A fire left John O’Leary with burns on more than 98 percent of his body when he was 9 years old. When he arrived at the hospital, the doctors who treated him gave him a 1 percent chance of surviving the night. He lost all of his fingers to amputation, spent eight months in the hospital, underwent dozens of surgeries and required several years of therapy.
A motivational speaker since 2005, O’Leary now offers counsel for others on how to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Harbert College of Business MBA students recently learned from O’Leary and other distinguished speakers during the Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership. The conference, held October 9-11 in Black Mountain, N.C., offers leadership development training for business leaders, educators, governmental employees, clergy and others. The conference drew more than 350 participants from such companies as Baptist Health, Coats, Eastman Chemical, Alabama Cast Iron Pipe Co., Michelin, Comcast, Sodexo, Regions Bank and ConAgra Foods. On the way to the conference, the Harbert College contingent visited the Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C., and visited with Jerry Douglas, President of the Biltmore Estate Wine Company.
“Our participation in the Blue Ridge Conference on Leadership allows our first-year MBA students to get off campus halfway through their first semester and soak in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, unwind, bond as a class, reflect, re-energize and enhance their leadership skills,” said Stan Harris, Harbert College’s Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs.
Attendees gain insight into management skills and the development of employee rapport, company support and personal motivation. The panel of speakers for the 2013 conference included retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. and Medal of Honor recipient Wesley Fox, author Dale Henry and former Walt Disney World Resort executive Pete Blank.
Harris surveyed the MBA students who attended the conference to learn more about what they took away from the conference. Their feedback included the following comments:
“I really enjoyed the focus on leadership. I think one of the main purposes in getting my MBA is so that I can be an effective manager in future jobs. The most valuable part of the conference was being able to see how various leadership techniques can and are currently being used to manage people. However, most speakers discussed the same fundamentals which are strong interpersonal relationships, empowering your employees and emotional intelligence.”
“Aside from learning about my classmates, I learned that being a leader is about being humble and taking initiative for yourself because no one can change anything for you.”
“Different perspectives on leadership in the workplace. I kind of brings you back down to reality and see what the real point of life is and that is to make relationships.”
“The speakers talking about the power of one person to make a difference had the most impact on me.”
“I learned many great things on the trip. I really enjoyed learning about the Biltmore house as well as the business side of the operation. I learned many useful things about relationships and managing different kinds of people. I got to know many of my classmates much better.”