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Message at Samford bears McWhorter legacy and son's challenge to serve
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Stuart McWhorter
Clayton McWhorter

CLAYTON Associates Chairman Stuart McWhorter, immediate past-CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, addressed Samford University's Commencement, May 6. He dedicated his remarks to his father, Clayton McWhorter, PharmD, the Nashville entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist who died January 23. Samford's School of Pharmacy is named for the elder McWhorter, a Samford alumnus who was also a president of HCA, founder and CEO of independent HealthTrust and founder of PharmMD. One McWhorter obituary is here.

Drawing on his father's guidance and his own experience, Stuart McWhorter's address last week also included a challenge for all whose aim is to 'go somewhere'. The full text that followed Stuart McWhorter's greetings to those present appears below.

Commencement Address, May 6, 2016, Samford University
McWhorter School of Pharmacy, Birmingham

...It is an honor to have the opportunity to address the graduating class of 2016 of the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University. This is a very special and meaningful invitation for me. As some of you may know, my father, Clayton McWhorter (who graduated from Samford (then Howard) in 1955 with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Pharmacy), passed away this past January from cancer. He was 82 years old. In his final days of life, he told me that he had been invited to give today's commencement speech. Given his condition, he knew that it was unlikely that he would have the ability to stand here and speak and hoped that perhaps Samford would call me to deliver it for him. And they did and I am so grateful and humbly honored.

Who was Clayton McWhorter?

He was a remarkable husband, father, grandfather, mentor, philanthropist, business and community leader.

Dad was one of four children raised by a single mother in Chattanooga during the Great Depression. He did not have much growing up, but what inspired him....became his motivation....was the love that he received from his siblings but most importantly his mother. Dad spoke of his mother often and how she believed in him and his brothers and sister and challenged them to dream big and often! It was her unwavering and undivided love, along with significant sacrifices, that dad and his siblings became good citizens and were able to give something back for what they were so blessed with.

This inspiration fueled him into a very successful career -- beginning as a pharmacist, to Chairman of the world's largest hospital company, HCA. But his best days began when we formed Clayton Associates (our venture capital firm) in 1996. It was his passion to partner with great talent to create and launch innovative businesses. It was about aligning with smart and passionate entrepreneurs and making the bet that they would succeed.

We are now one of the oldest venture firms in Nashville. But here is the key to our longevity -- treat people with respect, do the right thing, do what you say you will do and never have an ego. If you do that, good things happen and we are living proof of it. All because of Clayton McWhorter -- it came naturally for him and he was extremely successful in instilling that in us as part of who were are and our culture.

So for today's Graduates: 27 years ago, my dad delivered the Commencement address to the graduating class of 1989 here on this campus. As I prepared for my comments today, I thought it was only appropriate for me to use a portion of the speech he delivered in 1989. So, much of what you will hear is what he would have said if he was standing here today. And I am honored to share this with you!

Graduating from college is a very special occasion. It's the culmination of many things: hard work on your part, sacrifice on your parent's part and stamina on the part of the faculty. It's the end of one road and the beginning of another!

I remember how my classmates and I felt the day I graduated from Clemson University and later from UAB for graduate school. We thought we were as smart as we'd ever be. We felt that we had arrived....the world was out there waiting for us....that we had learned pretty much everything there was to know and were ready to conquer the world!

Well, needless to say, 25 years later, I look back on my graduation as only as a beginning -- a giant step in the ongoing process of development and growth throughout life, but still only a step. No doubt your years here at Samford have been a significant milestone in your lives. Well, now you're about to embark on a different yet exciting journey, a journey for which you've been well prepared.

You'll go out into the world armed with a degree from a well-regarded educational institution. That is an important advantage and one that will serve you well. But in another sense, nothing can really prepare you for the "real world," except experience.

You are entering a new stage of life....one that is, perhaps, less structured than the college years you now leave behind. Now that you are leaving.....your goals may not be as clear-cut. However, you are all goal-centered -- that is obvious by the fact that you are sitting here today -- and as the years go by after graduating, you will develop and refine your goals.

I would like to share four principles with you today that have not only been my own personal guide but also the principles my father spoke of and lived by throughout his wonderful career and personal life:

The first piece of advice is to find a mentor, a role model....someone who can assist you in your professional and personal growth.

I am sure many of you have already found mentors among your professors, and you will be amazed at how their teachings will stay with you over the years.

When you get your first job or your next permanent position, look around for a mentor, someone you admire who commands your respect. Look for someone to pattern your style after.

My father spoke often of his many mentors along life's journey and credits each one for his success knowing that it would have not occurred without their interest in him and support of him.

The second piece of advice it to be prepared. Life often throws us a curve ball. You have to be prepared to meet the challenges....and embrace the opportunities.

