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Former mayor gets down to business

Posted on 02.20.2013

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson spoke at the University of Indianapolis on Feb. 5 as part of the MBA Leadership Development Series hosted by the School of Business.

Since leaving office in 2007, Peterson has become the senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Eli Lilly and Company.

Peterson began his speech by thanking the Center for Business Partnerships, as well as the CBP’s chief director,  Associate Professor of Business Ron Dow—a friend and former neighbor of Peterson.

The first three rows of seating were reserved for the MBA candidates.

“The reason I enjoy talking about leadership so much is that it’s always changing. The reality is [that] I’ve had five different careers, and they’ve all given me a new perspective,” Peterson said.

During his first career, Peterson was an attorney. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School,  he returned home to Indianapolis and worked for an Indianapolis law firm.

“Much was expected of us young lawyers. Things had to be done and had to be done just right,” Peterson said.

After practicing law, he went to work for then-governor Evan Bayh. Working there, he learned about the key differences between the private and public sectors.

“In the public sector, you don’t have to worry where the money comes from. Your job is where to spend it. At the Governor’s and Mayor’s office, people were very motivated,” Peterson said. “One of the things I found at Lilly: people expect to be paid what they’re worth. Creating the sense of mission is very critical.”

Upon election as mayor, Peterson learned that the public sector sees many people with a sense of mission. More importantly, he learned that being in charge means that there is no one to blame if things go wrong. However, he found a more fortunate flip side, too.

“The ball starts here. I found I could set an agenda. I could say, ‘Let’s do this,’ and actually make it happen,” he said.

MBA candidate Patrice Petty said that she found a wealth of knowledge in Peterson’s speech.

Former Mayor Bart Peterson tells students at a MBA Leadership Series that becoming one of tomorrow’s business leaders takes much courage. Photo by Victoria Jenkins.

“His speech was awesome,”  Petty said. “It gave me an opportunity to understand the differences between the public and private sector.”

Petty said that she appreciates the MBA Leadership Development Series and looks forward to future lectures.

After leaving the office of mayor, Peterson took his current position at Eli Lilly. He said that this job has presented many new responsibilities from past jobs.

“I thought some things in the past were complex. I have more complexities before 9 a.m. than I did at former jobs, given the scope of what I do,” Peterson said. “I’m responsible for all our government affairs worldwide: our philanthropy and our world health outreach.”

Peterson encouraged students to work through weaknesses and persevere.

“I think the number one characteristic for a strong leader is courage,” Peterson said. “The more courageous you are, the more opportunities you have to fail, but [also] the more opportunities you have to succeed.”

International business major Cindy Ye, an international student from Zhejiang Province in China, said that she found inspiration in this part of the speech.

“It encourages me. He talked about the main ways to be a leader,” Ye said. “Courage is important because there are a lot of challenges to overcome.”


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