UT Alumnus encourages diversity at trailblazer series

Don Frieson, an alumnus of the University of Tennessee and executive vice president of operations at Sam’s Club, told listeners to embrace diversity while speaking in the College of Communication & Information Scripps Lab on Thursday night.

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The Office of Diversity and Inclusion celebrated the 40th anniversary of its semi-annual Trailblazer series on Wednesday. The series is dedicated to recognizing and honoring the accomplishments of African Americans.

Keynote speaker Don Frieson, a UT alumnus and executive vice president of operations at Sam’s Club, told listeners to embrace diversity while speaking in the College of Communication & Information Scripps Lab.

Courtesy of Camille Gear
Keynote speaker Don Frieson speaking at the Trailblazer series// Courtesy of Camille Gear

Frieson believes that people are too quick to focus on the differences between each other. He encourages getting to know people because if you talk to someone long enough, you will find that you have something in common with them.

“We need to get past diversity and inclusion being about race,” he said. “Diversity to me means people with different views and experiences.”

When considering early career moves, he encouraged those just entering the workplace to take risks. Frieson said later in your career, it is harder to rebound for risks-turned-losses, but early careers can bounce back.

“Everyone gets knocked down. The important part is getting back up,” he said. “How am I prepared for next time?”

Frieson also warned young employees not to be phased by criticism. If you keep focused on the right things, then you can’t put credence in the critics. When success comes to young employees, there are often others that oppose or want to counter that success by saying bad things.

“If you are well-read, well-spoken and do your homework, then no one can be that much better than you,” said Frieson.

Frieson said the reason he donated $1 million to the Frieson Black Cultural Center in October is because as a trailblazer, the legacy he leaves behind is the most important thing to him. He credits UT as the initial step to his success because the center gives UT students a place to grow and further their education.

You can learn more about the trailblazer series, by clicking here.

Camille Gear also contributed to this story

Edited by Jessica Carr and Hannah Hunnicutt

Featured Image by Nathan Odom