Charlie Hoffman, Former President and CEO of Covad Communications
Thank you. I'm honored to be here with such a distinguished group of faculty and parents. We're here to celebrate the hard work, resiliency, and many achievements of today's graduates.
You graduates will always remember this day, but you probably won't remember your commencement speaker. I have no idea who spoke to my class back in the mid 70's. But I'm hoping that you'll remember a few stories that I would like to talk about today.
Like many of you, I began UMSL as a veteran. In my case it was Vietnam, a very unpopular war, and veterans were not appreciated as is the case today. So, while keeping my military experience quiet, but using the GI Bill and the discipline learned in the Air Force, I started at UMSL. By then I had accumulated two little boys, and a full time job at Brown Shoe Co. in Clayton.
We lived in my grandmother's basement in south St. Louis. For five years I raced up and down Hanley Road from Brown in Clayton to catch a class and get back to work as I completed my degrees. Then, as now, UMSL afforded me a serious education and an amazing value. The speeding tickets on Hanley and the parking tickets at UMSL were a small price to pay for the start that UMSL gave me.
My career subsequently took me away from St. Louis for nearly 25 years, and upon retirement I was thrilled to reconnect with UMSL and find that some of the same professors are still teaching, and the mission of the university continues to be fulfilled.
It's only after years of working and time to reflect, that you realize the impact that college has had on your life.
A couple of things I have learned:
If you haven't found it yet, find your passion. Figure out what you love to do, what interests you, what challenges you. And find a way to fulfill that passion. In the Air Force and in my experience at UMSL I developed an interest in managing and developing young people. I was able to mentor a number of men and women in my career who have gone on to senior executive positions in their companies. Helping develop leaders is crucial for our institutions. Most institutions are over managed and under led. You can't run a company by staring at a computer and analyzing statistics. Developing your leadership skills - learning how to motivate others - is essential to personal and professional success. Whatever your passion is, take a leadership role - make something happen for your employer.
I experienced a lot of good luck in my career, but as my wife, here in the audience, never fails to remind me, I was ready for each opportunity because I focused on results, achieving the goals, and people, helping people develop the skills to replace me when I was offered the chance to move on. I was actually shocked when one of my first bosses was clear that I could not be promoted until I developed a replacement manager. In a very modest way, I have assisted a friend in the writing of 3 books on the subjects of leadership development, using my experiences and those of others, and to this day, it is the main thing that interests me as I work with companies as one of their directors. Work at finding what your passion is, and don't settle until you are able to follow it. Success, however you define success, will follow.
The other message I wanted to pass on: I was fortunate to be in on the ground floor of the wireless business. I was the first general manager in St. Louis, responsible for building the network, hiring the salespeople and agents, establishing customer service, etc. You're probably not aware that St. Louis was actually the third market in the country to provide cellular service. We could imagine a world in which business people progressed from car phones, to suitcase phones, to today's small portable phones, but in our wildest dreams in 1984 we could not imagine a smart phone with more processing power than the mainframe computers I sold in the 70's, and we certainly could not imagine my 86 year old mother in law and our 8 year old grandkids social networking with i phones. I used to tell my kids when they were little that some day phones would not be stuck to the wall, never imagining how dramatically wireless would evolve.
So, here's the message from someone who spent an entire career helping advance to everything wireless - put down and turn off that phone sometimes, and actually talk to people. You will advance in your career with focus, hard work, and making things happen for your employer - None of those things are accomplished by returning your e-mails right now, or keeping up with you-tube videos. One of my sisters just retired as a cancer researcher, and one of the drivers to her retirement decision was her frustration with the young scientists who took calls, texted, and listened to music while doing their experiments - and later wondered why the experiment didn't work! Enjoy your wireless device, use it as a personal and professional tool, but don't substitute texting for real human interaction.
Finally, a word about humility as you celebrate your great accomplishment today. It is a fact that a disproportionate number of public company CEO's come from state schools and small schools from the Midwest. Why not elite schools like Harvard and Stanford? Well , a modest UMSL graduate like me, has had many Harvard, Stanford and Wharton MBA's work for me. Every one of them was super smart and could present wonderful ideas. Too few of them worked on the most important skill - selecting, motivating and evaluating people. Many had not developed the ability to work with others to accomplish a goal. They often thought they were the smartest people in the room so they didn't listen. Many were arrogant.
UMSL grads are in demand because you work well with others, and make things happen. And when you don't know the answer, have the humility and develop the ability to say "I don't know, but let me get back to you." Of course, then do so and make things happen for your employer. You can also use that line when your grandmother says, like mine did, now that you've graduated from UMSL, when will
you move out of my basement? You can say, "I don't know, but let me get back to you."
I was fortunate to work directly for two billionaires - one of whom is now acknowledged as the richest guy in the world. The other one ,Ted Rogers, was Canada's most successful entrepreneur, starting from nothing to billions invested in wireless, cable, radio, magazines, and newspapers. Ted had a practice of using a tired old phrase constantly. While he didn't originate the phrase, he made it his own with his passion, his optimistically constant search for new ideas, and his persistence for better results. He closed every meeting and every speech and motivated everyone who heard it with the phrase, "the best is yet to come."
Your UMSL graduation is a not an end, but a beginning of your quest to develop your passions. Follow them with humility and good work collaborating with others, and your best is yet to come. Thank you.