Smeal commencement speaker urges students to work with integrity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- More than 1,100 students received their baccalaureate degrees at the Penn State Smeal College of Business commencement ceremony May 5.

Commencement speaker Lizabeth Zlatkus, retired executive vice president and chief risk officer at The Hartford, spoke about seizing career opportunities and learning to love what you choose to do. Zlatkus, a Smeal alumna, once told a recruiter that she didn’t want to work in insurance.

“You are the generation who will set the tone for how business operates in the future,” Zlatkus said. “Be the generation that makes integrity synonymous with business.”

“But I learned to love how truly fascinating insurance really was,” she said. Zlatkus spent 28 years as The Hartford Financial Services Group, where she held various leadership positions such as chief financial officer and co-president of Hartford Life Insurance Companies.

“I had such great experiences I may never have taken had I waited to be sure or turned down an unplanned opportunity that was right in front of me,” she said.

Zlatkus also emphasized the importance of asking questions and really listening to the answers.

“Asking is wanting to understand. It is a beautiful thing, and it benefits all around you,” she said. “I guarantee you: the richness of the answers will astound you if you only listen.”

Finally, Zlatkus talked about the importance of integrity in the workplace.

“Having integrity is not just about doing what appears to be right; it is about questioning and determining what is right, and then doing it,” she said.

She encouraged students to always be a person that is known for supporting integrity and standing up for honorable action.

“You are the generation who will set the tone for how business operates in the future,” Zlatkus said. “Be the generation that makes integrity synonymous with business.”

Zlatkus recently retired from her 28-year tenure at The Hartford Financial Services Group, where she held leadership positions such as chief risk officer, chief financial officer and co-president of Hartford Life Insurance Companies.

Zlatkus has been widely recognized for her professional achievements in the insurance industry, as one of the top 100 women executives by Business Insurance magazine and as a "Woman Worth Watching" in the Profiles Diversity Journal. Drawing on her broad experience leading complex international organizations, Zlatkus currently provides consulting services on risk, insurance and leadership issues.

Zlatkus holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Smeal, and she currently serves as Chair of the Smeal College Board of Visitors.

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Last Updated September 10, 2013