CALS' Honorary Doctorate Recipient PetSmart Chairman, CEO Robert F. Moran Delivers UA Commencement Address

Robert F. Moran addresses the audience at Arizona Stadium. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Robert F. Moran addresses the audience at Arizona Stadium. (Photo by Patrick McArdle/UANews)

Robert F. Moran, chairman and CEO of PetSmart, Inc., was awarded an honorary doctorate at UA’s 148th commencement ceremony on Friday evening. Moran, a long-time partner and collaborator with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has helped establish the PetSmart endowed chair and the PetSmart professor of practice positions in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. Through PetSmart gifts and partnerships, UA retailing, animal sciences and microbiology students have been introduced to training and career opportunities.

Shortly after being awarded his degree, Moran delivered the commencement address to more than 6,000 graduating students and their families and friends gathered at Arizona Stadium. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is proud to feature his speech, given May 10, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona.

UA Commencement Address, May 10, 2013
Robert F. Moran, chairman and CEO, PetSmart, Inc.

President Hart, Board of Regents, Faculty, Administration and Graduates—I want to start with a sincere and heartfelt thank you.

It's a big deal for a kid from the streets of Philly to be in this kind of company, speaking to you today.

These are the moments when I wish my mom and dad were still alive.

It's an honor to be here with all of you, and to receive this honorary degree.

What better place to be than University of Arizona, right?

Wilbur, Wilma and the Ooh Ahh Man must be proud of all the red and blue here today.

While I'm not a graduate of UA, we do have a lot in common. I'm also a Wildcat - a Villanova Wildcat. We've both won an NCAA Men's Basketball title...

We've paid tuition to U of A. My son, who's in the audience today, is a 2009 graduate.

And we've graduated from institutions that set the foundation for a world of possibilities.

Your school pride is well earned—this university is a special place full of exceptional talent. PetSmart has had a long and meaningful partnership with the University of Arizona, and we're so appreciative of the great work that the faculty, staff and students of this university have accomplished.

I'm always impressed by the networks this university fosters for its students across Arizona and the world.

University of Arizona makes Tucson a special place, but it also makes communities around the world better. 

And that's really what this institution is all about.

It's about academic and research pursuits that produce great leaders empowered to solve the toughest problems.

Now, I'm just a guy with a habit of refusing to let go until I get what I want.

I come from some pretty humble beginnings. I'm the son of Irish immigrants, and the first in my family to graduate from college.

I didn't grow up with money or a lot of things, but I did grow up with endless curiosity, a drive to learn and a tireless devotion to turning possibilities into reality.

Possibilities are not the same as dreams. Possibilities are those ideas, that knowledge, and those sparks of inspiration that you can shape, influence and turn into action.

Because when you act on what's possible, you'll never look back later in your life with regret. You'll never say, "I wish I had..."

So, since President Hart let me have the podium, I want to share with you just a few of the lessons I've learned along the way as I've taken that road of possibilities.

And here's the first: As you leave here, maintain a healthy disrespect for the status quo.

In your time here, you've been taught to ask questions, to wonder "why?" and to look for a better way.

Keep digging for that better way to do something --- because there's always a better way ... Always.

At PetSmart, we talk a lot about "one more thing." What we mean by that is "what's one more thing we could be doing?"

What have we not thought of, forgotten about, or simply not faced?

What's one more action we can take, or idea we can come up with?

To answer those questions, we use "the rule of three."

When we're faced with a decision, we come up with three solutions.

Because when you limit yourself to just two, chances are it will become an either/or scenario.

But challenge yourself to create a third option, and you might get an answer that's stronger - more compelling - than the first two.

It's that kind of thinking -- that kind of healthy disrespect for the status quo -- that has made us successful, so far.

Which leads me to lesson number two: Be aggressively nimble.

Being aggressively nimble is more than managing or embracing change.

The aggressively nimble go after change.

They hunger for it.

They know that when nothing is happening, something is happening.

And that's when they should worry.

They anticipate what needs to change, before it has to change.

I joined PetSmart and decided within the first two weeks I had a turnaround on my hands.

We were a category killer with an unclear strategy, a handful of flailing international stores, and no understanding of our customer.

Let's just say we had a lot to fix.

But even during the darkest days of PetSmart's early turnaround, I slept well.

I slept, because I knew we had a great plan, and I knew we were going after it.

What kept me up nights?

When the results starting coming in.

When we started making customers happy, growing sales, and then stealing share, that's when I worried.

I worried that all our fantastic results and reviews would become a comfortable couch we'd just sink into -- and stay there, where we'd surely get caught napping by a competitor.

And by the time we woke up, it would be too late.

So we shook things up.

We brought in new talent from all kinds of industries and with all different kinds of backgrounds and points of view.

We looked at what we needed to start doing, to stop doing.

What we needed to do more of, and less of.

And we took a hard look at what we'd better be ready to do.

We didn't react to change. We created it.

We didn't have a burning platform. We set the platform on fire.

Which leads me to my next lesson: Be courageous.

Because every day, you'll face real challenges -- challenges you know about and ones you never saw coming.

Sometimes, the odds will be stacked against you.

Courageous people make courageous decisions.

Hold your ground.

Be willing to improvise.

Don't do what's easy. Do what works.

And when you've reached a position of leadership, always, always, support your people.

Always make sure you understand what they need to win, and make sure they get it.

I'd like to leave you with one last lesson:

Choose what you do wisely and well.

I assume you've all been told to do something you're passionate about.

Otherwise, you probably wouldn't be here.

I give you this challenge: Don't just do something you care about. Do something that matters.

So as you leave here, ask yourselves: Are you ready to dedicate your intellect and your ambition to something that makes a difference?

Graduates of University of Arizona's class of 2013, you have the tools. Now, it is time to act.

So go after change.

Be courageous.

Be compassionate.

Do something that matters.

Be a leader for the world.

Thank you, congratulations and I can't wait to see what you accomplish.

Oh, and one more thing...

Bear down, Arizona!

Date released: 
May 14 2013