Peyton Manning shares leadership lessons at Blanchard Forum

Columbus State University Assistant Vice President for Leadership Development Ed Helton interviews retired NFL great Peyton Manning Monday night after Manning’s address to the forum.
Columbus State University Assistant Vice President for Leadership Development Ed Helton interviews retired NFL great Peyton Manning Monday night after Manning’s address to the forum. Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

On the first football weekend of the rest of his life, future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was in Columbus Monday night to talk about leadership.

Manning, who retired after leading the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl title last season, told the more than 1,200 business and civic leaders gathered for the 11th Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum that one of the most important leadership lessons he learned did not come during his 18-year NFL career, but instead in his freshman year at the University of Tennessee.

He was the third-string quarterback for the season opener in the Rose Bowl against UCLA. With Tennessee down 21-0, the starting quarterback injured and the backup ineffective, Volunteer head coach Phillip Fulmer called Manning’s number.

Using advice from his father, Archie, to take charge in such situations, Manning rushed into the huddle and began to assert himself.

“Our big, ’ol left tackle grabbed me by the face mask and told me to shut up and call the play,” Manning remembered.

He did.

“When you are the potential leader, no one wants to hear what you have to say, until you show you can do it,” Manning said. “It was a humbling moment, but a valuable lesson.”

Manning was scripted at times as he tried to relate football’s leadership lessons to the business world.

He flashed his trademark self-deprecating humor throughout the night.

Mentioning the 30 Papa John’s franchises he owns in the Denver area, he said, “Some of the recent law changes in Colorado have been pretty good for the pizza business; we get a lot of late-night orders.”

Near the end, he was asked about his often-used football audible, Omaha, by Columbus State University Assistant Vice President for Leadership Development Ed Helton.

“Yeah, I’m a big deal in Omaha, Neb.,” he said. “I went there last year and they gave me a key to the city and made a big donation to my charity.”

Though he is in the first year of retirement, it has not kept Manning away from the game. He said he will spend a lot of time watching his younger brother, Eli, who is in his 13th season with the New York Giants.

“This is the first free fall I have had in 25 years and I went to three games this weekend,” he said. “I saw the Broncos play on Thursday night; I was in Bristol on Saturday for the Tennessee game; and yesterday I was in Dallas to watch Eli play the Cowboys. I had a good weekend. I was three for three.”

A full slate of speakers

The two-day event was highlighted by Manning’s speech Monday, but he was by no means the only one with star power. CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, MasterCard CEO Ajaypal “Ajay” Singh Banga and New York Times bestselling author and former Up With People CEO Tommy Spaulding also spoke.

Today’s speakers include Henry Cloud, psychologist and life coach; Patricia Florissi, vice president and chief technology officer of EMC Corp.; Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and author of “Lone Survivor,” which became a movie; Shana Young, director of the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University; Bill Curry, former Alabama and Georgia Tech football coach; and former NFL player Warrick Dunn.

The first of the event’s 13 speakers was Ajaypal “Ajay” Singh Banga, chief executive officer of MasterCard. He touched on the need for diversity in the global workforce, embracing rapidly changing technology, and operating in a world that has become very unpredictable.

Banga, a native of India who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, answered questions from fireside chat moderator Marc Olivié, president and CEO of Columbus-based W.C. Bradley Co.

Olivié recalled traveling with Banga, 56, to Turkey a couple of years ago on business. As they were crossing a street, some men in a vehicle passing by shouted at the MasterCard CEO — who wears a turban because of his religion — calling him a member of the terrorist group Taliban and other derogatory words.

“Here you are the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, serving on several committees of the president of the United States,” Olivié said, setting up his questions: How does he deal with such ignorance and bigotry, and what will it take to change it?

“You have to shrug it off because you’ve got two options at that time — you can either shrug it off or you can get angry. Angry isn’t going to change it,” said Banga, who displayed a sense of humor during the fireside chat, drawing laughs several times. “By the way, there were four of them in that car and there was only you and me. I learned as a kid you don’t take on a fight that you can’t win. And I wasn’t sure you were going to fight with me, Marc.”

Responding more seriously, the MasterCard executive said the best thing is to smile and take such incidents in stride. He also referred to a couple of moments at a New York City airport after Sept. 11, 2011, when Transportation Security Administration checkpoint staff pulled him aside and told him to take his turban off. At the time, the U.S. government had not addressed the head-wear issue.

“My belief is 99.9 percent of people do not wake up in the morning wanting to exhibit behavior that shows them out as being less than tolerant,” Banga said. “That’s my belief. And I also trust that the 99.9 percent of people like you who are walking with me will put your hand and arm on my shoulder and say, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ And that happens every single time.”

In terms of business, Banga joined MasterCard in 2009, rising to CEO a year later. That was after working with Citigroup in the Asia-Pacific region. Today, living in New York, he serves with the U.S. presidential advisory committee on trade policy and is a member of a commission on enhancement of national cybersecurity.

MasterCard is a financial juggernaut, with 2.3 billion of its cards in circulation around the world. The company handled 48 billion card transactions in 2015, with $4.6 trillion being charged on that collective plastic. The company employs nearly 12,000 people, with 143 offices in 67 countries.

The CEO closed out his chat with Olivié by confirming the need to embrace the so-called millennial generation — roughly those born between 1982 and 2004 — in order to business successfully. About 42 percent of MasterCard’s employees fall into that generational time-frame.

“The reason we brought millenials into the company is they’re the only adopters of new technology,” Banga said. “We’re in an industry where technology is changing at a rapid pace, so it is as important as having any other form of diversity in the company.”

Some of the speakers are in Columbus because of a close relationship with Blanchard. One of those was CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz.

Nantz, because of his more than 30 years of broadcasting the Masters at Augusta National, has a personal relationship with the retired Blanchard, an Augusta National member.

Blanchard introduced Nantz to the forum attendees, calling him the greatest sportscaster of all-time.

Nantz told Blanchard he wanted a tape of the introduction, “so I can send it to my mother.”

Blanchard, a longtime business and civic leader, also spoke on Tuesday and addressed a variety of topics, including the upcoming Columbus vote to roll back the Musocgee County residential property tax freeze, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

He said the current system, which freezes property value until the home is sold or the owner dies, discriminates against young people and newcomers.

“It is a ‘Welcome Stranger’ system, and the stranger gets zapped,” Blanchard said.

He said asking people to vote to roll back the tax freeze, which has been in place since 1982, is asking many of them to vote against their self-interest.

“Sometimes we have to rise against our self-interests for the good of the order,” Blanchard said.