By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn asked the business majors on the football team to raise their hands, 35 hands went up.
Those student-athletes in Auburn’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, and their teammates, listened intently to the final Beyond the Field preseason speaker for Auburn’s Manhood character development program.
Standing before them was Raymond J. Harbert himself, Chairman and CEO of Harbert Management Corporation.
Before sharing his story with Auburn’s football team, Raymond Harbert talked about his father.
John M. Harbert, a U.S. Army private in World War II, graduated from Auburn in 1946 and built one of the world’s largest construction firms.
Success, Harbert said, was not without struggle. On the way to becoming what Forbes called the state of Alabama’s only billionaire, Harbert Corporation went bankrupt three times.
In 1982, after earning a business degree from the school that would later bear his name, Raymond Harbert went to work for his father. Eight years later, Harbert’s father asked Raymond to take over. He was 31.
Raymond Harbert changed directions, from construction to investing, creating an alternative asset management firm in 1993.
Within 15 years, Harbert’s company managed $30 billion of assets, making $11.5 billion for its clients in 2007.
Harbert then shared three keys for success: vision, capital and perseverance.
“A vision for where you want to go, what you want to be,” said Harbert, whose family recently gave the single largest gift in Auburn Athletics history to the South End Zone renovation of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“I would not have made an investment of $5 million if I didn’t believe Coach Malzahn had a vision,” Harbert said.
Capital, both financial and human, Harbert said, refers to the resources and people required to build a winning team.
Perseverance is the most important quality to sustaining excellence over an extended period, Harbert said.
“The biggest intangible in any endeavor,” Harbert said. “How is an individual going to handle difficulty? How is an organization going to handle a setback?
“Nobody tells you it’s going to be fair out there. You have to get back up. It’s not a question of if you will face that difficulty. It’s a question of when.”
Harbert, a member and former President Pro Tem of Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, concluded by sharing excerpts from President Theodore’s Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech.
Delivered more than a century ago, Roosevelt’s words still inspire.
”The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
After running back Kerryon Johnson presented Harbert with a football autographed by the Tigers, Harbert shook each player’s hand.
Before accompanying Coach Malzahn to a meeting of Auburn’s offense, Harbert told an observer his formula for business success also applies to football.
“I think they are transcendent over everything as far as trying to have a successful organization,” Harbert said. “When you get knocked down, what do you do? You have to be able to get up and say, ‘I’m going to go at them again.’”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer