Welcome to the Fall 2010 issue of IDEAS, Northwood University's E-newsletter discussing the principles of our founding philosophy, The Northwood Idea, as they relate to enterprise, ethics, life, and liberty.

We are pleased to present an abridged transcript of Dr. Dennis McCuistion's address at the May 2010 Texas Campus commencement. A former bank CEO and the founder of McCuistion & Associates, Dr. McCuistion currently consults with financial institutions and other businesses on top management issues and facilitates strategic planning sessions, offers advice on director/CEO issues and serves on boards and audit committees of public and private companies. The author of three books and hundreds of articles on the banking industry, he has served as the host and executive producer of the nationally syndicated McCuistion Program, a Donahue-style talk show on PBS, and has appeared on Fox News, other PBS television programs and ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates.

Three Rules for a Successful Life & Career

Northwood University – Texas Campus May 21, 2010

Thank you very much President Pretty and members of the administration, faculty, students, and all of you who still owe the money for these students to be here (audience laughter). Thank you very much for coming.

I don't think there's a moment in my life in which I have not been involved in some form of education, either in grade school, high school, college, after college either taking classes or teaching classes, so I'm "sort of" involved with the education business. And I like it a lot.

There's an old saying, which our faculty have heard—I'm not sure that you students have—but it goes something like this, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

I've taken that to a new level: Those who can't teach, teach teachers. Those who can't teach teachers, coach. And those who can't coach, go into administration. And as far as I can tell, if they flunk out at that, they either run for the School Board or go up for the Board of Governors...(audience laughter). I'm hoping that that's not really the case. But it could be.

Today I'm going to tell you about some things I think I know...things I think I know.

And I'm also going to quote a guy named Josiah Stamp who said, "It's not what you don't know that'll hurt you. It's what you know that ain't so."

So what I'd like you to think about are the things I think I know:

  1. Money ain't everything
  2. A little education is a dangerous thing
  3. You'll always be a freshman in life

I asked folks, as we were walking in, if they remembered their commencement speaker because I have no idea who my commencement speaker was when I graduated for the first time years ago...so if you think that I think you're going to remember me, you're wrong. If you think I hope you do, you're right. But more importantly, I hope you'll remember one thing I said, whatever that is, it'll be a different thing to each of you, so let's see if we can make that happen.

First of all, "Money ain't everything."

You only need one job. Isn't that right? Just one. And I suspect that many of you already have one. The reason I say that money's not everything can be found in a quote from one of the most famous philosophers of all time. Who do you think it is? Aristotle? Socrates? This philosopher is a guy named Woody Allen who says, "Wealth is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons" (audience laughter). I thought he was pretty much right about that.

And so as I got to thinking about this issue—they said they're going to award me a doctor of laws—and so I have, for many years, talked about the laws of money, which I'm going to share with you.

Sutton's Law: Sutton's law goes something like this and it comes from Willy Sutton, the late bank robber who, when asked why he robbed banks, simply replied, "Because that's where the money is." That's what Willy Sutton said. That's the first law of money.

  • Donahue's Law: Donahue's Law says this, "What's worth doing is worth doing for money."
  • Canada Bill Jones' Law: "It is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money."
  • Billings Law (which applies to many of you here and our federal government): "Live within your income even if you have to borrow to do so." (audience laughter)
  • Finally Gross's Law: "When two people get together to decide how to spend a third person's money, fraud will result." (audience laughter)

The biggest issue that you students are going to have in your lifetime is an issue that my generation has created for you; we have spent money we did not have. We have a $13 trillion federal debt, $50-plus trillion in unfunded liabilities, and we have written checks to old people like some of these folks here...and we're going to continue to do so when we are sending the check to you. That is immoral. It is wrong.

But guess what? It's done. You're going to be the ones that'll have to stand up (you're one of the very few college graduating classes who haven't been inundated with "big government" propaganda in your classrooms).

Stand up gentlemen and ladies. You will need to stand up. I promise you, now while money isn't everything, I do believe that a lack of money can create some stress...but try not to focus on the money as much as what you're trying to do with your life. And make sure that what you do is something you can be passionate about. And if you can be passionate about it and make money at the same time, you've pretty well got it made.

My second point is this, "A little education is a dangerous thing."

There was a poem that we studied in college, many of you probably studied in college, by a guy named Alexander Pope and it went something like this: "In the beginning," he said, "a little learning is a dangerous thing."

And I say a little education is a dangerous thing...and by that I mean, this: One of the problems that we have is when we learn something, we sort of think we know everything. And I think there's not a time in your life in which you will be smarter than the day you graduate from college. I know when I graduated from college I was pretty much the smartest person on earth. I have spent the rest of my life learning how little I know.

Do any of you feel that way? The only difference between you now and when you started in college a few years ago are the books you've read, and the experiences that you've had.

Northwood has provided you great experiences...Sam Wyly and others. Those kind of experiences were not out there for a lot of students. The books that you read were not out there for a lot of students either. I appreciate the fact that you've read them.

