The Great Communicator

Some said Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, some say Bill Clinton. I have another candidate who is not as well known, but someday he might be. And we can learn three key points of communicating excellence from him.

Nido Qubein is remarkable. He is a businessman, entrepreneur, visionary, author, speaker, Chairman of many Boards and companies and now a university President. He could perhaps be a President joining Reagan and Clinton, if he wanted to go into politics, (and was willing to leave High Point, North Carolina.)

Last year I picked Nido as one of the Top Ten Communicators of the year, and he’ll probably have to be on it again this year. Because of his communications – and his results.

Let’s just take one area of results, and how Nido Qubein has transformed High Point University in the short 18 months that he has been President. He has raised $100 million dollars, completed the building and renovation (already) of ten buildings, increased enrollment and applications dramatically, and almost singlehandedly inspired staff and faculty to transform a large institution of over 4,000 people into a vital, exciting and amazing place. In 18 months!

I spent a day on the campus with him and 20 friends and associates who are members of Speakers Roundtable . These are all successful people in their own right, yet we were all in awe. Not just of his accomplishments but of his relationships with students, faculty and staff. More detail can be seen on Terry Paulson’s website where he describes the changes at High Point University, and Dianna Booher’s blog where she talks about the unique WOW relationships that Nido has with hundreds of people.

There are many things to learn from Nido – I hunch there will be many books written about him down the road. Let me just pick three key lessons of communicating for leaders that stand out to me:

1. Communicate large visions continuously

“You can’t make incremental change and transform a culture. You need big results or they won’t see or appreciate the changes.”

Dr. Qubein started with a large vision – on his first day as President he announced a capital campaign to raise $20 million dollars in one month, and then after raising that in 20 days he doubled the goal. He speaks at least a dozen times a day, to large groups, small groups and individuals about the vision of High Point University:

“At HPU, every student receives an extraordinary education in a fun environment with caring people.”

He uses email, banners, newsletters and just about every means available to communicate his vision. Ceaselessly. Great leaders continuously communicate their vision. Repeating good ideas is worth repeating.

2. Encourage others to speak.

Nido Qubein inspires all those around him – particularly the employees (staff and faculty) who are the ones who have to really catch the vision to make it work. And they have. Nido has mobilized his resources, and encourages all of them to speak and communicate in all ways – formally and informally, in person and in email. Every student has Nido’s email, and he responds. (Do you not think that every staff then also gives out THEIR email to the students – what does that do for accessibility and connection!)

And Nido encourages the students to talk to him, the President, continuously. What a way to build confidence in them – if they can talk to the President then they can talk to anyone. In one 90 minute tour of the campus with Nido in a golf cart (more accessibility) I counted at least 50 hellos, high fives and hugs between the President and his students. Remarkable.

3. Be excellent in all you do.

Nido is a great communicator for many reasons. He came to the US from Lebanon with $50 in his pocket and self taught english. He mastered the art, and continued to work at it, wrote books about communicating, and then did it. With excellence.

He is the perfect example of the consummate high level expert and professional (in his case in communications, leadership and business) who can talk about their craft in any format and any time period. Because they live it, they just have to know the time they have and the audience, and can quickly put a few points together that are salient, wise and powerful. I have personally seen Nido do this in dozens of different settings – always prepared because life has prepared him.

And when you see excellence, it inspires one to become excellent. I love watching Tiger Woods play golf, as he is absolutely excellent at his craft, and thrives under pressure, and inspires all of us to be better at whatever we do. In this same way Nido Qubein exudes excellence in all he does, and as a communicator always in front of people, that’s a lot of inspiration.

One final story of his attention to detail – communicating excellence on the HPU campus. I talked to one of Nido’s staff about him, a king how he was to work for. Chris said, “Great.” Which of course I expected, but asked why.

“Well,” said Chris, “He appreciates the people who work for him, even though he is demanding. For example, I’m in charge of campus communications, which involves a lot around here. This morning I was in early because of an important group that was going to be on campus, and Nido was here before me. He mentioned that some of the benches on the quadrant walk were out of line – that’s his attention to detail. And he complimented me on how great the new student banners looked. I love working for this man.”

4 comments on “The Great Communicator

  1. As a High Point University student, I just had to chime in. Dr. Qubein truly is a remarkable person, as you put it in your article (which perfectly captures the strength and passion that is Nido Qubein, by the way).
    When you’re walking from one class to the next, and the President of the University walks by and says, “Hello, Steven! How are you today? Hope your lunch was great,” it really puts a smile on your face! To have someone in the ultimate position of authority on campus know you by name AND speak to you like a friend truly makes Nido special. I think it’s no surprise that he’s on this list for the second year in a row… he’s earned it, that’s for sure!

  2. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for your long, well written and entertaining comment.
    You should have a blog!
    Hope to meet you in a future NSA event – or Nido event.

