By Heather Blahnik (Madison '96, US '98, AI '99)
Not many people have the privilege of saying they have been Secretary General of AIESEC, but Boyd Griffin is one of them. Boyd joined AIESEC at the University of Alabama in 1967 and took on the role of Organizing Committee President for the National Conference of 1967 that was held in Birmingham. At that conference, Ken Morse of MIT was elected AIESEC US President and he asked Boyd to join his staff in New York as National Vice President. As a member of the US delegation to the International Congress in Paris in 1969, Boyd was nominated and elected to be Secretary General of AIESEC (the position is now President of AIESEC International).
The year 1969 was an interesting time in AIESEC history. The decade of the 1960s marked a huge expansion effort to South America and Asia and AIESEC was becoming less of a Euro-centric organization. Boyd says the following of his year as Secretary General:
“One of the most interesting things that I did as Secretary General was to visit Prague to try to convince the student committee of the Communist Party that they should allow AIESEC Czechoslovakia to host the International Presidents Meeting which they had been chosen to do. Long story short, that was unsuccessful. The communists refused to meet with me for fear of what it might look like to their peers and others. But I had a great time with the AIESEC students for a weekend.”
“Another big issue that the organization was facing at the time was South Africa, as the question of apartheid was very much at the forefront in the news. There were people in AIESEC that wanted to kick AIESEC South Africa out of the organization because of apartheid. It was easy to understand the argument and where they were coming from, but the decision was that it was not appropriate for AIESEC for the short-term or the long-term.”
After serving as Secretary General, Boyd took a job with Mobil Oil, then a big client of AIESEC. Mobil saw AIESEC as an excellent way to meet promising young people in places like Nigeria, The Philippines and Japan and, during the 50s and 60s, Mobil hired 60-70% of the trainees they got through AIESEC on a permanent basis. This was driven by Leslie Youngblood, Jr., who was a big supporter of AIESEC and on the Board of Directors of AIESEC US. Youngbood made an offer to Boyd to come work with him on a project in the International Relations Department of Mobil. Boyd did that for a year and then decided that he needed a graduate degree. He applied to, and was accepted by, Harvard Business School and graduated with an MBA in 1973.
After HBS, Boyd did a short stint in J.P. Morgan, where he decided that banking wasn’t for him and started looking for a job in publishing. He has remained in that industry for the rest of his working career. He first worked at Academic Press as Acquisitions Editor, and as Director of Marketing. He then went on to the Hearst Corporation in 1981, where he worked for 20 years in different roles, from editor to publisher, before leaving in 1999. In 1999, Boyd started his own company where he advises companies on strategic planning, asset development, asset acquisition and disposition. Boyd said the following about working in publishing: “The thing about publishing, and especially about companies that publish books, is that it is really idea oriented and you realize the difference that a single book can make. You also realize more than anything how important people are to any organization, because you could always connect the success or failure in publishing to a few people. To know which books to pick, but also which editors to hire, and how to groom people. You could see publishing houses and imprints rise and fall on the quality of the people that they had manning these important posts. Whether it be editor or head of publicity or publisher; you could see all different sorts of examples of that being done well and that being done poorly.”
“It is also very important in publishing to have a world view and be effective internationally, which is something AIESEC exemplifies. The whole idea of international rights, permissions, importing books written in other countries, signing a book in the US and selling it overseas … . The better grasp that you had on the international side of it, the more successful you were going to be. Some companies would turn that over to international deal agents, but the more you could do it on your own the better. The companies that were most successful were the ones that had international people working and trying to realize the opportunities for international growth and development themselves.”
Boyd went on to talk about what his time in AIESEC brought to his professional career.
“In dealing with people, you realize how important it is to respect and understand the differences in culture and languages. People laugh and cry about the same things in most parts of the world. However, if you don’t appreciate the significant differences in terms of culture, religion and etiquette and the way things are done, you can make a fool of yourself pretty quickly. Another thing is how important the chemistry of people is in any organization. It doesn’t matter how good the plans are or how special the proprietary technology may be, if you don’t get it right with the people that are working with you and the team that is making it happen, you’ve got a big problem. You learn that early in an organization like AIESEC, because AIESEC is nothing but the people that are making it happen, especially considering its volunteer nature.”
Boyd is still involved with AIESEC at the local level; he has been on the Board of Advisers for AIESEC Yale for the past five years, serving as Chairman for three years. “I was on the Board of AIESEC US for years, and that was great, but nothing is more exciting and encouraging than to see young, bright people get AIESEC fever at the local level. The AIESEC mission still turns university students on as much as ever.”
If you would like to get in touch with Boyd to talk with him about his career, you can email him at email@example.com.