And now there’s Apple. …But Samsung is selling more cell phones, so is Apple missing another transition?


The point is that transition — often global, sometimes social, and sometimes technological — happens very quickly.  Companies that are aware — and take action, turn times of transition into a competitive advantage. Those that don’t take action are headed for trouble. In fact, inertia is the single worst enemy of success in today’s rapidly changing economy.


Another important point about succeeding today has to do with embracing the era. The 21st century is a century of innovation and technology. Thanks to technology, we can communicate across the globe 24/7.


Simply put, technology has changed the way we do business, shop for goods, listen to music, and even practice medicine. Those companies who harness technology and use it to their advantage will be the winners. They will be better suited to succeed in the 21st century.


Ree-mers takes global awareness a step further to encourage global competency — which he describes as “the knowledge and the skills people need to understand today’s flat world.”  We need strong leadership to move from awareness to competency. That leadership must come from educators and executives who come down from their ivory towers and step out of their offices to connect and lead their students and teams.


Leaders in education and business must make a commitment to lead and educate young talent. It’s our obligation to prepare the next generation, so that when the right time comes, we can hand over the reins.


I’m optimistic that many of those new leaders will join Investors Bank and help guide us forward in the 21st century. 


They’ll share our dedication and commitment to our set of core values – whether working with a local non-profit, meeting the personal finance needs of a neighbor, or negotiating a deal with an international company. Everything we do and how we do it, is built on our Core Values.


At Investors Bank, we call them the 4 Cs: Character, Cooperation, Commitment and Community.  In fact as we have grown we have added 3 more c’s — competency — it is not enough to be the nicest bank we need to be the best and brightest; Communication, as we get bigger, leadership needs to remain connected with our teams and continue to inspire our teams to living more fulfilling lives — and lastly Caring.


Caring is crucial — as no cares how much you know until you show them how much you care. We do not live by the Wall Street golden rule of banking — I have the gold, I make the rules. We live by the golden rule in the Bible — treat people the way you want to be treated — put others first before your own self-interests. Leadership is service first and foremost and leadership is influence — pure and simple.  You need to lead by example, as people do what they see and not what they hear. 


We strive not only to be great bankers, but also great Community Bankers.  We want to be known as the BANK that puts COMMUNITY back into BANKING.


We have a diverse group of employees at the Bank.  They speak over 30 languages and come from many more different cultures.


I am proud to say that our employees volunteer hundreds of hours of their time to serve our customers and the neighborhoods they call home. The Bank and our Foundation provide the money to support them as they make a difference with the customers and communities they serve.


Our philosophy is that it is possible to be successful and still do business by a set of values that aim for the greater good.


Every day, we ask our teams at the Bank a simple question: Are you a leader who serves or are you a self-serving leader?  Only by serving others, can we be successful. Only by making a difference for those we serve — our customers, our employees, and our communities — can we achieve significance.  Significance is when you go beyond success and create a passion, a legacy and a purpose for those you lead.


In closing, many experts have noted that more work needs to be done by both secondary and higher education. Educators need to adapt traditional learning methods to create an educational culture that is more stimulating, more flexible, and more creative.  A culture where students have more varied learning experiences and cross-cultural exchanges. While this has been evolving in certain institutions, it’s not always the norm. 


But based on my own experience, I’d say that the colleges here in New Jersey are among the most dynamic and nimble institutions in higher education. You are leading the way in promoting Global Awareness. You are translating it into Global Action. And, you are giving your students, our state, and ultimately, businesses in New Jersey, a Global Advantage.


I’d like to close with a quote that demonstrates how Global Connections work for all humanity. Vinh Chung is a Harvard-educated doctor who specializes in the treatment of skin cancer.  His memoir, Where the Wind Leads, is the story of his family’s exodus from Vietnam. Chung says, “I was granted asylum in a nation where education is available to everyone and success is attainable for anyone. My story is true for all of us, whether we arrived here by boat or by birth.  Much has been given to us — and much is required. That, I believe, is what it means to be an American.” — And, there is no better American than a good global citizen — one who believes in service to others.


Thank you very much!