Commencement 2008: Competition, Risk Fuel Success, says Diamond


By Ruth Jacobs
Photography by Fred Field

Trustee Robert E. Diamond '73, P '12, delivers the 2008 commencement speech. Behind him are Chair of the Board of Trustees Joseph F. Boulos '68 (left) and President William D. Adams.
Rising fuel and food costs, a declining housing market, and a looming recession dominated headlines as members of the Class of 2008 celebrated the conclusion of their studies at Colby. Not the best time to be entering the job market, some might say.

But Robert E. Diamond ’73, president of the London-based Barclays PLC, wasn’t concerned about these graduates as he addressed them May 25 on the lawn of Miller Library. And he even added another factor: the talent pool, once dominated by Americans, is now global and full of young people from emerging countries who have “jaw-dropping academic qualifications” and the hunger to succeed, he said.

Not to worry. He told the new graduates that they are extremely well prepared. Based on Barclays’ experience hiring Colby graduates, he said, “I know you can compete. I know you can keep up with this more difficult global talent pool.”

Diamond, who led the transformation of Barclays from an underperforming commercial bank to a global leader producing record profits, told the graduates that he owed much of his success to risk. When he started at Barclays, 12 years ago, he could have joined any number of U.S. investment banks. But he chose the “slow-moving” British one.

“I took a bet that the single currency in Europe was going to create a big, liquid, capital market that could compete with the dollar as a currency and as a capital market. I took a bet that the economic developments that we were seeing in Africa, in the Middle East, in the former Soviet states, and in Asia would mean that London was a better time zone for doing business,” he said. “But the biggest bet, and the biggest risk I took, was that I would be allowed to change the culture of a venerable, three-hundred-year-old British financial institution from one of hierarchy and bureaucracy, from one where rewards were based on tenure and position, to a culture that was based on meritocracy and performance, where rewards were more about innovation and talent.”

Diamond urged the Class of 2008 to embrace risks and be willing to make mistakes. “We don’t succeed, we don’t learn, unless we’re willing to make mistakes,” he said. “And what matters is not that you make a mistake. What matters is that you have the courage to face up to them, the courage to correct them, and the courage to learn from them.”

A Gift to the Environment

After imparting his father’s and his own wisdom to Colby’s Class of 2008 in this year’s commencement speech, Robert E. Diamond ’73 left graduates with this: “Don’t forget, don’t ever, ever forget, you’re from Colby College,” he said.

Diamond continues to show Colby that he hasn’t forgotten.

Two weeks after Commencement 2008, at his 35th reunion, the man whose foundation had already given $6 million in the College’s Reaching the World campaign announced a $4-million gift for the study of the environment, energy policy, climate change, and sustainability.

The intent of the gift, from the Diamond Family Foundation, is to build on Colby’s already strong interdisciplinary environmental curriculum. “There is no better solution for environmental challenges than giving the best young minds the best possible preparation within the context of a broad liberal arts education,” he said.

The College, in consultation with the faculty and the Diamond family, will determine the specific uses of the gift in the months ahead.

The Diamond Family Foundation’s previous gift helped fund construction of the Diamond Building, a social science and interdisciplinary studies center that was certified green by the LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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