Doug Bowser, Nintendo of America's president, offers 3 lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Donkey Kong

Doug Bowser, Nintendo of America's president, offers 3 lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Donkey Kong
Doug Bowser, the president of Nintendo of America.Kevin Winter/Getty Images
  • Nintendo of America's president, Doug Bowser, addressed University of Utah graduates last year.
  • He compared the lessons he learned in his career to the video game Donkey Kong.

Playing video games in a dorm room is not likely a formative part of one's college education, but for Doug Bowser, the pastime became emblematic of his three most valuable career lessons.

The Nintendo of America president delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Utah, in May 2022. He graduated from the school in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in communications.

Imparting his wisdom to the class of 2022, he compared the learning curve of life to a game of Donkey Kong: climbing to new heights as you dodge the barrels and bananas hurled at you. As you level up, you develop new abilities.

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"I can assure you there will be barrels, but you'll learn how to clear them and you'll develop new capabilities," Bowser said. "And when you've successfully reached the end of one challenge, you'll find another one waiting."

Bowser went on to describe the three major levels of his own life in which he learned valuable lessons for his career and for leading a company.


Level 1: Planning for the unplanned

Bowser's first lesson came during his 23-year career at Procter & Gamble. Halfway through his time there, he uprooted his family to accept a role that allowed him to travel across the world, from Hong Kong to Mexico City to Venezuela. With those new adventures came a lot of adjustments and uncertainties.

"Those experiences broadened me so much, and they built the foundation for me and for everyone in my family," he said. "I am so thankful we took those chances."

He advised graduates to stay curious and embrace the things they don't plan for, because the unplanned will happen. "Keep an open mind. Don't be afraid to try new and different paths," he said. "The goal, in the end, is not to get everything right every time. The goal is to try to learn, grow, and get better every time."

Doug Bowser, Nintendo of America's president, offers 3 lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Donkey Kong
The arcade version of Donkey Kong.Jason Kempin/Getty

Level 2: Turning challenges into opportunities

Bowser said he was afraid of failure early in his career, but quickly realized that failure was just another means of learning. "Succeeding is equally about the result achieved as it is an understanding of why you were successful," he said.

The executive faced this lesson over the last two years of the pandemic, leveraging technology for both his family and company to connect, work, and entertain. "We learned a lot about our own fortitude," he said, encouraging graduates to turn challenges into opportunities, just as Donkey Kong presents new ladders for players to climb.


"Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Understanding that discomfort can and did make us better and it will make us better as we go forward."

Level 3: Listening to other voices

During his time abroad, Bowser said he came to a new understanding of diversity as he witnessed three historical conflicts and changes in power: Hong Kong's government transition from English to Chinese sovereignty, the Institutional Revolutionary Party's defeat after 71 years of rule in Mexico, and Hugo Chávez coming into power in Caracas, Venezuela.

"I saw the micro-nuances in how different people and cultures have different ways of communicating, evaluating, even trusting," he said.

Bowser said that early in his career, he always assumed the person in charge of a company knew everything. As he took on more senior-level positions, he realized he didn't have all the answers, but he could listen to others whose perspectives were far different from his own.

"Listening to other voices, other points of view, made me better," he said. "I started making better decisions. The organization became more inclusive, there was a stronger sense of belonging, and our culture got stronger."


Finally, he encouraged graduates to do the same — listen to others. "I remember the line, 'You're born with two ears, two eyes, but just one mouth,'" he said. "That's not a design flaw."

An earlier version of this story appeared on May 11, 2022.