May 11, 2005--Peter Dunn, president and CEO of Steak n Shake, told graduates at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business that being a successful leader means tackling questions -- really big questions. Dunn was the speaker at the school's MBA recognition ceremony on Saturday.

After unexpectedly becoming president of the struggling Borden Foods Company a decade ago, Dunn had something of an epiphany about leadership.

"Someone asked me, 'Why would anyone want to work here?" Dunn remembered. "I looked over my shoulder and realized that there was no one to pass the buck to."

To answer this question, Dunn said managers must "figure out what's the meaning of life." Thankfully the speech didn't end there, and Dunn went on to give his take on what gives people fulfillment at work and how a boss can help them find it. Managers should make sure their workers are able to make a difference, enjoy life, and act ethically. Not an easy task.

Encouraging the graduates to embark on this journey for sublime knowledge, Dunn offered a few tips: make a serious commitment, be humble, listen to those you serve, and read a book every quarter about leadership.

What book is Dunn reading? Well, he recommended Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People, by Charles O'Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer, which argues that this kind of feel-good management leads to increased profitability.

Published on: May 11, 2005