Memories of Awe Episode 40

Liz realized that this would be her next to last interview with Professor McKown. She knew that he had many more memories to share that she wouldn’t be able to get to. What she hoped to do today was get a sense of some of the other stories and the lessons from each of these.

LJToday could we do quick vignettes of other memories so that you can share with me some of the lessons you have learned from those memories?

KMcK:  Sure. I could go on and on but I realize our time together is limited. Let me start with Arkhom, a Thai-American. He was asked to investigate energy management companies so that a major U.S. company could buy it. Imagine how challenging that would be for a 20-year-old intern. His recommendation was accepted. But for me, the memory of awe was that he never backed down from the challenge. The generalization from this memory for me is to never underestimate the talent of our students.

LJ: I would be scared to death with an assignment like that. But I was scared when I was asked to meet you. Do you have another?

KMcK:  I do. Kevin accepted an opportunity to do a plant visit. He had what he thought would be better offers with more well-known companies. He decided to accept the plant visit, largely because the travel expenses were very generous, and he needed the money for big football weekend plans. The offer wasn’t the best one he had but he accepted it because it had the best growth opportunities. Today he is the CEO of that company. The generalization from this memory for me is that fate has a way of guiding us.

LJ: I don’t know where my career will go, but I do believe that fate led to these interviews. I can’t wait to hear another one.

KMcK:  Let me share the story of Nelson and Bree. Both struggled in college. Nelson was Bree’s assigned mentor. You might say that it was a bad combination, but they helped each other through their academic struggles. Finally both graduated with minimal GPAs. Today Nelson is a Vice President of his company and Bree also has had a very successful career. By the way, they are married. For me the generalization from this memory is that motivation comes in many forms.

LJ: I never would have thought that those with academic challenges can learn from each other. Do you have time for another one?

KMcK:  Ben was like many students I have taught. He enjoyed the college experience (sometimes too much). He was an OK student, but not close to the best in his class. He wasn’t very career focused, but he took to coaching very well. It was clear to me that Ben was most likely to be successful in a non-traditional career field for STEM majors.

It was during Ben’s senior year that I received a call from Ray, a former student, who was a Vice President at a start-up company. Ray was looking for a new graduate who would enter his sales engineering staff. He described the person he was looking for. The job description fit Ben perfectly.

Ben and I had a conversation about this opportunity. It wasn’t a job he had ever thought about, but he was open to considering it. I coached Ben on what he needed to do and he got the job.

Fifteen years later, Ben was responsible for all of North American sales for his company. That’s over 2 billion dollars of revenue for the company. Ben was still in his 30s. As for Ray, he has moved on to form two more companies.

You have to wonder where Ben would be if he had followed a traditional career path. Ben’s case is a good example of what I try to share with students. They need to be open to all opportunities.

Was it just blind luck that I got that call from Ray at that moment? It would seem so, but I can share with you hundreds of similar stories. I tell students that they need to work hard for a successful career, but they also need to have faith that things will work out for them if they believe in themselves.

LJ: All of these are wonderful. I’ve learned a lot about career success traits that have never been taught in my classes. I hope my future work can do for others what you have done for me.

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“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”– Colin Powell

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