Stanford hosts United Nations Foundation board members

Media mogul-turned-environmentalist Ted Turner talked about the need for a cleaner, more energy efficient planet while former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young reflected on a life of public service and today's political climate.

GSB Video

Ted Turner, creator of CNN, talks about success in business, and helping the United Nations.

The media business is in the rear window for Ted Turner, the entrepreneur who founded CNN – the nation’s first all-news cable network – in 1980. Today, Turner is focused on developing ways to stop global warming, encourage energy conservation and stem population growth.

Turner recounted how he went from running his father’s billboard business to becoming a billionaire and high-profile humanitarian in a wide-ranging talk to students as a View From the Top speaker at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Turner is chairman of the board of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity he founded in 1998 with a historic $1 billion pledge, the largest philanthropic gift of its time. The foundation supports the U.N. and a variety of causes around the world through a blend of advocacy, grant making and partnerships.

Turner was joined at Stanford on Wednesday by U.N. Foundation board members Andrew Young and Emma Rothschild, who met individually with smaller groups of students.

Anne KnudsenTed Turner and interviewer Jason LeeKeenan, a second year student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Ted Turner and interviewer Jason LeeKeenan, a second year student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Turner said his foundation has worked with former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and the Rotary International service club to come close to eradicating polio.

"That will be only the second disease in the history of the world that’s been eradicated – smallpox is the other," he said. "That would be a gigantic win."

But the main problem to be addressed, Turner said, is a surging population that is overwhelming the Earth’s resources.

"The planet is collapsing all around us," he said. "Ocean fisheries are collapsing from over-fishing. Wind, water and erosion are washing the topsoil away. We’ve got to take better care of the planet."

He said his own lifestyle reflects his philosophy. He drives a Prius, and doesn't have a huge house.

"So I don’t feel guilty about living there," he said.

During his talk, Turner cracked jokes, recited poetry and showed his penchant for speaking his mind, a trait that earned him the nickname the "Mouth From the South." His secret to business success? "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."

Young speaks to students

Speaking separately to a group of 11 students on Wednesday, U.N. Foundation board member Andrew Young proved he could deliver a line every bit as snappy as anything Turner had to offer.

"I've been everywhere and I've done everything and I don't really care about anything but the truth," he said before embarking on a reflection of his career as a civil rights leader, politician and U.N. ambassador.

"Anything you’ve got guts enough to ask, I've got guts enough to answer."

He told stories from his days as a close friend and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., and he didn't shy away from discussing the flap that erupted over his secret meeting with leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization during his tenure as President Carter's ambassador to the U.N.

The controversy forced Young to step down from the job.

"I got very frustrated because I had to leave the U.N. just because I was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other," he said. He said each side asked him to get personally involved in brokering a peace agreement.

"I was thrown in the middle of this, and the country wasn't ready for it," he said. "But they were ready to agree to everything then that we're trying to get them to agree to today."

Saying that he was never trained as a diplomat and recounting his discomfort with bureaucracy, Young said stepping down from his role at the U.N. only led to an even better job: running the city of Atlanta.

"Being mayor of Atlanta was the best job I ever had," he said. "I was the boss, and I could do crazy things and catch hell for it. We did a lot of crazy things, but they all worked out. And the city grew from less than a million people to almost 6 million now."

When he was elected to Congress in 1972, Young was the first black from the Deep South to join the House of Representatives since Reconstruction. While that may have been a sign of progress at the time, Young derided the current state of American politics.

"The American people have elected a Congress that brags that only half of its members even have a passport," he said. "So how are you going to make decisions about the world if you've never been anywhere? People end up getting elected to Congress who are more and more provincial because they appeal more to people's fears than to their visions. And we end up with a backward Congress."

For the most part, Turner avoided talking politics. Instead, he shared some advice with the new generation of business leaders.

"You’ve got to play by the rules," he said. "It’s not that hard. You can make billions playing by the rules and doing things honestly, if you’re smart enough and work hard enough."

Michele Chandler is a freelance writer for the Graduate School of Business.