Lowell Milken’s Commencement Remarks to 2015 Graduating Class of Chapman University
May 23, 2015Lowell Milken
Milken Family Foundation
Lowell Milken accepted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Chapman University on May 23, 2015 during commencement ceremonies at the George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics. See the press release for more details and read his full speech below:
President Doti, Dean Gilyard, Distinguished Faculty, Guests—and our VIPs on this auspicious occasion—Chapman Business and Economics Graduates:
It is an honor to stand among you today, as together, we receive our degrees from Chapman University. An academic degree is a powerful and precious credential. It is also a measure—both quantitative and qualitative—denoting the scope of knowledge gained and the insight that comes with it.
The sum of this knowledge, insight and experience has a name: Human Capital. And it is the single most important asset for any enterprise. The defining asset of all knowledge industries. Unfortunately, it is also the scarce resource of our time.
Now, like me, you are all business and economics majors. You know your way around a balance sheet. So think of this: Human capital, the most valuable asset of any business, any institution, any for-profit start up or non-profit enterprise is not disclosed on a balance sheet—even though its value dwarfs all other assets by a factor of three. This is crucially misleading.
So one of the things I implore you to do as you advance into the world of paying-work is remember: that whatever enterprise you choose to join, to contribute to or lead, it is the people you work with and hire and guide who make all the difference.
A second thought related to the first. There is, as I stand here, a seismic shift taking place. You do not feel it. But you will. And you’re likely to feel it before many of your peers precisely because of what you’ve studied and learned here at Chapman. For what’s underway is a transfer of wealth. It is the largest in history and it is coming from my generation to yours. Forty trillion dollars’ worth.
Number whizzes that we are, it’s worth reminding ourselves of exactly what a trillion is. It’s a thousand billion. It’s Apple – at three-quarters of one trillion dollars, the most valuable company on the planet. It’s Apple times forty with 250 billion dollars to spare.
I dwell on the number for a reason: the hugeness of its potential for transformative good. But I want to stress that potential is realizable only by the people on the receiving end of the transfer; if people of talent devote themselves to using this endowment constructively, imaginatively and well.
Between now and the end of the process, many many philanthropic foundations will be established and others greatly expanded, all for the purpose of effecting this transfer. Many for-profit businesses will be established, too. But it’s the might of the foundations I’d like to commend to you today. When I was about ten years older than you, I formed various foundations whose work has, over the decades, made a real difference in the fields of education and medical research. I cannot overstate the gratification that comes from actually seeing the big needle move. And I can also attest to the fact that what you can and will learn from the for-profit realm is itself transferable to the non-profit arena.
Chapman University graduates have a long tradition of philanthropic and public service. So as your career unfolds over the ensuing years, I ask you to consider applying your skills, knowledge and experiences to make the philanthropic sector as responsive to innovation as the private sector.
The potential is unique in human history. The opportunity is unique for you as business and economics graduates. For in this way you will be able to answer the question: What am I doing to increase the sum of hope in this world?