The Principled Achievement Initiative at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business recognizes values-based leadership. The school is dedicated to this concept, with a focus on educating the next generation of principled leaders to imagine the great business opportunities of the day, and to live a life of principled achievement.

On May 2, 2023, AnnaMaria DeSalva was recognized with the business school’s prestigious Principled Achievement Award. The award recognizes a leader who serves as a role model for principled leadership, promotes diversity of thought, demonstrates ethical, compassionate behavior, and embraces the tenants of the William & Mary Honor Code.

The following remarks were shared by AnnaMaria DeSalva at the Principled Achievement Award ceremony.

Thank you, Ken and Todd, for those very generous introductions.

Ken, it was wonderful being on your Leadership & Business podcast this afternoon and talking about this very special award and my career experiences. You are such an outstanding communicator yourself and a real leader in the discipline—it’s no surprise your podcast has received so many well-deserved awards and accolades.

Todd, thank you for your great leadership of the Mason School. In less than a year on the job, you are leaving your mark, building on your earlier 27 years of distinguished service on the William & Mary faculty.

I want to thank all of you for being here. I know many of you are donors and alumni in the greater dc area. Your support is crucial to the success of our university in so many areas: research, teaching, athletics, and many others.

To my friends and colleagues who are here from various university boards, it’s a pleasure and an honor to have you here. It’s just great to see you. Thank you.

Actually, as I pictured myself this evening speaking to so many accomplished business, policy, and academic leaders, I couldn’t help but think:  Not bad for an English major!

I suspect there are several English and humanities majors among us who are living proof of the enduring value of a liberal arts education at William & Mary.

I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award—particularly following in the footsteps of Dean Larry Pulley. Larry epitomizes the words “principled achievement” through his long and inspired leadership of the Mason School. He and a lot of other dedicated people carefully built a reputation for excellence, which is the foundation for many more great things to come.

We all know that William & Mary has a long and distinguished history of producing principled leaders whose achievements reflect their commitment to serve and to make a difference—a track record that is vividly on display in the room tonight.

One of the things I love about our alma mater is its long—some might say ancient—tradition of constantly renewing itself around an enduring sense of purpose.

This heritage is reflected in the ambitious goals the university has established for the future—to significantly expand its reach, to educate for impact, and to evolve, in order to excel.

Principled leadership is right at the heart of all these goals—and it’s up to all of us not just to be those leaders today, but to constantly source and prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

This brings me to the subject of talent and the trust—and I would call it a sacred trust—that we as parents, educators, and employers have to nurture and develop the next generations of leaders, creators, and doers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that trust, and it makes me want to share with you just a minute of my story this evening.

Back in the day, I was a dyed-in-the-wool English major—a student of Victorian and early 20th century literature no less—yet I was also very compelled to have a career in business.

Despite the skepticism of some and with the support of many others, I blended my curriculum, and I trusted the outcome.

Studying English at William & Mary gave me the core skills to pursue a career in communication, a field I rightly expected had the potential to take me places.

I could not have predicted, however, that my mix of interests and a career in communication would bring me deep into the worlds of medicine, agriculture, material science, quantum physics, and global supply chain management.  And now, in my current role, into the realm of creative advisory for nearly every industry, in nearly every corner of the globe.

I’ve learned across my career that the effort to form communication strategy often illuminates the contours of an effective business strategy. And that through our work as communicators, we can often help light the path for greater innovation, better decisions, more creative and durable solutions, and more effective leadership.

Perhaps that’s why I also learned I could play a larger role in management and governance—and in creating better futures for people and communities—than I had ever really imagined possible.

For these opportunities, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to every person who took an interest in me, who offered me love and encouragement, who tolerated my mistakes, and who helped me reach deeper into myself—and out into the world.

These include principled leaders who have been so important in my life: people who served unselfishly as mentors and allies; who lift others up; who’ve been ethical and compassionate; and who really open the gates of opportunity for all.

I’ve been blessed to have such people in my life. I try to reflect back such principles and values in all my endeavors, which is why I am so touched and honored to be here with you tonight.

Finally, let me say that I can’t think of a time in my lifetime when principled leadership has mattered more.

In our business right now, we are working every day on the problems of polarization, geopolitical risk, disruptive technology, and loss of trust. It’s a time of heightened risk, radical innovation, and, in many respects, outsized opportunity.

Communication plays a big role in converting risk to opportunity and in supporting the values of civil discourse and open-mindedness that are so important to our democracy and its future. That’s why I’m proud of our university for leading efforts to practice and promote democratic ideals in pursuit of what our constitution calls “a more perfect union.”

This is a good place for me to pause to thank my colleagues at Hill+Knowlton, several of whom are here tonight, for their outstanding leadership as well—not only in making H+K the success it is in our industry, but in showing how critical communication is to the transformations that the world needs now.

Principled leaders are making the difference in so many domains, and all of them deserve our admiration and sincere thanks. More importantly, they deserve our wholehearted support and encouragement.

The task ahead of us is big: we have to work together to unlock the potential of our future leaders and equip them with the skills and vision to meet the grand challenges of our time.

Fortunately, we have a great university on our side—with outstanding students, faculty, and administrators, and committed alumni. Being part of the extended William & Mary family makes me very optimistic about our future—and I hope you feel the same.

Thank you.