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by Julie Walling

Eyes of despair

12:54 PM  Nov 18th, 2013
by Michelle Tedford

It was at the end of his talk that his voice broke, the image in Peter McGrath’s mind still too raw to control.

“When I’m in Calcutta or Delhi or Lahore or Dhaka, and I see poverty come up to my car window, and it’s a 5-year-old girl in a dirty dress with her 2-year-old sister on her hip with no clothes on, and I look into her dark eyes and see despair, hopelessness, I have to tell you it’s the most frightening experience in the world.

“And we, as business people, have a responsibility to change that. The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

McGrath ’72 shared lessons from his nearly 40-year career with J.C. Penney as the speaker for the 10th annual Business As a Calling lecture Nov. 14, presented by the School of Business Administration’s Center for the Integration of Faith and Work and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Jacob Program in Professional Ethics.

Many of his lessons were tailored to the budding business professionals in the Kennedy Union ballroom: Work hard. Never compromise your core values. Communicate effectively.

“You’re going to spend one-third of your life at work, so what you’re going to do to make a living, I hope you like,” he said.

He said he loves retail and developed a passion for working with designers and building brands. His work took him on a 10-million mile trek across the globe to visit factories, which is where he came face-to-face with such poverty.

His experiences led him to establish the Peter McGrath Human Rights Fellows Program at UD in 2012.

McGrath’s visit was about showcasing business as a vocation rather than just a series of jobs. “Each of the students, if they choose business, will have the opportunity to affect lives,” McGrath said.

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