  3. I was at NSA Orlando and saw Nido Qubein for the very first time. He was indeed a master. In fact I was in America for the very first time and this is my take on it:
    First time in the USA; first time at an NSA convention
    Someone said, “What took you so long?” It might have been W. Mitchell.
    Running a training and consultancy business in the UK for twenty years, living near the Black Mountains of Wales and right next to the beautiful River Wye, we get milk from the cows at the end of the road; we collect mushrooms from the field. What do we want to climb onto an aeroplane (airplane) for?
    Well two things happened in our house last year. Firstly the teenagers started to rebel. Ursula at 15 said “I just don’t want another summer holiday in a tent in the Black Mountains”, and Alistair (13) agreed and invited me to “get a life”. Their mother smirked quietly on the other side of the table for she has always wanted to travel. She likes motorways, airports, and foreign countries. I regard a trip to Worcester, 27 miles east of Hereford as, well not quite a trip of a lifetime, but certainly a significant journey. I suppose you might wonder why she married me.
    So there it was, three against one.
    At about the same time I was invited to a Chapter meeting of the Professional Speakers Association (PSA) somewhere in Birmingham. Now that is 54 miles north west of Hereford so I had to think twice about making the commitment, but I was assured that I would enjoy it. To cut a long story short, I came home feeling a bit like Toad of Toad Hall after he had seen his first car. It was a mixture of excitement, amazement mixed up with a feeling of trepidation. You know that something has happened to you and that there is no way back. I knew I was going to have to become a speaker.
    And so it was that a few months later I found myself wandering round Heathrow airport London, probably looking a little lost because there in front of me was Paul Bridle (CSP). Paul was striding round the foyer with the air of a man in control. He was waving here, waving there, he was even chatting to the staff working for Emirates, our airline for the day. Several PSA members were making a trip out to Dubai for a World CEO Forum and Paul was speaking there.
    As we were going through customs it was my turn to dumbfound Paul. He asked which was my favourite airline and I replied that this was to be my second flight. He looked incredulous, rocked back on his heels and said “What?!”
    Anyway Dubai led to Orlando just as camping in the Black mountains of Wales led to a family room at the World Center Marriott. When you step out at Orlando International Airport, you think that someone has made a mistake with the thermostat, but no it really is that temperature.
    You step into a hire car and just as you push down on the clutch you realise it is in fact a brake. There is no clutch. All American cars are automatic. But at 56 I’m feeling pretty automatic myself after the flight. And so the car proceeds in a series of jerks for two and a half hours before we enter the premises of World Center Marriott. Two and a half hours? Yes, I think we took the scenic route. There were several times that the kids thought that they could see the hotel. After a while I knew they could because everyone in the car was screaming “there it is!!” but in between being flung into the windscreen and then waving apologetically to other bemused road users, we couldn’t actually find the entrance.
    The room itself looked out onto the golf course and one morning when I was jogging sedately round, just before sunrise, I asked a golfer about the alligators. He said that yes there is a seven foot beast up near the tenth and another larger animal resides near the fifteenth. I said “thanks” and proceeded to confine my exercise to the tarmacadam for the rest of the week. On the Saturday an entire squadron of fifty golf buggies were lined up and it occurred to me that no one walks round golf courses any more, certainly not at the World Center Marriott Orlando.
    When you first see the Crystal Ballroom you think just how much did this carpet cost? I mean it is no ordinary carpet but the ballroom, well I don’t think we have anything quite that size in the UK, certainly not in Hereford.
    It was great to be there a couple of days early, before the Convention began, just to watch the build up. I was really impressed by the organisation, the teamwork and the friendliness of everyone dealing with the delegates as they arrived. Sharon, my wife was staggered when we signed in. Brian, Dulce and Sue were on the desk but no sooner than Sharon had given our names than Sue asked how Alistair and Ursula were settling in. We just looked at each other.
    As the beginning drew nearer so the excitement and tempo began to build. We just went with the flow, looking forward to hearing some legendary speakers that we had encountered on VOE but not actually seen. Of course by the Saturday we were also gearing up for the Youth Leadership Conference. We had taken a flyer with the kids really, kind of saying that it would be better than a couple of weeks camping in the Black Mountains of Wales, but how could we know for sure?
    At the Youth Opening General Session it was Michael Scott Karpovich that knocked us out. He very quickly gained rapport with parents and children alike. However, nothing prepared us to watch son Alistair being held upside down by one leg after just a quarter of an hour of ‘Karpo’s’ talk. What a great presentation it was and it set the scene for our two. By evening time they were buzzing and so it was that every night we were able to reconvene and share the events and excitement of the day.
    Certainly it really enhanced our convention massively knowing that the two children were up and ready to go each morning, usually before us. We shared a room at the World Centre Marriott and that could have been a challenge, but such was the interest of each day, it was simply high quality family time. It’s not every day that my daughter Ursula and I find so much to talk about.
    Back home now with a shed full of notes from all the talks we heard. There are cd’s to listen to and so much to put into practice. Beverly Babb sent me an NSA Operations Manual because I chair the PSA 07 convention in London. What a great help that is and we are already learning from it in time for our November 06 Convention at The Belfry in Birmingham.
    So what do I do with the tent? The children have already been on the San Diego website; Ursula thinks she can book some cheap flights if we do it now.
    Tim Kidson September 2006