As Kathleen “Leeny" Oberg '78 ascended through the professional ranks to her current position as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Marriott International, she relied on lessons instilled during her years at Norfolk Academy.
Oberg, a Norfolk Academy Trustee and the keynote speaker at Convocation to launch the Year of Togetherness, said that many people say that people succeed due to “smarts or hard work." Those are significant attributes, she acknowledged, but there is something much more important. “The higher you go, the more character matters," she said.
Her remarks on the primacy of integrity came on a day of solemn significance for Norfolk Academy: In addition to Convocation, it was also S. Barron Segar Day, when the members of the Royster Middle School Honor Council and Tunstall Upper School Honor Council are sworn into office by Headmaster Dennis Manning, promising to use impartiality, objectivity, and a careful consideration of circumstances as they adjudicate cases.
The Honor Council members seek to provide education about the Honor System throughout the year, and that process began immediately. Honor Council Chair Avery Britt '22 spoke about living up to the high standards of honor and recognizing the responsibility that students must embrace in their “honor journey at Norfolk Academy."
Britt's speech mingled practical tips, such as encouraging students to ask teachers for clarification about assignment guidelines, and an elevated appeal to principles. “Honor provides stability, community, and a common goal that every member of our community seeks to uphold," Britt said, closing her speech on an upbeat note. “This is going to be a fantastic year."
Oberg commended the members of the Honor Council, and through her remarks, gave students a vision of the many ways that the lessons of the school's honor system shape actions in the real world. Oberg earned a B.S. in commerce from University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce and her M.B.A. from Stanford University. She worked at Goldman Sachs, Chase Manhattan Bank, and The Ritz-Carlton, in addition to a variety of positions at Marriott. For two years, she was based in London, serving as senior vice president, International project finance and asset management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Throughout her professional journey, she learned that “integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking," she said.
Moments that tested her character started early in her career: When she was two years out of school, an executive at the bank asked her to do a mathematical calculation that would tilt favorably toward lending money to an important client at a lower interest rate. The executive said, chillingly, “Leeny, no one will notice." She declined to do the calculation, because she knew it was wrong, and she later learned that the executive who had made the request had been fired.
She told students that the space where “no one is looking" gets larger as one succeeds in professional life, and individuals must rely on their own moral compass about doing what is right. Through repeated ethical actions, you demonstrate that "you will do what you say you will do," and you build trust that leads not only to success, but also to respect.
“Follow the Honor Code. It's the best thing you can do for yourself and your community," Oberg said. “It's the shared set of values that makes all of us lifelong Bulldogs."
This year's Convocation, usually an all-school gathering, was scaled back due to pandemic health protocols. Seniors and 9th graders attended in person in Burroughs Gymnasium, along with Board of Trustees President Alfred M. Randolph Jr. '80 and several trustees, while more students and faculty watched the livestream of the event from classrooms.
Several students participated in the event: Tunstall Student Council President Oliver Jones '22 gave the invocation; Royster Student Council President Will Burnette '25 led the Pledge of Allegiance; and Royster Honor Council Chair Xander Dukas '25 offered the benediction. Music Teacher Cheney Doane played a keyboard arrangement of the National Anthem.