Thomas Baker, chairman emeritus of Energy Future Holdings Corp. and chair of the university’s Engineering Advisory Council, gave this speech to the December 2009 Cockrell School of Engineering graduates.
No college degree is easy to obtain, certainly not one in engineering. I commend you on your stick-to-it attitude, blood, sweat and tears…. and that is just for the parents, spouses and families.
When I was contacted to present an address today, I asked if there were any specific suggestions regarding what I should talk about. I was told about 12 minutes. You know, commencement speakers need to think of themselves like a body at an old fashion Irish wake. You are needed in order to have the party, but nobody expects you to say very much. Actually, it was suggested that I share a few things that I learned in my career that might be helpful to achieve success.
But as I began to prepare, the real question is “what is success”? How do you measure it? Is it money? Titles? Recognition? Perhaps it is something that you would like people to read in your obituary. It could be as basic as just having a good life.
You have a number of tools in your tool kit for life and successes.
You obtained a tremendous education in engineering and the sciences at the Cockrell School of Engineering, one of the best colleges in the country. In addition to an understanding of engineering principles, you have developed a very valuable skill, which is the ability to think through problems in an orderly organized basis and to use analytical and cognitive thinking to reach solutions. That skill will be valuable in whatever paths you travel whether it be engineering, finance, business, politics, family challenges and so on.
But, what else is important?
I’d suggest making and maintaining effective meaningful relationships. It’s pretty basic stuff, but incredibly important.
Remember what your mother taught you.
Play nice with people, say please and thank you.
Whatever field you pursue, you will find that you don’t just deal with computers, hardware, formulas and science; what you deal with is people. It’s all about relationships. Relationships with work associates, supervisors, subordinates, stockholders, regulators, media, customers, vendors, family, neighbors and more. That’s one reason to study history. You can learn what makes people tick.
It is also critical to communicate effectively, both in verbal and written form. Listen, listen, listen, look people in the eye, smile, relax, ask questions, be polite. And, did I say listen? By the way, when you go to a meeting, you’re not listening (communicating) if you have your blackberry in your hand under the table looking at e-mails and texts. In fact you are telling the person speaking that he/she isn’t important and that you don’t care about what they are saying. It is rude, shows a lack of respect, makes a bad impression and negatively impacts any relationship. Put the Blackberry away for an hour, you can live that long without it!
Continue reading Baker’s commencement speech.