DeMaio to graduates: ‘You have the opportunity to reshape business’
DonnaLee DeMaio, president and CEO of United Guaranty, delivered the keynote address to the 41 students in the Love School of Business who received master’s degrees in business administration and management on May 20.
As Roger Michael Griffin Jr. waited to hear his name called Friday night in Whitley Auditorium, he couldn’t help but think about how long it has taken him to get to this point. “I started pursuing my MBA in 1996,” the 45-year-old father of three said with a smile.
A U.S. Army veteran, Griffin had to put his civilian career on hold through several deployments. Finally in 2013, and with 24 years of management experience in the military, he was ready to pick up where he left off. For the past two years, he has been taking night classes at Elon while working full-time as a chief operating officer for an information technology company in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it all came down to Friday night.
“It’s been a long ride but it’s definitely worth it,” he says.
It was a sentiment shared by all 36 students in the Master of Business Administration program and the five students in the Master of Science in Management program who were receiving their diplomas after completing their degree requirements. For many of them, their studies meant sacrificing time away from family and balancing projects and tests with job demands.
“To your families—and to me—you are heroes,” said DonnaLee DeMaio, president and chief operating officer of United Guaranty, who delivered the keynote address during the graduation ceremony. “It is never easy to disrupt your life, step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Yet, it’s only by taking those risks that we can truly grow. … Each path is unique.”
DeMaio’s own career path took time to shape. She told of her early days as a public accountant, when her job duties included getting coffee for partners, filling up their cars with gas or buying birthday presents for their wives. If those experiences taught her anything it was to pay her dues, to do all tasks, no matter how small, with the same professionalism and to treat everyone with the same respect.
“I learned not only technical skills, but also the things that are hard to learn in school: kindness, empathy, sincerity, integrity, honesty, accountability, humility,” she said. “To this day, it is equally important to me to greet the security guard at the front desk in my building every morning as well as drop what I am doing when a customer or shareholder calls. It is important to thank people, to give credit where credit is due and to be a continuous learner.”
DeMaio encouraged the graduates to keep their options open and to not short-change their own abilities. She shared stories of when she herself fell into that trap. For instance, when she was offered to be chief financial officer of MetLife Bank in 2002, she didn’t think she had what it took to do the job. Only at the urgency of her husband, whom she called an “insightful mentor,” she decided to hold her nose and jump.
She later became the bank’s CEO, successfully leading the institution through the 2007-
08 financial crisis and building it into the eighth largest mortgage originator in the country. Those experiences later led to her position as CEO of United Guaranty, an AIG mortgage insurance company.
“Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do. … It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard,” she said. “Those moments can really have an impact. You will never know what you are capable of unless you try.”
She also told the graduates to be ready to face disruptive innovation and “make the new happen.” Just as fax machines were replaced by email and taxis are being replaced by Uber, business practices will continue to evolve—and they need to be nimble enough to not only adapt to the changes but also to be change-makers. “The exciting thing about change is the opportunity it brings. I urge to be your own Uber, either within your existing company or on your own,” she said. “Bring innovative thinking to your work every single day. Take a risk and think outside the box. There is excitement and innovation everywhere.”
“You have an opportunity to reshape business,” she added. “Take it.”
The graduates also heard from fellow MBA student Sharon Cooksey, who was selected by her peers to speak on behalf of the class. “You are not only the future business leaders,” she said, “but you are the future of business itself.”
Candidates for the Master of Business Administration degree:
Brittney Ariel Burch
Raúl Antonio Castillo
Sharon Kay Cooksey
Jacob Daniel Danieley
Alexander Dawson IV
Amy Blackington Dick
Andrew Gillham Elliott
Daniel Edward Englebretson (in absentia)
Tanya D. Exum-Coston
Christina N. Garrett
Kim Marie Loomis Giles
Vanessa Renee Green
Roger Michael Griffin, Jr.
Toune Vongpheth Gwosdz
Andrew Mark Hains
Gregory Carl Hairston, Jr.
Jerry E. Harper, Jr.
Meghan Elizabeth Hembree
Tony Phan Huynh
William Mast James
William Hugo Jennings, Jr.
Amanda Elizabeth Haege Kinkaid
Lauren Fellmeth Knapp
Katy Elizabeth Kunst
Robert Andrew Martin
Cale Eugene Murray
Richard Timothy Palmer
James Sebastian Pappas
Jessica Victoria Panos Pasion
Nolan R. Patouillet
Brett Bishopric Patterson
Thomas Madison Revelle
John Lanigan Storrs
Yuqian Liu Torbert
Candidates for the Master of Science in Management degree:
Diana Michelle Davis
Roger Alexander Dugas
Lawson Hudson Hodges
Thomas Nicholas Nosenzo
Caroline Shaina Satalof