More than 1,100 students attended the fifth annual Business Leadership Conference, a one-day event where East Carolina University College of Business (COB) juniors, seniors and graduates heard from 35 local, national and international business leaders and entrepreneurs. Conference speakers represented hospitality, banking, finance, accounting, insurance and health care industries and participated in more than 30 breakout sessions.
This year’s keynote came from Brian Hamilton. Hamilton is the co-founder of Sageworks, one of the country’s first financial technology companies, which was the largest provider of software to U.S. banks. He sold the company to a private equity firm in 2018. Hamilton also is the founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a national program that helps people with criminal records start their small businesses.
Hamilton provided insights into how to lead. He told the audience it’s “how you act as a human being; people will watch that.”
“I hope the students took away that entrepreneurship is a real, achievable option for them as they look toward their future,” said Hamilton. “If I had to leave them with one piece of advice on how to become an entrepreneur, I would urge the students to find something they are passionate about and pursue it.”
“It gave me hope to see how eager and motivated they were,” said Hamilton.
“I want all the presenters to know that their participation, which was on their dime, is part of the strong foundation we’re building for our students, as well as eastern North Carolina,” said Paul Schwager, COB dean. “The insights and experiences these students heard complement the intensive leadership training they receive at the COB.”
David Leonard is the chairman and CEO of the RSUI group, an underwriter of wholesale specialty insurance. He’s also a COB graduate. He participated in this year’s Business Leadership Conference because he wanted to give back “a portion” of what his ECU degree meant to him and provide insights he hopes the students can utilize in their careers. A big portion of his presentation focused on ethics.
“My goal was to help the students see ethics not as an academic discussion, but as a concept that can make or break their careers,” said Leonard. “I wanted them to see that for each ethical question, there is a universally correct decision. Maybe most importantly, I wanted to let them see how important it is to ask others more experienced in such matters for help.”
Brittany Coleman ‘16 is an associate technical training consultant at SAS. She presented at this year’s conference because she wanted to provide students with the same type of support she received when she attended the conference as a student.
“My main reason for coming was to give them a perspective from someone who was literally in their shoes just three years ago,” said Coleman.
One COB student hoping to walk away with new perspectives was Rachel Pleasants. She’s a double major focusing on risk management and insurance (RMI) and management information systems. She appreciated having access to the presenters.
“I learned valuable career advice from the keynote speaker, Brian Hamilton, and other presenters during the breakout sessions. I was able to network with some presenters and ask follow-up questions about their presentation topics.”
Sophomore and RMI student Jeron Foxx said he was interested in hearing from people who have been in the industry and successful at what they do.
“It gave me perspective on what to expect in the future,” said Foxx. “Seeing other minorities be successful gives me hope that if I put my mind to it, I can be as well.”