CARY — Mike Krzyzewski, without a gray hair and walking without a limp that might be expected after hip surgery, strode to the front of the crowd to talk leadership to some 300 high-tech CEOs, COOs, CFOs and wannabe-corporate Cs.
“I’m the only CEO who is not a CEO,” he said with a smile at the “Magic” technology show put on by InCentric Solutions, IBM, The WorX Group and other corporate partners last week at Prestonwood Country Club.
He certainly talked like one — or at least the CEO most of us would die to work for, or be.
Coach K, wearing his heart on his sleeve, paced the front of the room, his emotional voice booming over a wireless microphone as he talked about leadership, corporate responsibility, his many experiences as a national championship basketball coach at Duke, his friendship with the late Jimmy Valvano — and the war against cancer.
As part of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer launched by former President Bush, Krzyzewski is working with corporate executives to support benefits and programs to fight cancer. They have developed a “Gold Standard” program that within three years generates cost savings for companies — let along the benefits of helping employees. (SAS and GlaxoSmithKline were among the first six companies to embrace the program, by the way. Bob Ingram, GSK’s vice chairman, was asked by the elder Bush to help launch the program.)
“The reason I got involved is that my friend (Jimmy V) died of cancer,” Coach K said. As he watched the former Wolfpack coach die on cancer, Krzyzewski said he was struck by the “lonlieness, the fear” and “how devastating cancer can be”. When Valvano’s wife recruited the Duke coach to become part of the “V” foundation, he signed on without hesitation.
“I want to beat that SOB that killed my friend,” he said fervently. “I want to beat cancer.”
He tied the war on cancer into corporate strategy and how to win as a CEO.
“You don’t beat a team with one player,” he stressed. “You don’t beat a team without coming in different directions.
“I want to be on the platform with millions of Americans when we say we won!” he added, linking the cancer fight to being on the winners’ stand at the 1992 Olympics as part of the Michael Jordan-led US “Dream Team”.
That team had a spirit about it — not just talent from Jordan (“God –I was right,” K said when appraising talent), Larry Bird, David Robinson and others — that made the team the gold medal winner.
CEOs need to create the same atmosphere to be successful, he explained. “Give your companies — your team — a soul, a spirit. A body eventually dies. A soul never dies.”
He talked about how working as a team is essential for a business to be successful. His words of wisdom ought to be transcribed and posted in every corporate suite — from the largest to the entrepreneurs’ desks in their home offices:
“It’s not five fingers but a fist –”
“Your opponent is excellence –”
“It’s not just about solutions; it’s about people who make you better –”
“You want to create an environment where everyone has ownership –”
“It’s everybody’s team –”
‘You’re here to try to get better –”
“We make our mistakes together; we win together –”
To help drive home his many points, InCentric presented each person who attended the event with an autographed copy of Coach K’s best-selling book “Leading With the Heart”.
By the time Krzyzewski was finished, the crowd stood for a long, enthusiastic ovation. Troy Webb, managing partner of Incentric, then presented Coach K with a check for $85,000 from InCentric and The Worx Group. The money is for Coach K’s latest outreach endeavor – the Emily K Foundation, a community outreach program named after his late mother.
The introductory remarks introducing Coach K went this way: “As great as he is as a basketball coach, he’s a better human being.”
No one could have described him any better.
Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.