On September 8, current MBA students at the Tepper School of Business came together with alumni, faculty and staff with for the school’s annual Welcome and Awards Reception and the inaugural presentation of the Tepper School Alumni Awards. The evening’s keynote speaker and Tepper Alumni Achievement Award honoree – James Swartz, (MSIA’66) – shared with the audience both his appreciation and his invaluable advice.
Swartz, a trailblazer in the venture capital industry, founded Accel Partners, one of the world’s leading venture firms. He has served as director of more than 50 successful companies and as lead investor, has been closely involved with the emergence of numerous industry-disruptive firms. Among other honors, he received the National Venture Capital Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
Along with his exceptional professional career, Swartz has been dedicated to giving back to both his community and alma mater. He has played a major role in supporting more than half a dozen non-profit and charitable organizations, including the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation and the Sundance Institute. Jim and his wife Susan founded Impact Partners, furthering independent cinema that addresses pressing social needs, and established the Swartz Foundation Trust, supporting non-profits across the country.
Swartz has been equally invaluable to the Tepper School. He currently serves on both its Business Board of Advisors and the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship Advisory Board and actively mentors students. His continuous support has included the establishment of the James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows Program, designed to fast-track the careers of promising entrepreneurs through exclusive programming and mentored internships with venture-backed startups. He also made possible the James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Leadership Series, bringing entrepreneurial thought leaders to campus for discussions on leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Jim Swartz has supported the Swartz Entrepreneurship Fellows program since 2005, putting his stamp on the spirit of entrepreneurship at CMU,” said Dave Mawhinney, co-director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “He meets annually with each new class of Swartz Fellows, and frequently lends his name and that of his firm, Accel Partners, to the Fellows' internship and job searches.”
“The Swartz Entrepreneurial Leadership Series, also underwritten by Jim Swartz, continues to bring luminaries and thought leaders from the innovation ecosystem to CMU,” Mawhinney continued. “Through the support of these programs as well as his generous time and wisdom, Jim's contributions have helped to make CMU the destination of choice for entrepreneurial students and faculty."
Swartz began his keynote remarks with a sincere expression of gratitude, both for the honor bestowed and to those who helped him achieve it. He recognized the donors who enabled him to attend Carnegie Mellon, sparking his dedication to giving, observing, “I am a forever advocate of scholarships, particularly scholarships that are highly directional and life changing.”
He thanked his teachers, naming five particularly influential and memorable professors, and noted the lifelong Tepper relationships he developed, friends “who helped get me through academic rigors and personal challenges...choosing your friends may be the most important thing you ever do.”
And Swartz made certain “to acknowledge the role that Jack Thorne played in the lives of all interested in entrepreneurship … he turned a bright light on entrepreneurship for so many.” Indicating that half a century later, the subject is featured in all business schools and “entrepreneurial based businesses have become the economic engine for the world,” he stated, “I have been blessed to be at the center of this transformative experience.”
Swartz quickly went on to highlight his views on a crucial and timely topic – change.
“Change is the most important concept in your life and in your career,” he stressed. “Everything you learn while in school will be measured by how it enabled you to deal with change during your career.”
“Recognizing change is important but embracing change may be even more important,” he added. “Learn to grab the opportunities that are presented to you and move quickly with them.”
On change with regard to business and leadership, he noted, “Great managers seize the new and build major business around it. You are very fortunate to be entering the business world at a time of accelerating change. Identify it, embrace it and lead with it.”
Swartz’s closing remarks were both optimistic and touching.
“I am blessed,” he said simply. “I sincerely hope you are able to have as much fun as I have had.”