The American Studies Institute hosted its first event of the year Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Benson Auditorium. Brett Biggs, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Wal-Mart, spoke as part of the 2016-17 Distinguished Lecture Series.
Moderated by President Bruce McLarty, the presentation allowed Biggs to cover a number of topics, including entrepreneurship and the free market. He spoke about his own Harding experience and shared insight with students about how make decisions in school prepare for a future career.
“No matter what you major in, find a way to get something that is quantitative. The world is becoming much more complicated,” Biggs said. “Great entrepreneurs believe in themselves, invest in themselves, and don’t take no for an answer.”
Thursday’s event was co-sponsored by the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration in conjunction with the opening of University’s new Waldron Center for Entrepreneurship and Family Business, which is being dedicated Friday, Sept. 9. Before his presentation at 7:30 p.m., Biggs addressed media in the Mabee Business Building lobby.
“Wal-Mart started as a small business,” he said. “Mr. Sam [Walton] was the ultimate entrepreneur — maybe the greatest entrepreneur of all time. To have Harding so behind entrepreneurship and free markets is a very nice tie in with Wal-Mart.”
Biggs is responsible for accounting and control, corporate strategy and development, business planning and analysis, internal auditing, and several other key areas of the company, and he shared stories and wisdom from his 16 years working for the retail giant. Questions from students ranged from the future of brick-and-mortar stores and leadership in management to ethics and faith in business and the value of an MBA.
“The MBA is helpful,” he said. “To an employer what it says is, ‘I’m willing to invest in myself.’ That’s what we’re looking for — students who are willing to invest in themselves.”
A 1990 graduate from the College of Business Administration, Biggs said the ability to be adaptable and to create and sustain relationships are the keys to success in any occupation.
“I tell students a lot that there will be a certain part of your career where you will advance based on how good you are at something and how competent you are,” Biggs said. “But there’s a point in your career where you won’t go any further unless you can really develop relationships.”
The work ethic taught at the University, the individual attention from professors, and getting to meet people from across the U.S. and the world is something Biggs said changed his view of the world.
“When you look at Wal-Mart’s core values of integrity, taking care of the customer, respect for the individual and striving for excellence, they fit really well with Harding’s vision of the world,” Biggs said. “Harding is a unique place.”
According to Biggs, the company has hired 29 students from the University in the last eight years through Wal-Mart’s accounting and finance development program.
“Today has been surreal. It feels like each part of my life coming together,” he said. “There are very few things in life that are very meaningful, and Harding is one of those places that will always have a very important place in my heart. I’m just really proud to see what the University has done. Coming back to Harding always feels like home.”