May 2012 Commencement Address
Dr. Gary Stimac
Thank you, Dr. Daniel Johnson and WLC, for this honor. What a great day to celebrate and give thanks.
To the graduates,
A few years ago, I was sitting in your seat. My parents were in the audience, my friends and relatives were cheering me on, and we were having two graduation parties – one for the relatives and one for my college friends.
I had just finished four years of school and had thousands of dollars in student loans. I was ready to take the next step in my life, and I’m sure you’re ready, too. The moving van was scheduled for Monday morning. My wife, Sue, and I packed the car with our dog and most of our belongings; we were moving to Texas. We had our entire life savings with us. Most of the dollars we had left came from graduation gifts. To friends and relatives, please do not forget the graduation cards with checks or cash. These students may be living on those gifts before they receive their first paycheck. We certainly did.
I feel very blessed to have gone to college, blessed for the education I received, and blessed to have parents and a wife who supported me through school. Half of my college education cost was paid for by my parents; the money came from my mom as well as my dad’s POW money from World War II. The second half was provided by my wife, personal savings, summer jobs, and college loans. Today I would state that the BEST financial investment I ever made was for my college education – we should say thank you to the parents who supported the graduates and again to Dr. Daniel Johnson and the entire staff here at WLC for the education you received.
I have heard that over half of the young people in the U.S. cannot afford a college education. We are truly blessed by God for our education.
My message today consists of 4 parts:
- God has a plan
- It’s okay to take risks
- Surround yourself with effective people
- And follow Gary’s “B”s – I will explain what Gary’s “B”s are in a few minutes
Let’s talk about priorities for your life. Your priorities should be God 1st, family 2nd, and career 3rd. That may sound a little strange to the secular world. The secular world tells us to put ourselves first - it’s all about me. They have it wrong.
As Dr. Daniel Johnson says and you have learned here at WLC, we have an awesome God. We came into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I believe everything we have is a gift from God. These gifts include our intellect, our education, and everything that we have acquired. These gifts are God’s, and part of our responsibility as servant leaders is to use these gifts and follow God’s plan.
As I studied the Bible, I found several key messages and commands. God created the world and it was a perfect world, and then Sin came into the world. God made a covenant with Abraham and God’s people for our salvation. The Bible tells us: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God also gives us a command – a mission in life: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Sprit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
God has a plan for us and for our salvation, and our first priority is to know God’s plan, to follow it, and participate in it.
Part of God’s plan is to prepare you for work in the world. Today I’m going to talk about your careers. When I refer to business, I’m also referring to how you will be participating in God’s work. I believe that the same skills you need to execute a successful business plan can also be applied to executing God’s plan.
Sometimes we need to take risks. Gary Greenfield took a risk when starting Wisconsin Lutheran College. He saw a need for a liberal arts college with a Christian environment. He saw it as an opportunity. Wisconsin Lutheran College is taking risks by starting new programs like the nursing major, graduate studies, and the Pathways to College program.
Pastor Mark Jeske took a risk in starting Time of Grace. I consider Time of Grace a successful organization carrying out God’s plan. This week, more people heard the Word of God from the Time of Grace broadcast than all the people who attended a WELS church service. That is impressive!
You also are prepared for the next step – it’s okay to take risks. The first risk I took was going to an engineering school – Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). I did not know anything about engineering when I started.
To better understand what an engineering career was, I opted for a six-month co-op program. I worked for Oster Corporation. For 6 months, I did UL testing of blenders – grinding over 100 pounds of carrots every day. This experience taught me what I did not want to do for the rest of my life – grind carrots. Sometimes you have to learn what you do not want to do before you figure out what you do want to do.
I wanted a design engineering job using digital electronics. I strongly recommend that you get some experience in your chosen career – co-op, be a summer intern, or volunteer. Even if you do not have a job waiting, get whatever experience you can in that field.
The second risk was moving from Wisconsin to Texas – Milwaukee did not have any high-tech jobs. Yes, I moved from the “Promised Land”. We gave up Friday night fish fries and replaced them with Texas barbeque. We missed a lot of family events and Summer Fest. In the beginning, we missed a lot of Packer games – the Dallas Cowboys were on T.V., and we did not have satellite T.V. at the time. It was the right move for me, and I believe it was part of God’s plan for our family.
The third risk was working for this unknown company called Texas Instruments. They were one of the first companies starting the digital revolution.
When I started, we were required to go to orientation. That’s where I met Kel Walker – a senior engineering manager. He was very experienced and everyone looked up to him. He asked us a write down our answers to this question: “What business is Texas Instruments in?”
