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Commencement speaker challenges students to accept the mantle of leadership

RELEASED: May 24, 2010

Kevin Steiner
Kevin Steiner
Read about featured graduates, alumni award recipients and more on the May 2010 commencement celebration website.

EAU CLAIRE — Kevin Steiner, a 1982 master of business administration graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, received the Alumni Association's President's Award and delivered the commencement address during the morning and afternoon ceremonies May 22 in Zorn Arena.

Steiner is president and chief executive officer of West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. and has held leadership positions in many of his 28 years in the insurance industry. In his address, Steiner told the 1,000-plus graduates that they, too, must step up and lead, noting that his generation — the "baby boomers" — makes up a full third of the nation's work force and fill many of its most skilled and senior-level jobs.

"We know tens of millions of baby boomers will choose to finish their working career in the next several decades. With them, they will take knowledge, skills and experiences, maturity and stability," he said. "But most significant will be the leadership void they leave behind.

"My charge to you today is to step up and be part of the solution to this crisis."

Steiner assured graduates that they don't have to be managers or have a lot of experience to be an inspiration to others.

"Leadership occurs in conversations. And it is through these conversations that visions are changed and people become committed to a shared vision. When we lead, we take a stand, influence, inspire, motivate and gain commitment."

Steiner referenced professional cheerleader Krazy George Henderson who, in 1981, realized his vision for an unbroken wave of human energy that he believed would give his team a sustained competitive advantage.

"He inspired 40,000 fans to rise out of their seats in unison, throw their arms up in the air, and lend their voices to one, thunderous and perpetual cheer," said Steiner, as he described the world's first stadium human wave and emphasized that the act was so powerful that even fans of the opposing team joined in.

"Krazy George didn't coerce his fellow fans to show up. He didn't motivate them with money. What he understood is that the best means to get results, to get people to follow you, isn't to have power over them, rather to find power through them."

Steiner told the graduates that true leaders will foster commitment to a cause when people are empowered and allowed to think for themselves, and are free to take some risks.

"You don't need to be a CEO to make a difference. Create your vision for the future, become committed and not compliant, take risks, and most importantly, speak from the heart.

"Leadership opportunities are everywhere."

Steiner, who received his undergraduate degree from UW-River Falls, serves on the boards of various organizations and is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. During his 16 years with West Bend, the company has quadrupled its business. He became president and CEO in 2009. Steiner and his wife, Linda, also a UW-Eau Claire graduate, annually fund a scholarship for an incoming freshman.

-30-

RD/DW

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