Skip to main content
Bentley University graduate at 2019 Commencement

State Street CEO Challenges Graduates to Become Leaders of Positive Change During Uncertain Times

Kristen Walsh

At Graduate Ceremony, University of Michigan Professor Robert Quinn Urges Students to Find Purpose in their Careers

President and Chief Executive Officer of State Street Corporation Ronald P. O’Hanley encouraged graduates at Bentley University’s 100th undergraduate commencement ceremony to be leaders of positive change during “a time of great uncertainty.” The university awarded undergraduate degrees to 993 students representing 28 states and territories and 50 countries. Approximately 8,000 people attended the ceremony, which was held on May 18, 2019, in Waltham, Mass.

“Be open to the immense possibilities that life will offer and be ready to take a chance,” O’Hanley told the graduates. “Are you prepared to lead? Are you willing to lead? What kind of leader will you be?”

See Photos From Commencement

O’Hanley (at right) challenged graduates to “lead with purpose and vision and courage” in order to “ensure that the arc of the universe continues to bend in a positive direction.” He shared one of his most challenging leadership moments at BNY Mellon Asset Management during the global financial crisis of 2008, when his team worked around the clock to protect customer investments, not knowing if they would have a job the next day.

“I learned firsthand how important strong leadership is in a crisis,” he said. “You owe it to everyone around you to show that you are committed to persevering and being there for them and empathizing with their pain. The financial crisis was indeed the challenge of a lifetime, but in the darkest hours I saw extraordinary acts of courage, kindness and selflessness.”

Read Ronald O'Hanley's Commencement Address

O’Hanley also encouraged graduates to take chances on others, recalling how a hiring partner at McKinsey advocated for him for a position early in his career. Ten years later the CEO of Mellon Bank “took an even greater chance” and asked him to become the head of Mellon’s asset management business.

“I didn’t check many of the boxes under the qualifications, but both of those people had faith in me and were prepared to let me prove myself,” O’Hanley said. “Be prepared to take a chance on yourself, even when you don’t check all of the boxes.”

O’Hanley concluded with a call for graduates to define the positive change they want to make in the world and at their jobs and to cherish friendships throughout the journey. “Rich or poor, CEO or middle manager, a clear purpose and strong relationships are the most important and powerful determinants of a happy and successful life.”

O’Hanley received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree at the ceremony.


At a separate commencement ceremony for graduate students later on Saturday, keynote speaker Robert E. Quinn, Margaret Elliot Tracy Collegiate Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, challenged graduates to find purpose in their careers. The university awarded graduate degrees to 578 students representing 21 states and territories and 41 countries.

“All of you have spent the last period of time getting the technical skills necessary to go out into that world of work to get a job … but I’d like you to think about much more than that today,” Quinn said, noting the importance of purpose, people and culture.

Shifting from a mindset of problem-solving to purpose-finding, Quinn (at right) continued, will help people discover their authentic selves. “Every person here today is designed to live a purpose-driven life and not a reactive life,” he told the graduates.

Quinn concluded by emphasizing the life-changing impact of higher purpose. “It is my hope that every student, every parent, every sibling, every friend, everyone who is here today will begin a journey to find out their mission in life. If that happens this will have been a day very well spent.”

Quinn received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree at the ceremony.

Bentley awarded undergraduate degrees to 993 students representing 28 states and territories and 50 countries. The degrees awarded included 956 Bachelor of Science degrees, 22 Bachelor of Arts degrees and 15 Bachelor of Business Administration degrees. 

Graduate degrees were awarded to 578 students representing 21 states and territories and 41 countries, including 465 Master of Science degrees, 105 Master of Business Administration degrees, six doctoral degrees, 9 dual Master of Science / Master of Business Administration degrees, and 62 certificates. (The figures include degrees and certificates conferred on Oct. 26, 2018, Mar. 1, 2019, and May 18, 2019.)


Ronald O’Hanley is president and chief executive officer of State Street Corporation and a member of State Street Corporation’s Board of Directors. State Street, the company behind the Fearless Girl statue in New York’s Financial District, is committed to advancing gender diversity and advancing women in leadership roles. O’Hanley was previously president and chief operating officer of State Street Corporation, and before that president and chief executive officer of State Street Global Advisors, its investment management arm. Prior to State Street, O’Hanley was president of Asset Management & Corporate Services for Fidelity Investments, responsible for all Fidelity asset management organizations and Fidelity’s corporate functions and enterprise technology. Before joining Fidelity, O’Hanley served as president and chief executive officer of BNY Mellon Asset Management in Boston. He also served as vice chair of Bank of New York Mellon Corporation and was a member of its Executive Committee. Prior to the merger of Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corporation, he was vice chair of Mellon Financial Corporation and president and chief executive officer of Mellon Asset Management. Previously, O’Hanley was with McKinsey & Company, Inc., including being elected a partner. He founded the Investment Management practice worldwide and was co-founder and co-leader of the firm's North American Personal Financial Services practice. O’Hanley’s areas of philanthropic and civic interest include corporate governance, retirement/healthcare policy, education and climate, and he has led several initiatives on gender equality.

Robert E. Quinn is the Margaret Elliot Tracy Collegiate Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business. His research and writing focus on purpose, leadership, culture and change. He is a co-founder of the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship and co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations. He is in the top 1 percent of professors cited in organizational behavior textbooks. Quinn is particularly known for his work on the competing values framework which has been used by thousands of organizations. His paper, “Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership,” was selected by the Harvard Business Review as one of the 10 “Must Reads on Managing Yourself.” Quinn has published 18 books, including “Deep Change,” a long-term best seller. His book, “The Best Teacher in You,” won the Ben Franklin Award designating it the best book in education. In August, he will publish “The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization.” In a global survey, he was recently named one of the top speakers in the world on the topic of organizational culture and related issues.