Grammy-winning recording artis Usher spoke to students at the Undergraduate Business School Leadership Conference on Feb. 16. PHOTO: Tony Benner

An individual’s life “spark,” can take many forms — a desire to mentor at-risk youth, an energetic dance performance that pumps up the crowd or a spoken-word poem that strikes a chord.

For R&B artist and Atlanta resident Usher, that spark — igniting from within — motivates young leaders to dare to achieve.

Speaking at the Undergraduate Business School Leadership Conference (UBSLC) on Feb. 16 at Goizueta, Usher challenged students from across the globe to work from the heart to the benefit of society.

“Live with the greatest potential but remember where you got started,” said the seven-time Grammy Award winner, part-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and successful entreprenuer.

The 13th annual conference brought together 80 student participants from a dozen countries for a three-day forum on “Future Directions in Leadership.” Founded by Goizueta BBA students, the conference provides a collaborative space to discuss leadership as an empowering force behind cohesive and coherent change.


This year, the opening day of the student-run conference featured Usher’s New Look Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers youth a new look on life by exposing them to four leadership pillars: Talent, education, career and service. Founded in 1999, the organization boasts five U.S. chapters, including one in Atlanta, and a growing international footprint. It has trained more than 9,000 youth through a curriculum designed in partnership with Goizueta. Ninety-eight percent of the young people involved in the program for at least two years graduate high school and go on to college, according to foundation statistics.

“We’re taking a page from corporate America,” said New Look Foundation president Shawn Wilson. “Businesses will come together to build a better product. We share the common goal of building our youth as leaders.”

The program last Thursday included a roundtable discussion with four Atlanta-area New Look participants moderated by Steve Walton, associate dean of the Goizueta Executive MBA Program.

“In business school we train people to believe that leaders are always in front,” said Walton. “Sometimes, if you are going to serve, you do so quietly.”

Brandon Hamilton, a sophomore at Georgia State University and a New Look “mogul in training” recalled dreaming of becoming a basketball superstar when he joined New Look’s summer camp at age 13. Since then, he has traveled to Vancouver and Kenya to train students on how to build their personal brands and use their skills to inspire others.

“I feel limitless in what I can do now,” he said.

The program included a freestyle expression portion featuring singing, poetry and popping and locking by New Look students, and a marriage proposal by one nervous Goizueta alum. Before Usher took the stage, Brian Niles 07BBA, who previously chaired the UBSLC, proposed to his girlfriend, Amanda Wade.

Usher, whose given name is Usher Raymond IV, cited Oprah Winfrey as his inspiration and praised Emory for its seven-year relationship with New Look. Originally from Chattanooga, Usher and his family later moved to Atlanta so he could pursue a professional singing career. He credits the city for nurturing his talent and providing him with positive mentors.

Usher’s New Look Foundation and UBSLC share common goals, said UBSLC chair Joyce Juang 13BBA.

Both groups “really embrace the power of an individual to make a positive difference,” she said.

– Margie Fishman