TALLAHASSEE — It was the third time John W. Thompson returned to the campus of Florida A & M University in 18 months. This reunion with business majors was at the university where he began his successful journey to corporate prominence, as chairman of Microsoft, most recently.
In two different sessions, hundreds of business majors listened closely to Thompson map the road to success. And while he began his FAMU journey in the 1960s and 70s, he reminded the millennials that times have changed but the essential business principles and practices have not.
Thompson vividly recounted his college days with the “gigantic afro” and trying to find a suitable major. The students smiled and laughed because the story was all too familiar.
He went further by saying it was important to adapt and assimilate. Thompson said some degree of compromise was necessary to be successful. So he learned to play golf and quickly transitioned into the other realities of a changing business climate.
The consummate salesman, Thompson said, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” The passion for sales, the ability to communicate and to have a strong technology background is key according to Thompson. Strength in science, technology, mathematics and engineering are also critical strengths in necessary to diversify the technology industry.
One student asked, “What sales lesson did you learn?” Thompson replied, “Don’t take no for an answer, but know when to back off.” This was an important lesson for African-American business students.
The discussion spanned the gambit. For example, when developing a model and business plan, be sure to emphasize how the product is going to materialize. Have a passion for what you are doing and invest in people. Invest in people, because their success breeds success. And finally, listen to your mentors. He praised his FAMU mentors for helping to guide him along the way.