Lehigh alumnus discusses role of luck in career success

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“If you’re a surgeon or airline pilot, I hope luck doesn’t play a role,” D. Brooks Zug, ’67, joked with his audience of Lehigh students. “But it always does in business.”

Zug, the founder of HarbourVest Partners, spoke during the seventh meeting of the Gruhn Distinguished Finance Speaker Lecture Series in Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall.

In his speech, entitled “The Keys to Success: Preparation, Discipline, and Luck,” Zug emphasized the importance of luck in the business world.

Before beginning his talk, Zug asked the audience which key to success they thought was most important. The majority of people raised their hand in favor of discipline. Zug asked them to pay attention to whether their opinions changed throughout the speech.

Zug said he has indeed had a rather lucky life, which has played a major role in his success. He said one of his luckiest breaks came when he founded his company.

Zug split from the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, which wanted nothing to do with his startup company. This allowed him to negotiate a buyout and create HarbourVest Partners.

HarbourVest Partners is an extremely successful private equity group with offices all over the globe.

Zug supplemented his lecture with a PowerPoint that displayed a timeline of events from each decade that he said affected his life. For example, he talked about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1961. As luck would have it, Zug had scheduled a meeting in Berlin six months prior to its collapse and traveled to Germany just in time for the celebration of unity.

A Bethlehem native, Zug recalled the time he shook President John F. Kennedy’s hand as a high school student at Moravian Academy. In 1960, on his way to school, he walked past Hotel Bethlehem, where then-presidential candidate Kennedy happened to be staying. Zug entered the hotel and waited but left so he wouldn’t be late to school. He then learned school was canceled because of Kennedy’s visit, snuck in the back of the hotel and shook the future president’s hand, an instance that can only be attributed to luck, Zug said.

Along with lighthearted stories, Zug made sure to talk about his success in the business world. He talked about acquiring a successful Swiss firm in 2011 as a result of persistence and, of course, luck because a newly passed law gave HarbourVest the upper hand against other companies with better offers.

Through his business ventures and successes, Zug said he has learned that it pays to be in the right place at the right time, timing matters and, above all, to never discount luck in the business world.

During his time at Lehigh, Brooks Zug was class president, an accounting major, a member of Kappa Alpha Society, a photographer for The Brown and White and a cheerleader. Zug said he was destined to go to Lehigh, as his two older brothers, sister and nephew attended the university.

Zug said he hasn’t missed a Lehigh-Lafayette game since he was five years old.

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