“The essence of any commencement speech is to be brief,” said William Pickard, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of VITEC and Global Automotive Alliance.

With him, however, just a few words are more than enough.

“I am from LaGrange, Ga., a very small town, but I have a simple belief about life,” Pickard told graduates of the Clark Atlanta University’s 2017 spring graduating class last Sunday. “Anybody from anywhere can accomplish anything. But you must put the work in.”

Simple but powerful advice for the group bachelor’s, master’s degree recipients.

Using analogies of noted musical entertainers and influential business people within the African-American success narrative, the business mogul referenced rappers Drake and Dr. Dre as well as beauty industry icon Madame C.J. Walker to drive home his point about the basics of achieving one’s goals.

Madame C.J. Walker was born in 1867, and was married at 13, a mother at 15 and a widower at 17. And by 35, she was a multi-millionaire, he related. “We all know [that her success] was because of the straightening comb and the hair products. But, what you might not know is that Madame C.J. Walker, in 1880, would take the Sears Roebuck catalog and post pages on her little shanty where she lived so that she and her daughter could visualize – every day – what the good life was all about. Now today, we call those vision boards, but Madame C.J. Walker was using something akin to that in the 1880s and 1890s to plan their lives and work their way out of poverty.”

While he encouraged the graduates to build relationships through alumni, civic and professional relationships, the civic leader and philanthropist also urged them to take note of their immediate circle – their five closest friends. “If you tell me who you’re five closest friends are, I’ll tell you where you’re going in life,” he said.

Pickard, whose introduction to entrepreneurship was as a McDonald’s franchisee in Detroit, Mich., 45 years ago, is now co-managing partner of MGM Grand Detroit Casino, CEO of Bearwood Management Company, and co-owner of five black-owned newspapers. His latest project, however, is one that is near and dear to his heart. In 2016, Pickard released “Millionaire Moves – Seven Proven Principles of Entrepreneurship” giving budding entrepreneurs a road map to success and a bit of a behind-the-scenes moment with him.

In “Millionaire Moves,” he details the triumphs and challenges of his entrepreneurial evolution in an authentic, instructive, and “real talk” manner that offers solid guidance to executives on how to transcend obstacles and stay true to their goals.

Also, during the ceremony honorary doctorates went to: Dr. Pickard, who earned a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University; U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi), who represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District; retired NASA Mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, who made significant contributions to the U.S. space program; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr, a civil rights pioneer who has championed worker and human rights through his organization, Operation Push.

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