Building A Career

April 2, 2014

By Matt Hawkins

Looking back on nearly four decades in the business world, Bradley alum Howard Lance ’77 noted the importance of mentors, versatility and an open-minded approach to opportunities. Lance, an executive advisor at The Blackstone Group and retired Harris Corporation CEO, spoke to Bradley students in late March.

An undergraduate co-op experience at Caterpillar set Lance on an engineering path, but early career opportunities to work with customers opened new possibilities.

“It was like a light switch went off, so I decided to give it a shot,” he said. “I had no background in business so I had no business doing it, but I was lucky I had mentors.”

That led to a shift to the business management side that defined the rest of his career.

“I never thought I would be a CEO or aspire to be a CEO until my late 30s,” Lance said. “If you take care of the job you have, the next job will take care of itself.”

With technology ubiquitous in both business and engineering, he recognized the need for the modern workforce to be versatile in both fields. Thus, convergence efforts like those on the Hilltop are needed.

“The notion of convergence, which Bradley is leading in, is the forefront of what’s going on in business,” Lance said. “In the end, for a commercial enterprise, it’s not just about creating things but creating things people will buy.”

“The sooner you can get these capabilities, the better you’ll be and Bradley is on the cutting edge,” he added. “It’s the right thing at the right time.”

In addition to cross-disciplinary knowledge, Lance encouraged students to be lifelong learners who can adapt to an ever-evolving world.

“Markets can change overnight. Many organizations 20 years ago who would’ve been market leaders are now market laggers. What you’ve got here is important, but do you have the skills to go forward?” he said. “The days of being able to come out of college, start your career and go into the cubicle are gone. We need people who can go into bigger cubicles and work with four, six, eight people and solve problems.”

In addition to a diverse skill set, Lance suggested students seek wise counsel. Mentors, he said, were crucial to his success.

“What I am is a compilation of all these great people who taught and allowed me to do things,” he said. “I could not achieve what I have in life without them. I’m a product of their good guidance.”

Lance’s wisdom resonated with mechanical engineering majors Adam Smetters ’14 and Andrew Davis ’14.

“Convergence is important for engineering because it teaches us how to think differently,” Smetters said.
“As a senior close to graduating, a lot of things he said are what I’m considering,” said Davis, noting points Lance made about prioritizing time and details.

Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, Foster College of Business, Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Honors Program cosponsored the presentation.