He told us if we get the wrong answer, we would fail at Texas Instruments. How would you have answered that question? I wrote down my answer and it was wrong. I described the products and services that TI was producing at the time.
Kel Walker told us, “Texas Instruments is in the business to make money.” You need a product or service that has a value proposition your customers are willing to pay for. Your value proposition must be better than your competition’s. Even today I find that question and answer profoundly pertinent. That thought will stay with me as long as I’m alive. The amount of money made from products or services in an ethical way is a measure of the value proposition. Companies that are profitable can reinvest and grow.
Even non-profit and church organizations need to have a value proposition that people are willing to pay for. I view WLC and Time of Grace as doing God’s work, but I also view them as businesses. That does not mean that non-profit organizations need to make money, but they need to break even. They have expenses that need to be paid for.
You need to look for companies that have a value proposition that people are willing to pay for.
So I’m going to define business success simply as: Being in business a long time and getting a return on the investment and being profitable and effective at executing a business plan. Successful organizations need to grow and need to operate with best practices; they must continually reinvent themselves and show continuous improvement. An organization that is not growing is probably going to die.
One question you should ask yourself is “What is your value proposition?” You also need to show continuous improvement and growth.
Your generation is advantaged over my generation. Remember I graduated “B.C.” - before calculators, before cell phones, before personal computers, and before the internet. You have grown up with personal computers, the internet, and other communication devices like smart phones and tablets. Students graduating today have a unique capability of being able to communicate and network that older generations do not have. Knowing how to use Facebook and other social media platforms makes you advantaged.
Here is an example: There is a church mission named Grace in the Caribbean island of Grenada. Wisconsin Lutheran College supports this mission with faculty and student visits. Hundreds of students have done mission work there and provided humanitarian efforts. Students and faculty have offered sports camps, medical screening, and marine biology studies on the island.
The mission has also started a church and school construction project. A donor involved in this mission has contributed funds for the construction project and offered a $50,000 challenge, offering a dollar for dollar match for new contributions to the project.
A WLC student, who is graduating today and was part of the group of students who volunteered in Grenada, shared the challenge with his Facebook friends so they might make donations to the building project and take advantage of the matching offer. As of two days ago, there were over 1,500 gifts and more coming in. I don’t even know 1,500 people. That’s truly amazing!
Our pastor in Grenada wrote: I have to tell you that most of these people are young adults and it is very neat to see the next generation so creatively on fire for God's work. That’s neat. Thank you, Nathan. You’re the kind of person I want to have on my team!
Using these new ways to communicate and network is an advantage. Use this as a value proposition for your future. God wants you to be successful, but let me redefine the term successful. The world defines people who are successful as people who have material goods: large homes in the best areas, lots of money, and material possessions like cars.
God wants you to be effective in your lives and your careers. Let me redefine success as: Being effective in your career, and most importantly, being effective in participating in God’s plan.
My fourth risk was leaving TI and helping start Compaq Computer Corporation as employee number five. How could this startup compete against IBM? No one had successfully competed against IBM in the past. Some of the largest, most successful companies today were not here 40 years ago, like Microsoft, Google, and Apple.
Let me describe the computer companies in the 70s and early 80s. Most computer companies were integrated companies – they designed, manufactured, sold, and supported their own proprietary products. Like IBM, they had their own semi-conductor facility, design organizations, manufacturing, system software, applications, and service and support. Unless you had all of those things in place, you had no chance of succeeding.
The microprocessors and semiconductor industry that developed in the 80s changed the model. The building blocks were available to build computer systems. That’s how Apple and Microsoft started. The major change to the commercial computing industry came when IBM introduced the PC. They legitimized desktop computing as a business and birthed an entire new industry and business model. The open architecture of the PC created an opportunity for Microsoft, Intel, and CPQ.
Personal computers lead us to the Internet. The Internet is changing every aspect of every business, giving us the capability to share information and communicate to the entire world.
There was one more very critical piece of the puzzle that came together in the early 80s - venture capital funding. Starting a new business took a lot of capital – millions of dollars. Venture capital firms invested in the people who could create a business from an idea.
Hundreds of companies started in the computer industry, but only a few survived. So why did CPQ succeed? The answer is the EFFECTIVE PEOPLE who worked there. We took the risk. We recognized the opportunity and put together a team of the most effective people we could find.
What makes WLC successful? – The people working here. What makes Time of Grace successful? – The people in the organization.
