Bob Shearer’s Commencement speech inspires graduates
Lake Erie College graduates were influenced by the words of Robert J. Shearer and his “CHIP’s for Success” speech he gave on Sunday, May 9, 2010. Shearer is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Shearer’s Foods, Inc., the manufacturer and distributor of Shearer’s award winning snacks. The actual speech is stated below.
“I would like to thank President Victor, distinguished faculty, honored guests, and of course, this wonderful group of graduates, for affording me the opportunity to speak here today.
Four years ago, I began my journey with Lake Erie College about the same time as many of you – myself, as a member of the Board of Trustees, and you as freshmen in college. It is safe to say that over the past four years, we have all changed and grown on a number of levels and have been inspired by this College’s culture. The changes on all accounts are memorable. In particular, it is your accomplishment today that is the most noteworthy.
And I might add, that the difference between you and me as we stand here today – your degree is an earned one and mine is an honorary one.
I recently had a friend share with me that “yesterday is today…and tomorrow is today…and today is…NOW.”
At first this sounded illogical, but as I thought about it, the fact is, ALL we have is TODAY, this VERY moment.
To be in the present is a major challenge for so many of us. For example, at this moment, some of you might be thinking about how tired you are, maybe a little too much celebrating last night. Some might be thinking about packing up and moving on. Others are thinking about their futures, maybe some their past experiences. Some of you are thinking about your new jobs, and others are still thinking about looking for that right job.
I invite you to be in this moment.
I would like each of you to close your eyes, take a breath and think about this snapshot in time. Look closely at this picture and your place in it. It portrays a significant achievement. You are here celebrating with family, friends, faculty and colleagues. Everyone is so proud of you.
And in this “moment” there is an anticipation to watch you cross this stage in your cap and gown and formally accept this degree of candidacy. In a heartbeat, this image will be different.
Now open your eyes.
Tomorrow morning you will wake up. The cameras and parties will be gone, your loved ones will be returning home and you will be alone thinking, “What is my plan to be successful? What life skills do I have to compete in this global 21st century where my future job may not even be created yet?”
Daniel Pink, a famous American author and writer, and a past speechwriter for Vice President, Al Gore, wrote, “The future belongs to a very different kind of a person with a very different kind of mind, “right brain” qualities – inventiveness, empathy and meaning.”
These dispositions predominate the “information age,” where all of our focus has been on knowledgeable workers. The FUTURE wants creators, thinkers and doers.
I’m here standing before you today because of my charming personality and obvious good looks. Not really, I was just seeing if you were listening.
I am here to share insights about four 21st century life skills I believe are important to succeed and bring personal fulfillment: four life skills, four people and four stories.
I helped grow Shearer’s Foods from a one truck, single product venture, into a multi-product, award-winning company. Having gained valuable insights from my decades of experience, it is believed that I learned some important lessons along the way. And in thinking about these lessons learned, and the college graduates I have hired throughout the years, the ones who made it and succeeded in my business were also the ones who lived by these life lessons.
To help you remember – think of it in a couple of ways. I came up with an acronym to remember the four life lessons. The first acronym that came to my mind was CHIP, a term I know very well.
Secondly, I thought that these life lessons are really “Tips for Success,” so I renamed them “CHIP’s for Success.”
So, what does CHIP’s for Success mean?
1. C stands for Creating Oneself
2. H stands for Having Heart
3. I stands for Introducing Your Inate Gifts
4. P stands for Preparing for Failure.
I am going to begin by giving you CHIP for Success 1. C is for Creating Oneself.
I read a quote on a sign on a restaurant wall while traveling in Spain last year. The saying went something like this: “Life is not about finding oneself, but rather about creating oneself.”
It made me think about the people in my life who have spent their lives waiting for something to happen to them, waiting for some magic that would make them have successful careers, guarantee them meaningful relationships or whatever it is they are waiting for.
Too many people spend their lives waiting to find themselves rather than directing their energies toward creating themselves.
I would like to give you a personal example of how I applied the principle of “creating oneself” to my own life.
Sometimes the best motivation to making a positive change in your life is by recognizing that without that change, you will not realize your fullest potential.
I had a vision of where I wanted to take my company. I wanted to transform it from a small, local manufacturer into a national or even international competitor in the snack food business. I thought that I had all of the business and operational ability to do this. But, I worried that I may be lacking some of the communication skills. I especially lacked confidence in public speaking.
I knew that to make my vision a reality I needed to be a more effective communicator to the world, in selling my vision to others to gain their confidence and support. One of my biggest supporters, my wife, also recognized this. And like all good spouses, she was not afraid to give me the encouragement I needed to complete a top-notched program in public speaking.
But it was not just about learning the techniques of effective speech-giving. It was the confidence I had in myself and my ability to better communicate the dream I had for Shearer’s Foods.
I am not here to tell you that it is easy to create oneself. I am here to tell you that in order to be successful you will have to be proactive. Waiting around to be discovered for the contributions you can make to this world will only lead to disappointing outcomes. It will be your ability to target your real, not imagined, strengths that will raise your odds of potential success in all that you do.
Daniel Pink sums up this CHIP’s for Success very well, “Meaning is the purpose of this journey. Give meaning to life from inside yourself and add invention and big picture thinking.”
Now let’s talk about CHIP for Success 2. H is for Having Heart.
I would like to share a story about a young man, Steve Surmay, who lives by the CHIP of Having Heart.
I hired Steve as a lawn maintenance person when he was a junior in high school. Whenever I would drive into the plant after Steve had mowed, I was very impressed with how perfect the lines were. It didn’t matter that this high school kid was earning very little or that it was not a highly recognized position. What it reflected was a commitment to doing a job well. His heart and passion were focused on making that lawn the best groomed in the neighborhood.
