Character, values and passion are the three ingredients that make a great business leader, grocery magnate Robert Mariano told DePaul University business graduates at the college's commencement ceremony June 15.

Character enables you to overcome challenges and turn failure into success; values guide you in defining moments of decision; and passion drives you to pursue excellence in your work,” Mariano said in his commencement address.

The founder of the Mariano’s Fresh Store chain received an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremony held at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. More than 1,200 students from DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business and its Kellstadt Graduate School of Business crossed the stage to receive diplomas during the event. 

Mariano told graduates about his early career rejections, including his inability to get into medical school or break into the pharmaceutical industry.  But such failures only build character, he said. “You wouldn’t be here today either if you didn’t have the grit and determination and the character to overcome the obstacles in your path. And there will be many more along the way and you’ll learn from all of them and you will overcome.”

Mariano said he overcame his setbacks by turning to the thing he felt passionate about – working in the grocery business.  He began at the deli counter at Dominick’s, worked his way up the management ranks and eventually became CEO of Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Inc., one of the fastest-growing grocery chains in the Midwest. 

With success comes the responsibility to give back to the community, Mariano advised graduates, providing  as examples Roundy’s work to address issues of child hunger, obesity and food deserts in inner cities.

“These are also DePaul University’s values and why I’m so proud to stand here today. This is no ordinary business degree. It’s a DePaul degree – an institution named for the apostle of charity and service. Your degree stands not just for what you’ve learned but for what you will give back – to your family, to your community, and to your world. Your DePaul degree signals not only knowledge and training – but also ethics, honesty and charity.”

The CEO also urged graduates to do what they love. “Successful business people are wildly passionate about something – anything.  If you’re serious about going into business, you must have passion. Life is short and you don’t want to waste even one day doing something that doesn’t make you happy. Whether you make a dollar or a million – if you find what you love, you will be successful.”

To view a webcast of the Driehaus College of Business 2014 Commencement, visit the DePaul Commencement 2014 website.

Want to meet a member of the Class of 2014?  Read this profile of accountancy graduate Simona Olah on the DePaul Newsroom