Alumnus Jim Lentz returns to DU to deliver commencement speech to undergraduates

 

It was early in Jim Lentz’s career that he was faced with a difficult decision. He was working at Toyota and his boss told him he needed to change the way he managed people, and if he didn’t, they would fire him. Lentz spent the weekend soul searching and thinking about what was important to him and whether he was willing to change to satisfy someone else’s idea of leadership.

When he returned to work that next Monday he told his boss, “I guess you are going to have to fire me.” Instead, Lentz was demoted and forced to restart his career with Toyota. Today, nearly 30 years later, he oversees all of Toyota’s North American affiliate companies, including Toyota Motor Sales and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing.

This early experience with the company is a story he shared while delivering the undergraduate Commencement address at the University of Denver.

“I’ve seen the fortunes of this industry rise and fall multiple times caused by both natural and man-made disasters,” Lentz said. “The single greatest thing that kept me going through the good times and the bad, is that I truly believed in the values of the company that I worked for.”

Lentz explained to the graduates the importance of determining what they truly value most, and then working for a company that shares in those values and beliefs.

“Find your North Star, find your compass and let it be your guide,” he said. “Know who you are deep down inside, find out what motivates you, find out what makes you truly happy and then pursue that with a single-minded passion.”

DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp told the more than 1,200 undergraduates that they have made it this far because of their hard work and the support they have received along the way. She encouraged the class of 2017 to continue to work hard to achieve their dreams.

“When you really know what you want, align your priorities, make sacrifices, and make those dreams your reality,” Chopp said. “Our nation and world need you. They look to your creativity, intellect and critical reasoning; your skills and knowledge; your ethical judgement, your compassion and leadership as you go out and take on new challenges. Combine a path-breaking spirit with intellect, ethical judgement and a desire to seek solutions.”

Chopp presented Lentz an honorary doctor of business degree. The award comes 40 years after he received his undergraduate degree and MBA from DU. His final message to the graduates: don’t compromise values and beliefs.

“If you do the right thing, success will follow you. If you do the right thing, if you align your values with work, everything will fall in place.”

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