Commencement Address: Trustee Rajesh Soin MSIE ’71
May 15, 2010
Good evening. I want to start by congratulating the graduates on their great success. I also want to commend the efforts made by parents and faculty in supporting students in their achievements in getting here.
I am truly honored to be here. You may wonder how I found myself in this position. Well, our President, Joanne Glasser, knows I have a great love for this institution and for this country. So, she appealed to my patriotic feels and asked, “Raj, what do you think is the most important right under the Bill of Rights?”
I answered, of course, “Free speech.” She said, “Wonderful, because that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.” Now, you might be worried that you are going to get exactly what you paid for. I hope that is not the case.
I have a special place in my heart for Bradley. Coming here is like coming home. Peoria was the first city I came to when I came to America and where I started my career. It has been more than 40 years since my initial stay in Peoria, and Bradley still feels like home. The knowledge, skills and comradeship I gained from my time here have served me well. Having this opportunity to perhaps in some small way add to what you have gained from your Bradley experience is a big responsibility, and I’ll try to do my best.
As I look back at my career since graduation, it has been an interesting, challenging, bumpy, as well as very rewarding, ride along the way. I learned a lot of lessons, and I would like to share some of those lessons with you today.
First, as a businessman and entrepreneur, I understand and appreciate that the most important resource I have is my people. I’m sure you’ve all heard that before. But what is the basis for my saying that? You may say, “Well, obviously it’s because the people do the work.” You are correct, there’s doing the work, but before there is work to do, there’s creating work. What do I mean by that? I mean that someone must have the vision to see what the marketplace needs today and in the future. That vision must be refined into a strategy that enables the marshalling of the resources needed to generate ideas and convert those ideas into real products and services that stand out in the market, that reflect creative and advanced thinking, and that customers highly value. Creators. Advanced thinkers. Valuable people. The kind of people you need to be.
Becoming those people starts with preparing yourselves by immersion into a proven, challenging academic environment, as you have done through your association with Bradley’s advanced degree programs.
You must be the well-prepared, creative, advanced thinkers that enable the organization you join to be successful. As an employer, that is how I would place value on you as individuals and as potential contributors to my business. You have worked hard and earned your degrees. You have established an academic record that shows you can think at higher levels and can produce under stress. A great deal of hard work has been done. Much has been accomplished and demonstrated, but this is only the beginning.
You have been prepared well for your entry into the business world. Does that mean that your learning is now over and it’s time to get to work? It does not, because what you bring to the workplace today will probably not be adequate in the future. So you ask, what must I do now and in the future?
I would like to offer you some thoughts on what I call focus areas. By focus areas, I mean fundamental facts that should be used to frame how you see your environment and how you act. These are driven by the business environment.
The first focus area is the ability to adapt. The need for adaptability is driven by today’s unprecedented rate of change. This rate of change applies to both the industrial area, as well as the information area.
In the industrial area, there are several trends and shifts that stand out. In the U.S., we have seen a significant shift in our industrial base away from manufacturing to a more services-oriented economy. The role of information technology has rapidly expanded and has impacted all areas, including traditional manufacturing functions. The tool and die industry is a good example. Tool design and production now utilize state-of-the-art computer tools and applications, replacing traditional methods. Foreign competition has significantly impacted industries that were traditionally strongholds of the U.S. economy. Automotive and aerospace stand out as significant examples. U.S. firms are moving operations off-shore, motivated by nations offering significant tax advantages, lower labor costs, direct monetary incentives, and the opportunity to improve companies’ proximity and access to emerging and expanding foreign markets.
In the information area, the rate of change today is rapid and in many cases, accelerating. Just look around you. When I started my business in the mid 1980s, we used to have a large contingent of employees in administrative functions providing support, manually preparing presentations and proposals. Today, those functions are being performed by very few employees using the research capabilities and graphics of computers. It used to take days of effort in analyzing the competitors and getting information on competition that can be done in minutes using the information available on the Internet. Today, I do not think there will be anybody in this room that does not have full access to the information in a small device in their pocket.
What is more remarkable is the rate at which the change is taking place. What used to take decades in changing technologies is being done in days. Look at how that change in the product and service has changed our very behavior. I was talking to my six-year-old granddaughter a few days back, and we were looking for a specific toy. I really did not know what stores in the Sarasota area would carry those toys, and as I was looking for the phone book, she suddenly said, “Dadoo (‘grandpa’ in Hindi), why not Google it?” A simple statement like that is a reminder of how much our world has changed and how easy and quick it has become to get information.
Similarly, as you are looking for a job, you have access to a lot more information on employers, and at the same time, employers have a lot more information on you than what you provide on an application form.
What does this mean for you? It means you must help your organization focus on what’s coming and prepare for it. It means you must focus on being adaptable, on being ready for change, and be prepared for that change so you can be on the front line and be seen as a leader and visionary—yes, even a creator of change. You must adapt personally, and you must help the organization to adapt.
The second focus area is understanding the global business environment. I use the term “global” in both a narrow sense and a broad sense.
In the narrow sense, your global focus should be on your organization or enterprise. You must think beyond the confines of your function or element in the enterprise. You must think about and be able to communicate how what you or your team is doing can affect the bigger organization. Most importantly, you must be able to show how that thinking can help the organization as a whole to deal with the changing business environment.
In the broad sense of global, you must recognize that from an economic interconnection and interrelationship perspective, the world is flat. We can all “see and touch” each other. How broad is the impact of today’s rate of change? It is global. The global economy is interconnected in ways never thought of before.
