Charles W. Cole Jr. is not one to mince words. Speaking at Dickinson on Feb. 20, this soft-spoken finance executive and community leader condensed a wide range of complex ideas into a series of attention-seizing aphorisms that revealed both his engaging, inquisitive manner and the intellectual ferocity that informs his research.
“You can always tell when Charlie is in the room, because he always challenges us—he will always pose questions, [spurring] lively conversation,” observed President William G. Durden ’71, prior to the speech. “We know Dr. Rush would approve of his revolutionary but subtle approach.”
That reference to Dickinson’s founder was apt, because Cole was visiting Dickinson to accept the 2012 Benjamin Rush Award. After meeting with students throughout the day, Cole delivered his acceptance speech to a large audience that seemed eager to absorb some of the wisdom he’d acquired during a distinguished career as president and CEO of First Maryland BankCorps and First National Bank of Maryland.
Eye to the future
In his speech, Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?, Cole touched on the challenges posed by a global economy, the nature of the European and American financial climates and some rules of thumb to ensure personal growth, professionally and financially.
Cole spoke about the interplay between Asian, American, European and Middle-Eastern economies and presented his predictions about the global market. Turning his attention to the American market, he bemoaned the rising national debt and stated that while the country’s housing market and the economy will revive, it won’t do so overnight.
He added his view of the emerging job market, naming the medical, cyber-security, artificial-intelligence, communications-technology and alternative-energy fields as among the most promising for today’s graduates. But, he cautioned, the key to job security is creative problem-solving, flexibility and innovation.
“There are job opportunities [in robotics], but you don’t want to learn five years from now that your job was wiped out by a robot,” he said, explaining: “A robot can grade papers and drive cars. A robot can give chest X-rays seven days a week and doesn’t need health care.”
Speaking about how to build a personal portfolio, Cole channeled Warren Buffet, an investor he admires. He extolled the multibillionaire’s strategy of protecting liquidity, diversifying and buying whole and stressed the dangers of high-frequency trading, when stocks and bonds are sold quickly, without prior analysis of the company.
Sharing the love
Finally, Cole focused on his hosts. “I’m not sure you realize the wonderful trajectory that Dickinson College is on,” he told students, adding that President Durden—and the culture he has helped foster at Dickinson—are “world-class.”
“[Dickinsonians are] smart, dedicated and ethical, and believe me, the business community needs you,” Cole continued, adding that if today’s students prepare for the future and remain engaged and informed, they will succeed, even in a challenging and ever-changing job market. “Make every day count, and you’re going to get to the top. And when you do, keep going.”
On global economics:
- “Is the U.S. going to do anything in terms of nuclear potential in Iran? My guess is no.”
- “Pray for evolution, as opposed to a revolution, for Mr. Putin.”
- “We owe China roughly $1.2 trillion. There’s a lot of rhetoric criticizing China because of it, but guess what? We’re the ones who borrowed the money.”
On the U.S. economy:
- “America’s best days are ahead. Having said that, getting from Point A to Point B is challenging.”
- “The government is borrowing at 40 cents on the dollar. As Einstein once said, ‘There are two things in life that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the first.’ ”
- “More stimulus [funding] means further increasing the debt. We have to take a completely different approach.”
- “My guess is that this country will ultimately travel the avenue of deflation. Country after country has done this. It can be done.”
- “The president affects foreign policy, and that can very well affect one’s investment approach.”
- “[High-frequency trading] is not good. I wish I could wave a wand and make it disappear.”
On the job market:
- “How do we create jobs? We should have a marshal plan to fix this country’s dams and sewers.”
- “Should [the U.S. government] spend money on cyber warfare? You bet, and by the way, there are job opportunities there, too.”