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Former NAACP Chair Myrlie Evers Williams Applauds Values-Centered Leadership

Dean’s Executive Leadership Series 
May 17, 2006

The Graziadio School was honored to present Myrlie Evers Williams, former chair of the NAACP, as the final speaker in the Dean’s Executive Leadership Series for the 2005-06 academic year.  Ms. Evers Williams spoke on a central theme of the Graziadio School:  values-centered leadership.

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Ms. Evers Williams briefly discussed her life as the wife of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963.  After her husband’s death, she persevered in the fight for racial equality, eventually becoming the first full-time, unsalaried woman to chair the NAACP.  She also served as an executive at ARCO during the 1980s.  When considering whether to work for an oil company at that time, she recalls thinking, “Perhaps I can make a difference from the inside, as I have done protesting from the outside at other times.”

Ms. Evers Williams stressed the importance of maintaining a strong sense of values while still striving for success in business. 

“I hope that universities such as Pepperdine will lift up the minds and the hearts of young people, help them to understand that yes, business exists to make money…but what can be done within those hallowed walls of business that can reach out and make things better?” she said.  “In some way we have to continue to emphasize beyond the boardroom.  When you get to the boardroom, always have that sense of ethics, that sense of commitment, of moving beyond that small structure and impacting…of reaching out and solving problems in a human way and a worldwide way.”

Clearly moved by the speaker’s legacy and poignant words, the audience twice gave Ms. Evers Williams a standing ovation in a display of great respect.

George Owens, MBA ‘04 and Management Partners member, was highly impressed by the speaker.  “Ms. Evers Williams brought to light a lot of the ideas Pepperdine really tries to talk about.  She stressed values, she stressed ethics, she stressed service, and hearing from someone who’s obviously led in lots of different areas … really makes it worthwhile and gives you some perspective,” he said.