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NEW YORK — There is plenty for students to fret about when they graduate from college and try to market themselves to employers, but Stephen I. Sadove, chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Inc., parent of Saks Fifth Avenue, sought to put it in perspective Tuesday.

‘As you set out on your journeys, look at the company and ask about its leadership and its culture,’ Sadove said in his address at the Fashion Institute of Technology commencement in Radio City Music Hall. ‘;Do people enjoy what they do there? Choose an environment where you can learn, grow and push yourself to greater heights.’

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

His speech to some 1,400 students who participated in the ceremony was filled with advice and anecdotes about his own experiences and those who helped him through his career. Those individuals included Massimo Ferragamo of Salvatore Ferragamo, who showed him the ropes of retailing when Sadove switched careers from the consumer products world. ‘;He took me under his wing and taught me about the industry.’

Sadove described the hallmarks of successful corporate leadership: a focus on people, mentoring and an eagerness to listen to employees. ‘Find a company where you are involved, where you are listened to and can grow….The common thread [of successful companies] is a focus on leadership and a clarity of strategy.’

And Sadove said that the students should consider themselves as brands ‘ready to be launched, ready for prime time,’ and realize they’re the most important products to that organization.

As they pursue and grow in their careers, students should keep in mind three important concepts, Sadove said: learning, earning and returning. But he emphasized the latter. ‘The message of returning is one of the most important messages I can leave with you today,’ said Sadove, referring to the importance of supporting charities and causes that help individuals and communities in need.

‘Now you have a responsibility to create your dreams and follow them,’ he said.

FIT also presented honorary degrees to Wanda Ferragamo, honorary chairman of Salvatore Ferragamo Italia, who assumed control of the company in 1960 after the death of her husband and grew it into one of the world’;s most recognized shoe brands, and Chris Madden, the home furnishings designer and entrepreneur with a company that spans licensing, publishing and television.

‘;I love young people. I love family,’;’; Ferragamo said. ‘;When I see a young student, it seems like I see one of my family. I am so happy to be here.’

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