Skip ahead to today. Steve is now a senior vice president in the Shearer’s Company. Now mind you, he didn’t become a VP by mowing in straight lines. It was his heart and passion that drove me to see something in him that was unique and special.
For 28 years now, Steve is still committed to the heart and passion for our company. He consistently goes above and beyond and has a passion for new ideas.
Opportunity after opportunity, Steve always puts forth his best effort regardless of the task at hand. He could have settled for less, but he was passionate to give more. Mediocrity was never an option – neither in mowing the lawn nor helping run our company.
So what is CHIP for Success number 3? I stands for Introducing Your Innate Gifts.
I want you to do something for me. Look at the person to your right. Now look at the person to your left.
Which one of you will be the most successful in his/her career?
Which one of you will have a more fulfilled life?
How many positions will you have within the next five years? Ten years?
What sets you apart from the person next to you?
How are your innate gifts being discovered?
It isn’t the person next to you who is your biggest competitor – it is those graduates and colleagues in Asia, China, India and other countries who are competing and taking your spotlight in this global competitive market. What gifts do they have that you may also have but you have not yet discovered or introduced them to others?
I have a great example of another one of my colleagues who demonstrated his innate ability to do far more than what he probably believe possible. Scott Smith, the current president of Shearer’s Foods, started his career in the finance field. His comfort zone was certainly in the areas of accounting, finance and operations areas as he moved through his career in public accounting.
But I saw more potential in Scott and I placed him in a general management role. He very ably learned the marketing, sales and human resources sides of our business and he has become one of the most well-rounded business leaders that I know. He was able to realize the full potential of his innate ability and is now helping me to run every facet of a half-billion dollar company.
Today, I ask you to break away from the status quo.
I invite you to move two degrees, two steps away from what makes you all similar. When you do that you will discover that each of you has genuinely unique attributes. Each of you has something, some innate gift. You can do better than the person sitting next to you.
But as Shakespeare reflected, “There is the rub.” How do you discover that “it” factor if you’ve never looked for “it”?
I’ve come to our final CHIP for Success number 4. P is for Preparing for Failure.
Will everyone appreciate your unique gifts and qualities? Absolutely not! So, prepare yourselves for failure. Remember that failure is not an option but a given.
I think J.K. Rowling captures it best, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default.”
I’m going to share another story with you. This story is about someone you probably already know, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers and Pixar Animation Studios.
Steve Jobs is one of the most successful business persons in the world. He started Apple Computers in his parents’ garage with a friend. In ten years, Apple grew from two employees to 4,000 employees and became a $2 billion enterprise.
Steve was only 30 years old at the time when his success was at the top. Then his world turned upside down. He got fired from a company he started. He had hired someone whose vision was different but faired with the Board of Directors more. The Board chose the new guy over Steve. Steve was out of a job and became a public failure.
Yet, Steve has a message for all of us today – that he learned more from his failures than his successes. He says, “Getting fired from Apple is the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” Sounds weird doesn’t it, but it is true.
Think about it for a second. On a more simplistic level, do you learn more from your mistakes or successes? When your professors hand back your exams, do you look at the items you get right or the ones you get wrong? It is the mistakes and failures that catapult us to new learning, new passions and new successes.
But the key is are you prepared for failure? Because it is what we do with failure that counts.
In his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, Steve said “You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
Steve realized that the “heaviness of being successful was replaced with the lightness of being a beginner again – less sure about everything.”
Let me repeat this again and listen carefully. He realized that, “the heaviness of being successful was replaced with the lightness of being a beginner again – less sure about everything.”
So what does this mean? Take the opportunity to recreate yourself when you fail. So what is the rest of the story?
Steve started a company named NeXt after he left Apple. In 5 years, Apple then bought NeXt and Steve returned to Apple. Steve used the CHIP for Success number 4 of Preparing for Failure, and it worked.
Remember, I am just a regular guy, an average person, who works really hard. There is no magic involved. Although, I must admit that even in my wildest imaginings, I could never have anticipated receiving this honorary degree, so maybe there is a little magic in this world.
I wish you the courage to create yourself, have heart, introduce your innate gifts and prepare for failure. Be open to creating and recreating yourselves as you transition through all of the experiences that await you.
I’ve told four stories about four individuals who were successful in the CHIP’s for Success. So what do you do now? You can walk away and may not remember my speech at all, or you can take back at least one CHIP for your own personal success.
Tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning (or afternoon) and think, “What is my plan to be successful and to have a fulfilling life? What CHIP’s for Success do I have to compete in this global 21st century?
Steve Jobs comes back to mind…
In a spin-off of the life lesson of living each day as if it were your last, he suggests that we look in the mirror each morning and ask that if this was our last day to live, is what we are doing today how we would want to spend our last day?
If the answer comes up “no” too many times, then changing something is imperative. Living honestly and fully is not for the faint of heart. Strength of character and purpose are critical.
I hope you will think about these CHIP’s for Success so you find something you love and you live it with passion.
And you can remember this acronym:
1. C is for Creating Oneself
2. H is for Having Heart
3. I is for Introducing Your Innate Gifts
4. P is for Preparing for Failure
In a few moments when you leave the reception in the Arthur S. Holden Center, outside the doorway will be another reminder to help you think about these CHIP’s for Success.
I leave you with this…
It is not the words that you need to remember, it is what to do with them that counts. And as one of my competitors said once in a famous commercial, “You can’t have just one.”
I am very humbled that this moment, YOUR MOMENT, was shared with me.
Congratulations and thank you.”