Alvaro Uribe speaking @ Kellogg School of Management

Álvaro Uribe, the former President of Colombia, came to speak to us about leadership yesterday. The event, hosted in part by the school’s Latin American Business Conference, was moderated by Prof. Kraemer, who had interacted with the president before when he was still CEO of Baxter.

There was a bit of controversy over the event, with some protesters doing their thing outside of the school. I’m not familiar with the details, but it seems to stem from two issues: paramilitary connections within his party and wiretapping of the opposition party’s members. Prof. Kraemer asked several questions about those issues, as did an NU grad student in the audience.

Again, having no knowledge of it, I can say that the president defended his record forcefully while handling the questions very well. He pointed to several achievements during his time in office, including:

  • A big drop in violence against politicians and the press
  • ~1200 extraditions of paramilitaries to the US
  • A drop in annual cocaine production from something like >1000 tons to < 300 tons

I took a few notes early on before deciding it was probably best to put the laptop away. The following is paraphrased from those notes.

On what are the important requirements for a leader, the president said (in classic Kellogg speak), “it depends.” He mentioned that he thinks anyone that wants to be a leader can rise to the challenge. He said you have to be consistent, conveying the same message regardless of your audience, and strong in the face of problems, especially when it comes to dealing with the agenda you have set. It takes courage to overcome the setbacks you will invariably face.

On dealing with crises, the president said it is important in moments of difficulty to tell the truth. He mentioned an experience he had in office when he ordered a rescue operation of 14 hostages that ultimately failed and how he had to describe what happened to the press and his country afterward.

There was a moment during the talk when I realized that although the OLC was packed, it was almost completely silent save for the occasional cough or camera shutter. It was pretty awesome, so I took a quick video of the scene.