The last speaker at a two day conference is always in the
toughest of spots. Attendees are typically suffering from
information overload, starting to refocus on the return to whatever
responsibilities they left behind, thinking about a connection they
still need to make, or transportation to the airport.
Engaging them one last time is always a challenge. In many years of
attending and hosting conferences, I have never seen a speaker meet
that challenge with more success than
Donovan Campbell, manager at PepsiCo, Marine Captain,
and author of the best selling book Joker One.
No one who was lucky enough to be in the room for the
closing session at #PRBPC last
week in Dallas will ever forget the last thirty minutes of the
conference. Donovan truly had us at hello, or in his case "thank
you". This is a man who is about one thing - giving back.
Deployed to Iraq in 2004, his tour with his platoon Joker One
changed his life forever. His recount of his days in Ramadi
was eye-opening and haunting. The pictures that he shared of
his men - risking their lives daily, performing back-breaking work
to build infrastructure, trying to find ways to engage and befriend
the Iraqi civilians - were quickly imprinted on our minds and in
our hearts. These soldiers, most in their late teens and
early twenties and with little formal education beyond high school,
patrolled the streets of Ramadi day after day and reenlisted time
after time because they couldn't bear the thought of leaving their
"brothers" behind. That selflessness is something most of us
could learn a thing from.
Then and now, so few of us knew or thought about their work as
we stressed and worried about the little problems that littered our
own. Things like traffic, meetings, and email overload
suddenly seem trivial in comparison. In recounting his story,
Donovan gave us the gift of the precious present in a way only
those who have faced death and borne the responsibility for
protecting other lives can do. He made it crystal clear -
that what we believe to be our toughest challenges pale in contrast
to the ultimate challenge - risking your life for another, for
values that your cherish and hold dear. Here is the lesson
life taught him - don't waste a single day and be grateful
for the opportunity to live, to lead, to develop, and to contribute
when and where we can, big or small.
He closed by answering the question that he is so frequently
asked, "How do I thank a soldier?" Evidently, because of the
Veterans Day remembrances last week, along with the tragedy at Ft.
Hood, he has been asked the question frequently. His response
was simple - give back, help someone who needs it, be grateful for
what you have, demonstrate your commitment to serving our country
and our citizens every day - even in small ways. It is
obvious that he leads in his work at PepsiCo the same way he led
his men in Iraq, with intellect, heart, commitment, and genuine
concern for the success and well being of his subordinates.
Look up "servant leader" in the dictionary - there is a picture of
Donovan Campbell. I sat in between two CEO's, both veterans,
both servant leaders in their own right - both in tears. He
touched us all in a way we will never forget. Today,
tomorrow, next week during Thanksgiving, let's say thank you to
Donovan and those he wants so much for us to honor and remember -
and let's do it on purpose.