The products are being designed at one part of the world, components are being built in different continents, and then the end product may be assembled in another country. A good example of such a scenario is large aircraft assembled in the U.S. Once you lay out where each of the functions is being done and where components are being manufactured, you can start to develop the appreciation of logistical coordination involved in the current environment.
A simple thing which all of us have experienced is the calls we get these days or when we call for service. The people attending to our calls or responding to or questions can be in different countries and continents. At the same time, with an increasing number of consumers in developing countries like China, India and Brazil, a lot of resources and manufacturing are moving toward those countries.
With the increasing globalization of trade, the U.S. businesses are starting to be impacted by regulations from other countries. You may recall back in 2001 when General Electric proposed to buy Honeywell International. This was a merger of two U.S. firms that was blocked by European regulators. The EU’s Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said in a released statement, “The merger between GE and Honeywell, as it was notified, would have severely reduced competition in the aerospace industry and resulted ultimately in higher prices for customers, particularly airlines.”
More recently, we have seen issues between Google and China and some other countries have an impact on how our business operates.
To be a valued member of your organization, you must be able to think about global economic issues, to anticipate how they might impact company strategies or plans, and to help the organization effectively deal with those issues before they have an adverse impact.
The third focus area is positive attitude. Webster defines attitude as “a mental posture.” Your attitude is reflected in how you act and how you react. The first two focus areas, adaptability and global perspective, are affected by your attitude. As a leader, I want people who have an attitude that causes them to bring me solutions, not problems. I want people who are always saying “here’s how we can do that,” not people who say “here’s why we can’t do that.” I want an attitude that shows loyalty to our purpose.
When I am looking at hiring executives, the biggest thing I look at is attitude. I know that education and experience are important. However, I also realize that by the time we get to the final decision point the basic requirements are met by all of the candidates. The discriminator I use is the attitude. It is the people with right attitude who will adjust and succeed in this changing environment. I have often been quoted as saying, “I do not worry about the industry or the product, but if you give me the right horse, I will bet on any race.”
How does what I’m telling you align with what we know companies are looking for in new employees today? If you surf the web, you’ll get literally thousands of hits. If you look at these sources and assess a few, you begin to see a lot of commonality across various reports or analyses. Many point out that employers certainly want the specialized skills needed for a given job. Your education provides you with those skills. But there’s more. Beyond those skills, there are important traits or behaviors employers value. They often say these are missing in new employees:
Good work ethic. This ties directly, in my opinion, to your ability to adapt and to your attitude. What you envisioned as the [ideal] job may turn out in reality to be much different. You can adapt, or you can be discouraged and show a lack of enthusiasm or commitment. You can seize the challenges as opportunities, or you can resign yourself to failure.
Analytical skills. I relate this to the focus of thinking globally, within the organization (my “narrow” global), and beyond it to the marketplace (my “broad” global). Being able to analyze business or market trends and tie those back to actions needed in the workplace is highly valued by employers.
Interpersonal skills. This is all about attitude. By building teams and trust and enabling synergy among various skill sets, you cannot only display a strong positive attitude, but you can help foster that same attitude in your coworkers.
In summary, I’m suggesting that you maintain a focus on being able to rapidly adapt, to think globally and understand the changes that will affect your personal and organizational situation, and to develop and display a positive attitude.
You recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – the top need is self-actualization. That is defined as the quest for reaching one’s potential as a person. Unlike the lower level needs, this is never fully satisfied. As one grows psychologically, there are always new opportunities to continue to grow. How many people settle for a job that meets the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, that is physiological needs, or survival. The job enables the person to meet their basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. It pays the bills. But the job doesn’t make them want to jump out of bed in the morning and say, “I just can’t wait to get to work!” They end up self-actualizing through organizations outside of work, such as local politics, Little League, or a drama group.
So I tell you to find that job that allows you to do what you love. Perhaps you can create that job in an organization by showing how it would bring significant value, and even how it could help deal with the three focus areas of adaptability, thinking globally, and maintaining a positive attitude. I’ll challenge you to even find a way to start your own organization, centered around what you love to do. In the early part of my business career, I tried to set up a number of businesses by copying what others were doing and did not have any success. In reality I had major failures. It was not until I tried to get into business doing what I loved to do, like engineering, that I had real success.
Why do I stress doing what you love so much? Because, in my experience, that impacts the one factor I look for when considering someone to bring into my organization – attitude. Remember this was the third focus area I stressed earlier. It deserves repeating. For me, it’s at the top of my list. People doing what they love display a strong, driven attitude. I want people who fit an old saying that goes, “Give me five more like them, and we’ll ride into hell and put out the fire!” I want that person who is doing what they love while they meet their job requirements, and who at the same time says, “Have we ever looked at this in a different way, such as…,” or “Here’s an approach I have been working on that accounts for…”
Above all of what I have stressed—the three focus areas of adaptability, thinking globally and maintaining a strong, personal attitude—you must be committed and willing to stay the course. The path is difficult and requires hard work and dedication. I’d like to repeat a quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press on’ has always solved and always will solve the problems of human race.”
I have grown up as a Hindu, and in Hindu mythology there is a lot of significance of luck in being able to realize your ultimate goals. I have heard two definitions of luck that really are very sound.
First, “Luck happens when opportunity meets preparedness.” I think you have to put in a lot of effort in preparing and should be ready for the right opportunity.
Second, my favorite one really sums it up. “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Thank you, and all the best as you embark on the next exciting and challenging phase of your lives!