Stan­ley Bergman ex­plains how, de­spite set­backs, he now heads For­tune 500 com­pany in US Ex-Grey pupil makes his mark

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IN his younger years he strug­gled so much at school that one of his teach­ers told him not to bother with high school – but to­day he is at the helm of a bil­lion-dol­lar multi­na­tional health­care com­pany.

This is the suc­cess story Stan­ley Bergman, 68, brought back to Port El­iz­a­beth for his 50-year re­u­nion at Grey High School this week­end.

Bergman, who lives in New York, has been the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Henry Schein Inc since 1989.

The For­tune 500 com­pany has a pres­ence in 32 coun­tries and is val­ued at $13.3-bil­lion (R163-bil­lion) ac­cord­ing to Forbes.

Re­turn­ing to his alma mater as key speaker at a memo­rial lec­ture yes­ter­day morn­ing, Bergman at­trib­uted his suc­cess to the peo­ple he had en­coun­tered through­out his life.

“It’s all about peo­ple. Peo­ple drive ev­ery­thing. If you treat peo­ple well, they will fol­low you [and your vi­sion].

“I strug­gled in ed­u­ca­tion, and was once told not to bother to go to high school.

“What we learn in the class­room is crit­i­cal, but what we learn on the play­ing field of life is more im­por­tant – though you can’t play on the field if you aren’t lit­er­ate.”

How­ever, two other teach­ers had given him the con­fi­dence with which he car­ried him­self to­day, he added.

“I was not par­tic­u­larly good at math or science, and cer­tainly not at his­tory. [My ge­og­ra­phy teacher] here, Mr Earl, had a pro­found im­pact on my life.

“He said in ma­tric [year that] my hand­writ­ing is ter­ri­ble, so he made me come in on af­ter­noons and prac­tise my hand­writ­ing – in a way that was not hu­mil­i­at­ing.

“With­out Mr Earl and [a pro­fes­sor from Wits Uni­ver­sity], I would not be here to­day.”

Bergman em­pha­sised the need in busi­ness for men­tors and good sum­mer camp coun­sel­lors.

“The coun­sel­lors [at these Amer­i­can camps] get ev­ery­one to play to­gether.

“You should also look for men­tors [and sur­round your­self] with peo­ple who are smarter than you. If there is a chance to help young peo­ple, do it.”

Bergman be­lieves the youth have a crit­i­cal role to play in busi­ness and so­ci­ety at large.

“I make a point of al­ways trav­el­ling with a mil­len­nial, and ev­ery­thing I do is crit­i­cised. I be­lieve that mil­len­ni­als are likely to be re­mark­able, that their im­pact on the world [brings] hope.

“It’s a huge ad­van­tage to hire mil­len­ni­als, be­cause they care about the world and can drive you crazy with ques­tions.”

He be­lieves tal­ent and data will be the most im­por­tant re­sources of the fu­ture.

“Who­ever owns data will con­trol the world. We need to be more ag­ile and faster at col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“I am op­ti­mistic about the ben­e­fits of tech­nol­ogy. When I grew up, I had asthma and there was no drug to treat asthma. There has been enor­mous progress, the amount of tech­nol­ogy in the pipe­line in the health­care in­dus­try is mas­sive.

“My younger son went for brain surgery a year-and-a-half ago and it was like some­thing from science fic­tion, and it took him [a few] weeks to re­cover.

“There is so much hope [in this in­dus­try].”

Busi­ness lead­ers also had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to add to this hope.

“I’ve learned that the best way to do well is to do good. The com­bi­na­tion of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and busi­ness is a huge for­mula [for suc­cess].”

STAN­LEY BERGMAN

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