Leon H. Sullivan: When Cause Met Charisma
David J. O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO
Leon H. Sullivan Summit State Dinner
Abuja, Nigeria, July 16, 2003
Most of us will always remember Leon for his unflagging optimism. His calling was truly a gift, and he firmly believed that with faith, hope and just a little help from the almighty, anything could be done.
How many of you recall Leon's speech recounting Hannibal's advance on Rome? When his troops and horses recoiled at crossing the mighty European Alps, the great general unsheathed his sword – the blade shining in the sun – and pointed it straight ahead. "Forward March!" Hannibal shouted, "I see no Alps!" And his army crossed the mountains and went on to victory.
Leon Sullivan spent a lifetime being blind to Alps.
You couldn't say no to him. And once he found you, it was all over. You'd soon be nodding and saying, "Of course, Leon; we'll find a way, Leon; we'll get it done."
His was charisma with a cause.
Others, when they looked at the disadvantaged, saw only despair. Leon saw inspiration. Where others saw barriers, Leon saw bonanzas – of possibilities. Where others saw challenges, Leon saw chances. And where others saw only obstacles, Leon saw opportunities.
I'm proud that ChevronTexaco was Leon Sullivan's partner in many of these efforts. And I'm happy these programs are being strengthened and expanded through the Sullivan Foundation under the leadership of Hope and Ambassador Young. I am proud to be on the Board of Directors of the Foundation.
Following in Leon's footsteps cannot be easy. But I believe the success of this Summit already shows that his work – and what he believed in – will be built upon in the coming years.
I believe he left us all with three great lessons:
- First, he taught us that we had to become part of the solution;
- Second, he taught us that corporations consist of stakeholders as well as shareholders;
- And third and most important, he taught us to work together, and always to see no Alps.
I now understand from Hope that we have a special video of Leon and his many accomplishments. Let's sit back and enjoy the tape.
[tape runs for five minutes and then DJO gets back up]
And now, we have a bit of an unscripted addition in our program – something I hope will come as a surprise to Leon's family.
Grace, Hope, Howard, Julie – if you'd please come and join me on the dais.
You might have heard me earlier talk about Leon's call, to "use what we have in our hands." Well, we asked a Nigerian artist Chief Emeka Achinike to reflect on your father's life, and this is what he created.
The central image is that of a man who worked throughout his life to bring opportunity to Africans, such that they are able to rise above their challenges and stand atop the world.
You'll see a ladder at the base and Leon is pulling a figure up, giving him a "hand up" toward a new and promising future.
We hope you enjoy this symbol of the affection and respect all of us hold for your father.
Thank you, again.
Updated: July 2003