Undergraduate Convocation Speech by Jerry Whitaker ’72

May 12, 2015

The following is the Convocation speech delivered by Jerry Whitaker '72 to the undergraduate class of 2015: Faculty, staff, parents, and students — good morning and congratulations! It is always good to be back at Syracuse University. You are probably wondering what someone that graduated 43 years ago can have to say that will be of value to you or that is relevant to you today? Well, I thought the same thing when I was approached about speaking to you. But after I thought about it, I recalled my conversations with new college graduates coming into Eaton to start their careers, and what I thought was valuable to them in these discussions. So, I have three simple messages to give you that I think will help you going forward, and I have a request at the end. First, my “words of experience and wisdom.” And I hope, I think, I am preaching to the choir on this one. Change is good and it is inevitable. Get used to it and embrace it! Heck, when I was in my senior year at SU and heading into my first year at Westinghouse: A —We still punched Fortran cards, turned them into the computer center at Steele Hall, and waited three to four hours to see if the program ran. B—There was only network broadcasts to watch on TV. C—We communicated with other locations via teletype. We wrote on a yellow pad with carbon paper copies, walked the written message to a teletype operator, and he or she sent the teletype. D—Nuclear Power was the preferred source for power generation. Perhaps it still should be. A lot has changed in my 40 plus years since college. A lot has changed in your 20 plus years of life. But I am talking about more than technological change. Yes, technology drives a significant portion of the change we deal with over time, and certainly will continue too. However, what I want to talk about is the social and organizational changes you will have to deal with in your career. Again, when I started my career: promotions were largely based on seniority; organizations were hierarchical; unions dominated most blue collar jobs and many white collar jobs; few women entered STEM related fields; training was largely on-the-job; selling was relationship based; data analytics where years in arrears; R&D and real world seldom interfaced; and the shop floor was top down and supervisor controlled. Well, things have obviously changed. Management has learned to communicate better and to listen, to build teams that generate ideas, improved work flow and build better quality products, capability many times trumps seniority. Diversity has contributed dramatically to better ideas, products, processes, and practices. Open interactive workspaces are the norm and factory teams trained on lean toolkits and six sigma drive productivity.The bottom line to this is that an organization, a department, or a company is dynamic, people-driven, and an ever-changing environment. As such, it is driven both by technology and by management practices and expectations. Don’t get comfortable with status quo. It is seldom rewarding. And, even though you grew up in a rapidly changing world, this can happen — you get comfortable in your job, in your routine and you resist change. Accept change, understand the need for change, adapt to change, embrace change, and drive change! There is much yet to do. Secondly, be true to yourself. Like what you are doing, have fun, enjoy it, and get energized by it, or go do something else! If you are not engaged by what you are doing in your job, career, company, or industry you won’t do a good job and you won’t be successful. That said, this is most certainly not an instantaneous, short-term decision. It takes time. I really loved what I did and the industry I worked in —some jobs perhaps more than others — but I continually assessed my career, how I felt about what I was doing, whether I felt I was contributing and enjoyed my work. I did, and it worked for me. I know people that didn’t and stuck with it too long, and their career and work suffered. I also know people that left and were better suited and more successful when they changed jobs and careers. Be patient, but be impatient. Trust your instincts over time. And if you are struggling, go do something else. One additional note here — manage work-life balance. All work and no play make Jack and Jill very dull people! All play and no work — well that’s not an option! Find your balance and enjoy life as well as your work. Third, as I look out at this graduating class, I see great promise and a multitude of careers: pure R&D, applied R&D, design engineers, application engineers, consulting engineers, software engineers, finance, technical sales, medical doctors, managers, professors, teachers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and on and on. Great jobs and great opportunities all! Engineers are sought for your training, logical thought process, process knowledge, and intellect. That said, at some time, perhaps many times in your careers, in the short term and long term you will have chances to move into the grey areas of ethics and integrity. Perhaps a white lie, shading the truth a little, modifying results or modifying the truth. My straightforward message is: DON’T I know I sound like your mother and father talking to you when you were young. However, I talk from experience. I have seen it and had to deal with it both personally and with people in my organization. And, you may have to face this early on in your career. How do you answer when a customer or your boss asks; Are you meeting product specs? Are you coming in on budget? Are you meeting schedules? Has my critical product shipped? And you know the answer isn’t positive? Truth, integrity and ethics – there is no grey area here. This is the foundation, the cornerstone of how you are perceived in your career. I cannot stress enough how critical this is to your career and to your future — now and through its course. Finally a request —be a STEM ambassador. This is your day – you have made it through one of the toughest curriculums in higher education and you succeeded. We need more people like you! We simply don’t have enough STEM-educated and trained people. In Western Pennsylvania (where I am from) we have over 3000 unfilled STEM-related positions. Before I retired, I was on a utility task force and an IEEE committee focused at growing the STEM graduates coming out of our colleges and universities. Long story short, we found that it all starts in grammar school — K-6. That’s where you ignite that spark of imagination and interest in STEM. Get involved with schools, science centers, and work force development programs. The world today revolves around STEM. Be an ambassador and grow the field you love! So, that’s it. Embrace change. Be true to yourself. Hold ethics and integrity as a key principle throughout your career. Be a STEM ambassador. Congratulations! Keep your head down and follow through Go and change the world! Thank you.  About Jerry Whitaker ’72 Jerry Whitaker is (retired) President of Electrical Sector - Americas, Eaton Corporation. Eaton, which is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is a global manufacturer of highly engineered products that serve industrial, vehicle, construction, commercial, aerospace and mission critical electrical markets. Eaton's sales are approximately $22.0 billion. Whitaker joined the company in 1994 as Marketing Manager of the Assemblies and Systems division. In 1997 he was asked to serve as the General Manager for Cutler-Hammer's Engineering Services and Systems Division. He was responsible for developing the business model and start-up of the division. Under his watch, the business has grown to over$600M. After starting the Engineering Services and Systems Business he was promoted to Vice President of Power Distribution and Control and served in that capacity for three years. He moved on to the position of President of Power Components and Systems with global responsibility for nine divisions and a specific focus to grow globally. During this time he was responsible for numerous key acquisitions and took the business from a predominantly North American business to a balanced global organization with 50% of the sales outside of the U.S. As President of Electrical Sector - Americas, Whitaker oversaw the P&L, manufacturing operations, sales, marketing, technology and product development for four operational groups comprised of twelve divisions, 17,900 associates, and $4.3B in revenues. His group has successfully integrated eight substantial acquisitions in the last four years before his retirement and implemented the Eaton Business System, Eaton Lean and Six Sigma processes throughout its operations. He previously served on the boards of the Allegheny Conference for Community Development, Tuomey Medical Center, and was the Chairman of the United Way for Sumter and Clarendon Counties. He is currently on the Boards of; Matthews International (Finance and Chair of the Governance Comm.), Sealed Air Corporation (Audit and Governance Comm.), Crescent Electric Company (Chair of Comp. and Audit Comm.) and the Advisory Board of Universal Electric Company. He also serves on the boards of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Chair of the Carnegie Science Center, Syracuse University School of Engineering and The Energy Innovation Center. He was the Chairman of the Eaton - Caterpillar ISO JV and also served on boards for several Eaton subsidiaries. Before joining Eaton, Whitaker spent 22 years with Westinghouse Electric Corp., serving in various management positions. Whitaker has a BSEE from Syracuse University and an MBA from George Washington University.