The other thing I'd say about education is this: Travel.

I never got on an airplane until I was twenty-three years of age...Some things have changed folks, some things have changed. This University started about 1959...and let me tell you the way it was. It's hard for those of us who were here prior to then because prior to that there were no pre-packaged frozen foods, no Xerox, one credit card, no remote controlled TVs, no ATMs, no contact lenses, no automatic garage door openers, no microwave ovens, and no day care centers.

Not only was that before MP3, it was before CD players, personal computers, fax machines, electric typewriters, laser printers to say nothing of men wearing earrings and women sporting tattoos. Back then, a chip was a piece of wood. Hardware meant hardware and software was a number two pencil. Back in 1959 cigarettes were not only fashionable but were considered healthy stress reducers. Coke was a soft drink, grass was something you mowed, and heroine the female hero. And getting stoned was a negative biblical experience, that's the way it was in 1959. I'm a big believer in goal setting. A friend of mine, Judy Skelton, gave me a book called How to Get Control of Your Time & Life and because of it I started writing down goals for my lifetime, which I hope you will do. I wrote down two things about 35 years ago. One was "write a book," the other was "go to Europe." I think travel is extremely educational. I'm going to tell you something I know that you don't know is true. Everything you get on the Internet is not factual. I'm going to repeat that in case some of you missed it. Everything you see on the Internet is not factual—that may be the thing you remember from this speech today... Not all education is formal...as Mark Twain said, "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned, not what we've learned." Now before I go to my last point, I'm going to tell you that when I was a freshman I had some interesting times because we didn't have middle schools back in those days. We had grade school and high school...I will never forget being an eighth grader. In eighth grade you are on "top of the world"...I mean you are "king of the school," whatever the other people want to do, you tell them what to do, when to do it, you're the "king." And then you go to high school and become a freshman and for the first time in your life, you are the lowest form of life; no one likes you, everybody makes fun of you... And then you get to be a senior in high school and you are at top of the world again. You are "king of the hill," you are "queen of the hop."

And then you get to go to college and you become a freshman again. At SMU they made us wear beanies when I was a freshman...that was embarrassing. But then when you get to be a senior in college, you're "top of the heap" like you guys are right now. But then I got out and got my first job and I became a freshman again.

I was working for a bank in Richardson, Texas my senior year in college collecting past due installment loans and I learned the most important lesson I've ever learned educationally in my life: People will lie to you. I heard the greatest lie ever made. And that is, "The check is in the mail." The second greatest lie comes from the government and that is, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you." Those are the two greatest lies there are. (audience laughter)

So nevertheless I got to be a loan officer two weeks after I graduated from college and the first guy who came in to borrow money...I forgot to get him to sign the note. I got all these other papers signed but I forgot to get the note signed. Is that embarrassing or what? So I called the guy back (he worked at Texas Instruments) and he...signed the note for me, which was nice of him. The first mistake I made as a loan officer, in my first job...I didn't think I'd ever think about that again.

After I worked for a while, I became a president of the bank. And so consequently I became a freshman again. I did that for a few years and then started my own company as a consultant and became a freshman again. Then I got involved in political issues and became a freshman again. Then somebody said, "You want to talk about these political issues on television?"...and so 20 years ago we started doing this television program, and I was a freshman again. Ten years ago, the Dallas Morning News wrote an article about...the television program and they asked me, "What's the most embarrassing thing in your business career?" I said I forgot to get the first guy who I ever loaned money to, to sign the note" (audience laughter). That guy is a guy named Cherry Peek and that was almost forty years ago. He read the newspaper and he called me up. I hadn't seen him in forty years. And he said Dennis, I think I am that person.

Ladies and gentlemen, the mistakes you make will never go away, they will never go away (audience laughter). Next Monday night I'll start teaching on a college campus here in the Dallas area...for the first time and I will be a freshman again.

So let me summarize:

  1. Money ain't everything
  2. A little education is a very dangerous thing
  3. You'll always be a freshman

And I'll close with this story. Some of the people in the audience will remember Helen Hayes. Helen Hayes died a few years ago. She lived in Dallas for many years. She was an actress...before the 1950s, wonderful woman. Her mother said to her when she was a child, she said, "Helen you're going to probably do some interesting things in your life, you may or may not be someone who is well known...the important thing in your life is what you achieved, what you set your goals for. And then when have you achieved those goals, if you can achieve something, that's the important thing. She said, "Success is when other people recognize your achievement." For you students, the 2010 graduating class of Northwood, we are here today for one reason—and that is to honor you. We are here to make sure that we recognize your achievement and your success.

All my best to you in the future, thank you very much.

(audience applause)

Commencement ceremonies provide one last official opportunity to congratulate students for a job well done. We thank our commencement speakers for taking the time to inspire these young men and women as they launch their professional lives.

As usual, your comments and suggestions are most welcome and appreciated.


Keith A. Pretty, J.D.
President and CEO