So my third message to you is surround your self with effective people and choose the right projects and companies to work for. A business or organization consists of many groups, like spokes in a wheel. The spokes may be marketing, sales, support, accounting, legal, manufacturing, and engineering / development, etc. Each group needs a value proposition. If one spoke is broken, the wheel will probably fail. Each group needs the best people available to do the job. We were successful at CPQ because we had the best people in each of the spokes of the wheel.
We also found that we needed to work with our suppliers. Our suppliers were Bill Gates and Andy Grove. Back then, we (CPQ) needed Microsoft, Intel, resellers, and many other supporting organizations to succeed and create industry standards and move away from an IBM controlled architecture. We met hundreds of times with Bill Gates and other industry partners to discuss business strategies and partnering. If Intel or Microsoft had failed, we would also have failed – we needed each other to compete against IBM.
Business models change over time, and you have to be prepared for that. Over the long term, you need to pick the people who you work for. There were times in my career that I had issues with the person I worked for. Sometimes I left, and it was the best thing that happened. You also need to pick the people who work with you and the people who work for you. That may be hard to imagine at this point, but it’s true. You need to surround yourself with effective people, just like you surrounded yourself with the best professors and students here at WLC.
On the personal side, one of the most important personal decisions you will to make in the next few years is to pick a spouse, a lifetime partner, a soul mate. I lucked out. Susan and I met by chance. She is Christian and went to Wisconsin Lutheran High School here in Milwaukee. I should say that God had a plan for us to meet and be together. She influenced me to join the Wisconsin Synod and get involved with church work. She was there for the family.
One of the key reasons it worked for us is we have the same core values – God 1st, family 2nd, and career 3rd - that’s critical for a lifetime relationship. She brought balance to our lives. There were many times I was too focused on work. Thank you, Sue. I also thank God for our Christian parents and the sacrifices they made.
Now for my last discussion point, Gary’s “B”s – How do you find effective people and successful organizations to work for and with?
I used this list during my personal interviews; if you do not pass this test, the interview would be very short! You must remember an interview is a two-way process – they are interviewing you and you should be interviewing them.
The 1st group of “B”s are the must “B”s –I’m going to make this list personal to you –
You must be:
- Truthful – 100 % of the time – If you do not know the answer, say so
- Able to get the job done
And the companies you work with and for must be:
- Able to get the job done
There are many people, companies, and organizations that do not pass the first test. I do not deal with those people, companies, and organizations. I have a very low tolerance level in this area.
The 2nd set of attributes I look for in people are personal attributes / capabilities.
Again I’ll make the list personal, you need to be:
- Decisive – people that can’t make a decision drive me nuts
- Flexible – job assignments will change many times
- Hard working
- A visionary or find one – find someone with a vision of what the future is going to be
The 3rd set of attributes I look for are your social skills / people skills.
You must be:
- Able to communicate
- Drug free
- Well kept
- Able to listen
- Able to take direction
- Respectful – you will turn me off if you do not show respect
- A Good Follower
- Team Player
- Prompt / early
- Financially conservative – live within your means
- At the right place at the right time
As Kel Walker told me, work for a company that makes money. Your job depends on it. Also work with organizations that are also effective at getting God’s work done.
Before I start my last set of “B”s, I would like to say that our family has been tremendously blessed by God. My wife and I are returning these blessings back by donating to projects that we consider part of God’s plan. We donate to about half a dozen projects a year - WLC, Time of Grace, St. Marcus Lutheran School and building program, the Grenada mission, as well as our own congregations.
We consider these donations venture capital funding. We are investing in the people so they can execute God’s plan. We want to make sure these projects are properly supported over a number of years. We make long-term commitments, and we hold the recipients accountable.
We also support Wisconsin Lutheran College because of its mission, its ability to get the job done, and because of you, the graduates. We have made a financial investment in you. We know you are capable of carrying out God’s plan, and I hold each of you accountable.
Now for the last set of “B”s and most important set of Gary’s “B”s for today. You did not get here alone. Parents, relatives, friends, spouses, professors, and donors of the college made today possible.
You must be:
- A volunteer
- A mentor
- A servant leader
You also are tremendously blessed by God. Thank your parents – take them aside, give them a hug and really thank them – you wouldn’t be here without them. Thank God – say a prayer. If you are thankful, show it. Stay involved with WLC and other projects that you participated in during your last four years. If you participated with the Grenada mission, stay involved.
Today, I’ll define personal success for you: “IT’S NOT WHAT YOU HAVE BUT IT’S WHAT YOU GIVE BACK.”
The final thought for today is from the Bible. Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given much is expected.”
Follow God’s Plan – be part of it, take risks, surround yourself with effective people, and follow Gary’s “B”s.
God Bless You