By Jeff Murphy, May 11, 2023
Roger Best, left, president of the University of Central Missouri, and Ken Weymuth, right, president of the UCM Board of Governors, join in the award presentation recognizing David Hoffmann, a UCM alumnus, businessman and entrepreneur, as recipient of the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
WARRENSBURG, MO – While stressing the value of a strong Midwest work ethic and learning how to turn adversity in opportunities, University of Central Missouri alumnus David Hoffmann, ’74, encouraged the spring 2023 graduating class to be prepared for the challenges that come at a time of technological advancement unlike anything the world has ever experienced.
Hoffmann, the recipient of the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, was honored during the graduate ceremony Friday evening, May 5. While he spoke immediately after the formal award presentation, he also delivered keynote remarks at the graduate ceremony on Saturday morning, May 6, and spoke to near standing-room-only crowds at two undergraduate ceremonies that afternoon. Nearly 2,000 UCM students met degree requirements and were eligible for participation in these graduation exercises, and approximately 1,600 students walked across the commencement stage.
Hoffmann grew up in a small community outside of St. Louis in a home that did not have hot running water until he was in high school. He told the crowd his goal in seeking a college education was to one day have a job where he got to wear a suit. While attending the university, he married his wife, Jerri, who was also pursuing a university degree, and they resided in the mobile home complex that served as married student housing on the southeast side of campus.
“It’s hard to believe but 49 years ago, I was sitting where you are about to receive my college diploma, and take on the world. As exciting as it was to imagine the world I had ahead of me, in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have pictured myself standing before you as I am today. That’s just a testament to how unpredictable life can be,” he told the crowd.
The honorary degree bestowed upon Hoffmann by UCM President Roger Best recognized the outstanding work Hoffmann has done professionally and in service to others through his longtime career as an entrepreneur and businessman. Through such efforts, Best said he has inspired UCM students, employees and alumni, and has set a positive example which others should aspire to emulate.
Although Hoffmann admits that his preference these days is to dress more casually, he has spent a lot of time in business attire as he climbed to the top of his profession, including being named to the Forbes 2022 Billionaires List. In 1989, he founded DHR International, the world’s largest privately held executive search firm. Following the success of this company, he invested in the establishment of Osprey Capital, LLC, a private family office, which includes 110 brands in 27 countries and 200 properties worldwide. Throughout his career, Hoffmann has also contributed to community revitalization efforts and supported non-profit organizations in communities where he has resided in the states of Colorado, Florida and Illinois, and elsewhere in the United States. Most recently, he and his wife, Jerri, have returned to their Missouri roots to support efforts to revitalize America’s first wine region in Augusta.
In his remarks, Hoffmann retraced his professional journey, reflecting on a few setbacks that challenged him, but strengthened his resolve to succeed. Such obstacles came early. Shortly before he graduated from Central Missouri, for example, he was offered a job at a manufacturing plant in Mexico, Missouri. After he and his wife celebrated by buying a new car and clothes, he learned that the company had fired the person who had hired him, and there was no record of him receiving a job offer. He moved on, finding work in North Dakota, and after eight months, he took a job in Chicago. At age 32, the board chair at the company in which he was employed asked for his opinion about an individual that he had in mind for the company president’s position. This conversation did not end well for Hoffmann.
“I told the chairman in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t any good and I thought it would be a mistake (to hire the new president),” Hoffmann said. “The mistake was, I didn’t realize they were best friends, and I got fired.”
Despite such an outcome, this was an important turning point in his life. He began to take steps that led to the creation of the Hoffmann Family of companies, which today employs nearly 10,000 people across the globe within a portfolio that includes businesses in agriculture, aviation, financial services hospitality, business and professional services, real estate, media, marketing and much more.
“Graduates, my message to you is don’t let roadblocks and adversity deter you from your ambitions. See them as opportunities,” he said.
Hoffmann pointed out that in every endeavor, he has built a business culture that also applied the Midwest work ethic. His approach to business and life has been influenced by the Cowboy Code: “Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Always finish what you start. Do what has to be done. Be tough, but fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Ride for the brand. Talk less and say more. And remember, some things aren’t for sale.”
He said that when he was a university student, some of the issues faced by the United States were similar to what it faces today.
“Your generation will be dealing with a revolutionary change that is the biggest the planet has ever experienced. That change will be the presence of artificial intelligence,” he said. “I grew up in an era where I saw the invention of the cell phone, the introduction of the internet, Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon, TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram and countless others. Artificial Intelligence will be bigger than all of these technological advances combined. It will affect how people live and every aspect of their lives. If not adapted correctly, it has the potential to destroy. If placed in the wrong hands it has the potential to outsmart humans and operate independently.”
“Pay attention, care about the future of mankind, care about the planet,” he urged graduates while concluding his remarks.
In addition to UCM’s official commencement ceremonies on May 5 and 6, a number of other activities took place during the weekend or in the days leading up to this annual spring celebration honoring UCM’s new graduates. These activities included ROTC’s commissioning ceremony for Second Lieutenants entering into service in the United States Army, the School of Nursing’s pinning ceremony, The Honors College’s outdoor ceremony, UCM PRISM’s Lavender graduation and more.