Heidi Petz giving the 2024 Commencement address at the Robins Stadium

Alum Heidi Petz giving the University of Richmond Commencement address on May 12 in the Robins Center Arena.

Industry leader highlights self-awareness in Commencement address

May 21, 2024

Heidi Petz smiled broadly as she processed alongside President Kevin F. Hallock into the Robins Center Arena on May 12 at the start of the main University of Richmond Commencement. Watching Class of 2024 members clad in caps and gowns march in to “Pomp and Circumstance” conjured a déjà vu feeling in Petz, a 1997 alum of the University of Richmond. Twenty-seven years after her own graduation, the president and CEO of The Sherwin-Williams Company returned to campus as her alma mater’s Commencement speaker.

“I’m a very proud graduate of the University of Richmond Jepson School of Leadership Studies,” Petz told Richmond graduates from the School of Arts & Sciences, Robins School of Business, and Jepson School. “The entire experience here was phenomenal. I had all the tools to make good decisions.” 

The good decisions she made in the years following her own graduation, combined with her talent and drive, led to professional roles of increasing responsibility at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Target, Newell Rubbermaid, and beginning in 2017, Sherwin-Williams. In March 2022, she became president of Sherwin-Williams, a global leader in the paint and coatings industry, and in January 2024, its 10th CEO. 

Petz shared three pearls of wisdom with the Class of 2024. 

“You don’t have to have this all figured out on day one,” she said, recounting her own post-graduation experience of moving to London with three friends, $210 in her pocket, and no job. “Number two…bet on yourself, try a few things, and trust you will recover.” 

And third, the business executive emphasized the importance of self-awareness — knowing what you do best and what others do better. “Lean into your strengths…and lean on others for theirs,” she said. “I am one of 64,000 [Sherwin-Williams] employees. The other 63,999 employees are truly helping me drive the success of this company. 

“I have an incredible leadership team around me and often refer to them as athletes. My desire as a leader is to put the best athlete on the field at all times.” 

The third consecutive alum to serve as the University’s Commencement speaker, Petz majored in leadership studies and minored in business administration and speech communication. She received a master’s degree in business administration from Loyola University Maryland. Richmond bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science on her during Commencement. 

The Jepson School was still fairly new when Petz attended orientation roughly 30 years ago. She recalled the professor who welcomed incoming students describing the program’s unique focus: understanding organization, culture, followership, and movement. 

“All of those things appealed to me immediately,” she said. “I thought, someone’s talking just to me. I’m meant to be here.” 

Three decades later, she was the one talking to a new crop of young Spiders, those on the cusp of leaving the University, degrees in hand, to venture out into the world. “Be your best authentic you,” she told the 2024 graduates in closing, “and good things will find you for the rest of your life.”