MCLC helps students from around the world embrace leadership

By Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

March 28th, 2019 | In Focus, News
 Bob McDonald, U.S. Military Academy 1975 graduate, speaks to the next generation of leaders during the McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character March 22.    Photos by Class of 2019 Cadet Samantha Price
 Jack Ma (right), founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, listens attentively to a U.S. Military Academy cadet during a small group discussion at the McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character March 22. Ma was one of the keynote speakers at the event.

Bob McDonald spent his career leading at the highest levels including time in the Army, as the CEO and president of Proctor & Gamble and as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before he took the reins of a global company or served as a presidential cabinet member, it was McDonald’s time at the U.S. Military Academy, from where he graduated in 1975, that taught him how to be a leader.
Now, McDonald is working to make sure students from throughout the world are offered the same chance to learn how to be leaders. This year marked the seventh iteration of the McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character, which is hosted annually at West Point and works to develop the next generation of leaders for the military and industry.
This year, the conference was attended by students from West Point as well as 28 other colleges throughout America and student fellows from 17 countries.
“What I wanted to do was take this magnificent resource that West Point has, building leaders of character for the U.S. Army, and see if we could have an effect outside the walls of West Point,” McDonald said. “We bring them together and teach them the West Point way of leadership, how to be leaders of character, and then hopefully keep them connected as they graduate and go throughout the world.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Leading with Character in a Technology-driven World” and featured speakers and panelists from diverse backgrounds including education, military, technology and politics. The keynote speakers were Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, and Brian Stevens, chief technical officer of Google Cloud.
When choosing speakers for the conference, McDonald said the goal is to not just select people who come in, speak and leave, but instead leaders who are willing to give the student fellows their email and phone number and build lasting relationships.
“The mentorship we receive from the senior fellows is unlike any other,” Class of 2019 Cadet TaNia Nash, the cadet-in-charge of the conference, said. “Having them there right in front of you and being able to pick their brains, ask them what they think or have them challenge you to think critically and creatively about an issue you didn’t even know existed, it really opens your eyes to what is going on globally.”
The conference, which took place from March 21-23 this year, enables student fellows to experience all of what West Point has to offer including time spent doing early morning physical training and tours of the academy along with the panels, breakout sessions and keynote addresses that form the crux of the conference.
“I think the topic at hand was very interesting,” Yash Doshi, who attends Singapore Management University, said of the conference. “Technology is impacting everything we do nowadays and leading in that is very different than leading 30 years ago when technology wasn’t so prevalent. Now, you have to learn how to embrace technology and being able to do so is a different experience. I think the topic of leading with technology was a very inspiring topic that brought me here. It has been great so far.”
During the first panel of the conference, attendees were given the chance to talk with Leslie Fenwick, a professor at Howard University, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Rob Livey and Denis McDonough, former White House chief of staff, about the role technology plays in decision making. The conversation included the ethics of technology such as drones, learning to trust and use data and the ability to learn from failure in a changing world.
Student fellows also had the chance to attend panels featuring Sandy Alderson, general manager of the New York Mets, Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Surgeon General of the Army, and other leaders of industry. The panels focused on leveraging technology to develop character and leading innovation.
Each of the panelists also led breakout sessions where students from both domestic and international colleges were given the chance to talk in-depth about the topic at hand.
“I think the other fellows who attended the conference are extremely eager to better themselves,” Class of 2019 Cadet Michael McPherson, the head of operations for the conference, said. “I personally feel the way I get better is listening to other people and their experiences, hearing from them and discussing with them. People who come offer points of view I have never even started to think of. A fellow from Asia bringing her perspective of the world from there is completely different than my perspective sitting in the barracks at West Point.”
In all, roughly 100 students from throughout the world attended the three-day conference.