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Student news: Vision meets reality at Cape Town leadership panel

Leaders from industry and academia spoke to the 2008 Leadershape participants Wednesday night on the University of Cape Town, South Africa, engineering campus. Two South Africans and two Americans, including Gary Wendt and College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy, formed a leadership panel that answered students' questions and offered personal stories about being successful.


LeaderShape participants and Gary Wendt

Gary Wendt speaks to the 2008 LeaderShape participants in Cape Town, South Africa about turning visions into manageable goals. (large image)


After brief introductory comments, each panelist met with a smaller group of students for an intimate discussion on how to put personal visions into action. Gary Wendt, a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus and a major sponsor of the Cape Town trip, worked for General Electric for almost 25 years in addition to leading a few companies of his own. Wendt advises students to take the visions they've developed over the course of LeaderShape and pragmatically break them into manageable, achievable parts.

Leadership, says Wendt, can be described by the “Three C's”: creating, convincing and consummating. Students first need an idea, and then they must convince people to get onboard. Consummating refers to having the fortitude to fight through the hard times and keep an idea going—though there can come a time to let go and move on to something else.

The students who met with Wendt asked him for his personal vision. “I became very excited to go to other parts of the world and create businesses,” he answers. “I got the vision that we are no longer citizens of Madison or Cape Town, but citizens of the world.”

His sense of the global community is a reason Wendt is supporting the Cape Town LeaderShape. “Why I'm excited about being involved in this is it's an opportunity to get engineers out of a relatively closed environment and into another environment,” he says. “Being in another country is an interesting chance to learn.”

Wendt invests in developing countries, and a lot of his advice is grounded in economics. Jeremy Glynn, a UW-Madison biomedical engineering sophomore, reported the small group discussion with Wendt back to the larger group. He says Wendt focused on the basics to achieve high ideals.

“You have to have that drive to always be on the lookout for what we can use from information about the world markets,” says Glynn. That information combined with creativity and personal passion will allow students to take full advantage of opportunities to make a difference.

Wendt wasn't the only one with important advice for students. Dean Peercy told students there are two central elements to leaders of all styles: vision and character. A leader needs a vision of where to take an organization, and a character based on integrity will help people trust the leader enough to go along with the vision, he says.

The two other panelists were from South Africa. One was a recent graduate from UCT now working as an engineer in the oil industry. He says communication and teamwork are critical in the engineering field. “The picture of an engineer sitting in an office calculating away is fading fast,” he says.

Duncan Fraser, an associate professor of chemistry and LeaderShape coordinator at UCT, offers a more introspective definition of leadership. “I see leadership as serving others,” he says. “You have to know yourself, and understanding yourself helps you understand other people.”

Overall, the many leadership styles presented Wednesday evening were valuable perspectives for the LeaderShape participants. Ivan Serwadda, an electrical and computer engineering student at UCT, was in Wendt's small discussion group. He says the panel was well put-together with a variety of voices, and Wendt's success is something he personally aspires to.

“The panel] took us back to real world,” he says. “Talking to Gary reminded us that it boils down to maintaining vision through everything else you're going to go through.”