President’s Speech: November 16, 2016

Remarks before the Governor of Virginia’s Roundtable Business Forum

for Business Leaders

Date:     November 16, 2016


Good morning and welcome. My name is Steven Lee and I am president of George Mason University Korea. Our institution is proud to be part of such a distinguished gathering and to be part of an important event that is of great relevance to us all.

The institution that I represent is part of the global university concept involving similar institutions from all over the world. Located in Songdo, collectively we serve over one thousand students from literally dozens of nations throughout the world.

George Mason University Korea, as you may know, is a satellite addition to George Mason University, located in Northern Virginia in the United States. It is the largest four-year college or university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the only one in that state to boast two Noble prize winners on its faculty, and one of the fastest growing and most diverse universities in the entire nation.

Whether in Virginia or here in South Korea, we connect with a multitude of people of all ages and from all walks of life each and every day. Those interactions, regardless of how brief or extended they may be, make us who and what we are and continue to be sources of great pride.

This is a major reason we are particularly fortunate to have with us today leaders from the areas of commerce and public service one of whom, of course, is the engine behind this event. I will speak of him shortly. First, on behalf of my institution and the Office of the Governorship of Virginia, I say how pleased we are at your participation in this breakfast meeting. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedules to be here.

Finally, as you well know, an event of this kind does not simply happen by itself.  It is the result of much hard work, planning, and coordinating by persons dedicated to a vision of serving our regions and nations as well as they can. The person who introduced me is one.  I speak of Julie Kim the Governor’s representative here in Seoul along with several professionals from GMU Korea:  Dr. Min Park, dean of administration; Jeannie Choi of the office of accreditation, compliance and external relations; Crystal Seo, manager of my office; Hyungeong Lee, also of my office; and David Yoon, manager of the office admissions and enrollment. To all of you, I say “well done.”

Please join me in applauding these individuals.

It was 138 years ago to the month when the great inventor Thomas Edison filed for a patent for the electrical lamp, arguably one of the most notable innovations created by this genius. Without question, this giant had a major impact on the advancement of civilization. To this day, in fact, all of us continue to benefit from his sweat, perseverance, and dreams.

In the twilight of his life, Edison was asked to reflect on his life and career. After some thought, he said, “I failed my way to success.”

Think about that statement for a moment. These are the words of Thomas Edison, a man of monumental achievement by any measure. Yet in his own words he is showcasing failure as a major factor in a lifetime of one significant achievement after another.

How can this be? Was Edison trying to make a joke? Was he being flip or perhaps even modest?  I think not.

Edison, as we all know, was an inventor; a man who devoted his life to tinkering, trying out ideas that others before him had either rejected or not thought of at all. He was unafraid to step into the unknown or as poet Robert Frost once wrote, “travel the road not taken.” He did this with the full knowledge that that path may lead to a dead-end, disappointment, or, in his words, “failure.”

But he also knew that that same road might lead to a new horizon; might lead to a tomorrow that would be far better than any yesterday he or the world had ever known. As a result, with unmatched confidence and gumption he refused to turn away from paths that others refused to experience with the result being, again in the words of poet Frost, a journey “that made all the difference.”

Why, you may wonder, do I mention Edison and that telling description of his career?

To me, the answer is obvious. I look around at all of you and I see individuals with a daring similar to that possessed by Edison. You men and women have devoted much of your adult lives to the concept of enterprise; to trade; to providing goods and services; to growth; to advancing the foundation on which our societies exist. In many ways, you are among the pioneers of our time.

This gathering represents an example of your curiosity; your “itch” to tinker with what exists with the idea that perhaps such an effort might help improve the lives of those with whom and for whom you work. Sure, you think, by exploring potential business opportunities, you might raise your profit level. But more than that, it might elevate the lives of your family and friends and colleagues and neighbors and world. After all, is that not what business is all about? Is not that the essence of coming together with others to seek out and ultimately identify ways to raise all ships? Is not that the very definition of globalization as we have come to know it?

I believe this is to be a common denominator that links all of us. You are in business. You are in public service. I am in education. Yet underneath those labels, we are all bridge builders or, at the very least, strive to be.

It is my hope that one result of this gathering is that all of us will walk away with additional tools and allies to build better, strong and more lasting bridges. I share and applaud your quest.

This, then, leads me to the gentleman who conceived today’s event.

I speak of Terry McAuliffe, the 72nd governor of Virginia. Since being sworn-into office, Governor McAuliffe has made economic development a top priority. During his tenure in office he has literally traveled the world in this quest.

A few quick examples of his success:

  • Establishing the New Virginia Economy Workforce Initiative in 2014.
  • Increasing the amount of qualified research and development expenses to help expand tax credits for qualified Virginians.
  • Expanding the Virginia Values Veterans Initiative thereby encouraging employers to recruit, hire, train and retrain veterans.

This leader and outstanding public servant serves as an example of what a single individual with the betterment of his fellow man as their primary goal can do. His priority today is business development and expansion – bringing together key players from across the globe to build on that goal which is their common bond.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honor that I introduce to you a dreamer much in the spirit of Thomas Edison – the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Honorable Terry McAuliffe.