My father told many stories of life lessons learned from being prepared and, more importantly, not being prepared. From how he had prepared for several years to eventually become President of HCA to not being adequately prepared to deliver the annual corporate-wide address that ended in a complete disaster. He spoke of starting with the end in mind....from what outcome you wanted to achieve....and working back from there. Being prepared....something you cannot overdo!

The third suggestion is for you to act like an owner, no matter what kind of position you hold in your company or with your employer. So what qualities best exemplify an owner? It is one who must be a perceptive observer, have an agile and inquisitive mind, be energetic, versatile, persuasive, a conceptual thinker, a keen analyst, a tough negotiator, a tireless worker and a courageous innovator. One that must be a thrifty manager, a quick study, charming conversationalist, a good listener and, perhaps most important, an entrepreneur.

They must know something about his or her community, a bit about his or her superiors, a little about business and a lot about people.

If you think of yourself as an owner versus just an employee, you will get to work a little earlier and stay a little later. You will see your horizons expand and your fears diminish and you will think in concepts, not in mechanics.

You will see the big picture and won't get bogged down in the details. If you act like an owner, you will wonder whether things are organized right. You will make suggestions beyond the scope of your day to day job. You will grow impatient with the slower pace of your colleagues and ideas will come to you that will amaze and astound you and likely your boss.

If you think and act like an owner, your career will flourish and your life will change.

The fourth message today can be summed up in two words -- Give Back. All of you here have been blessed in some way. We live in the land of opportunity but not everyone has the same access to opportunity. So each of you have some level of responsibility to give something back -- to your family, your university, your community, for example. It is important to start thinking -- right now -- about ways you can give back to others. Don't wait 10 or 20 years. Don't wait until you are settled down, or have reached a certain professional or financial goal.

The time to give back is now. It is something you will do over your lifetime. And I am not talking about financially. I am talking about of you -- the giving of you. Start giving of your time, your love and yourself today!

Let's start with your family. Your parents may have sacrificed to help you get through college. They may have helped financially or offered emotional support, or perhaps given you the tools that have shaped the way you are. Why don't you dedicate this occasion to your family. Let them know that their support means something to you. Don't let today go by without expressing your gratitude and love.

With your permission, I would like to dedicate this Commencement address to my father. I owe a lot to him. His influence shaped me into who I am today and for that I am most grateful!

And he loved this University, which is another place to give back, particularly to your professors. The college years are a very formative time.....it's a time when you start looking at the world in larger terms....a time when possibilities are limitless....a time when you explore new horizons....develop fresh interests....and expand your concept of yourself and your place in this world.

Our professors help shape our views.....they inspire us and give us confidence. They help us learn not only about the world....but about ourselves. Give something back to your professors. Tell them what they've done for you. Go up and shake their hands after the ceremony today!

Last, but certainly not least, give something back to your community. You are a very diverse group here with varied interests and career goals. Some of you will pursue additional studies and others will go into business or work for a company.

No matter what paths you take, you all have a responsibility to be good community minded citizens....and that means giving something back to the communities where you live and work.

For those of you who will become managers, you will soon discover that community relations is both an opportunity and an obligation.

As an individual or corporate citizen, if you contribute to important programs in your community, you will create a better community in which you live.

I have noticed that it is often the busiest people in a community who are the most involved in community affairs. Often the time spent volunteering gives you additional energy. You see things in a different light, from a new perspective....and it enhances your professional and personal development. Leaders have an obligation to put something back into the community.

It is really a moral obligation and it is an obligation that I want to charge you with today.....as future leaders of our communities.

And finally today, remember that life is a process and living well means continuing to grow and develop through all its stages. Just when you think you've "arrived," you will find another challenge around the corner. You will find that you're not quite satisfied with the current situation. You will discover there are other goals to strive for, other mountains to climb.

We never "arrive," we just keep traveling down this road called life. There's a saying that goes something like this: "There are those who travel and those who are going somewhere. They are different and yet they are the same. Those who succeed have this over their fellow travelers: They know where they are going."

I interpret that to mean that to be successful.....you need to define success for yourself. You need to decide what you want out of life, because if you don't know where you are going, you won't know when you get there.

Success can be measured in many ways. One obvious yardstick is money. In today's society many people equate success with financial achievements. But that is only one measure. I think a more accurate measure is happiness. Now I know that sounds trite, but achieving fulfillment and happiness is an elusive goal for many. I think the most fortunate people are those who find contentment in both their professional and personal lives.

I subscribe to the proverb of one of history's greatest philosophers -- Confucius -- who said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life"

In conclusion:

  • Carefully select your role models
  • Like a good Scout, be prepared
  • Think and act like an owner and give back a little of what has been given to you
  • And most importantly, enjoy the journey and be happy!!

Good luck to all of you and may God bless!


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Tags: Clayton Associates, Clayton McWhorter, HCA, HealthTrust, McWhorter School of Pharmacy, PharmMD, Samford University, Stuart McWhorter

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