Reggie Fils-Aimé ’83 shares tips for next-generation leaders

Reggies Fils-Aimé ’83 was the first participant in the Dyson School's Leaders in Residence program, which brings distinguished alumni to campus, enabling students to witness leadership in action.

A large, enthusiastic crowd filled David L. Call Alumni Auditorium on October 21 to hear Reggie Fils-Aimé ’83, a living legend in the gaming realm, deliver a lecture on leadership for the next generation. His talk, sponsored by the Dyson Leadership Program, focused on a list of guiding principles for leaders that he developed while working in a variety of roles for companies including Procter & Gamble (P&G), Pizza Hut, Panda Express, and Nintendo of America Inc., where he served as president and chief operating officer before retiring earlier this year. His most notable achievements include the launch of wildly popular products such as the Nintendo DS, Wii, and Nintendo Switch.

A packed auditorium with a student asking a question
One of many student questions posed during the Q&A session. Photo Credit: Simon Wheeler

Principles for next-generation leaders

Fils-Aimé kicked off his talk by examining the differences between leadership, management, and functional expertise. While management represents the ability to organize people and/or projects, he said, not all managers are exceptional leaders. Functional expertise, while valuable in the business world, is just one step on the path toward effective leadership.

“Leaders think about the future and have the ability to develop people and teams; they balance functional expertise and strategy,” he said. “They are able to examine a problem and consider the impact of possible solutions.”

He then turned to his seven principles, based on “approaching 40 years of success and failure” in the marketplace, ranging from driving a greater organizational vision, to developing intellectual curiosity, to valuing differences. “I believe in the value of principles and sharing those principles with others,” he said. “I had the opportunity to practice the principles I established, which is important because you have to make sure they work and to determine what works best for you.”

Sound advice for students

In an interview prior to his lecture, Fils-Aimé touched on his experiences at Cornell and offered some guidance to students.

Students standing with Reggie
Dyson Leadership Fellows, Denise Castle ’21 and Yuri Carreira Alflen ’21, participated in one-on-one mentoring with Fils-Aimé. Photo Credit: Simon Wheeler

“Cornell was instrumental in my career and the path I have taken, building businesses and training people,” he said. “I had professors who challenged me to explore the university and get the most out of the college experience. I also learned that to master a craft you have to put in the time.”

Students would be well served to focus on two of his principles while on campus, said Fils-Aimé. “The first is intellectual curiosity. It’s important to study a range of topics at the university. It’s easy to focus on your major, but at a stellar institution like Cornell there is so much to explore. Take a variety of courses to maximize Cornell experience,” he said. “You may think you know what you will do after college, but life has its twists and turns.”

He also said students should learn and practice effective communication skills. “Good writing skills are critically important, and you can focus on that at Cornell,” said Fils-Aimé. “Students should be clear and precise in their speech—no ‘uhms,’ ‘likes’ or ‘ahs.’ When speaking with others it’s important to look them in the eye, put the phone down, and make a personal connection. You can hone these personal communication skills at Cornell.”

View Reggie’s principles for next-generation leaders, along with questions and answers, on the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business YouTube channel.

This story was written by Jay Wrolstad, and the full story appears in the Dyson School BusinessFeed

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