When Gen. H. Hugh Shelton retired from the U.S. military, he began to invest in the next generation of leadership, starting at his alma mater, NC State University. After 38 years of military service — including four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Shelton had a strong commitment to leadership rooted in his personal and professional values. Those values included giving back to the NC State community, so in 2002 he founded the Shelton Leadership Center at the university.
Each year the center holds the Shelton Leadership Forum, which brings leaders from around the country to campus to explore their ideas and views on a particular issue. Lectures and discussions focus on values-based leadership. The forum is open to the public, and NC State students, faculty and staff can attend for free.
Rob Squires, the director of demand planning and business analytics at Hanes, first attended the forum as an NC State student in the early 2000s. Hearing from top leaders in person on campus was inspiring and encouraging, Squires said.
“You’re all in the same room together at the university, and you’re able to see people and talk to them and interact with them,” he said. “These larger-than-life figures, they’re people, too.”
General Hugh Shelton’s Story
After earning his bachelor’s degree from NC State in 1963, General Shelton rose through the ranks to become a decorated military leader.
An impressive list of people have spoken at the Shelton Leadership Forum. Just a sampling includes Elaine Chao, former U.S. secretary of labor; Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat; Freda Porter, tribal administrator for the Lumbee Tribe; Janet Ramey, senior vice president of employee services at CISCO; Darío Gil, senior vice president and director of IBM Research; and Howard Putnam, former CEO of Southwest Airlines.
“Every year is unique,” said Mel King, president of Highmark Companies. “The speakers all bring different things to the forum. While the underlying theme is always values-based leadership, each speaker brings their own perspective.”
King has served on the center’s Board of Advisors for nearly a decade. Because different speakers come every year, he learns something new from the forum each time. He always advises his clients, colleagues and even his children to attend the forum. To King, values-based leadership means doing the right thing even when no one is watching. That’s applicable to anyone, no matter their age or line of work.
“The forum is for a broad audience,” King said. “It’s a great thing for people in business school, for engineers, students, industry leaders, military service members. Anyone who wants to learn more about values-based leadership and what strong leadership looks like should come.”
Amy Policastro Schroeder, a career development consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, echoes King’s praise of the forum’s accessibility and versatility. Her son in high school has attended the forum with her, and they both have learned more at the forum about how to benefit their community. Especially as an educator, Policastro Schroeder is personally invested in helping the people of North Carolina succeed.
“We can only grow as individuals, organizations and communities when we engage with each other and learn from each other as we move forward,” Policastro Schroeder said. “We are in this together for our community.”
“The forum provides an engaged opportunity for diverse professionals to network, learn and engage in rich exchanges,” Policastro Schroeder added. “Participants benefit from hearing current leaders in business and industry as well as education speak to experiences, trends and current events relative to continuing to move North Carolina forward stronger.”
The Shelton Leadership Forum embodies NC State’s mission as a public land-grant university. In creating an accessible atmosphere for leaders and audience members to engage and interact, the forum disseminates a deeper knowledge base about values-based leadership than is usually found on a school’s campus.
“Imagine if a freshman came to NC State and had to learn engineering from scratch,” Squires said. “That’s how we usually treat leadership. There’s not the same body of knowledge being passed on in a systematic way like we do in other fields through education.”
The Shelton Leadership Forum is a one-of-a-kind experience that bolsters the Wolfpack community. As community, state, business and national leaders come to NC State to pass on their hard-earned wisdom, they’re investing in the future of values-based leadership.
“There will be very few opportunities in your life to participate in something like this,” Squires said. “Seize the opportunity while it’s here. It’s a master class from some of the world’s top leaders.”