August 28, 2013

Lloyd Carney Wentworth Commencement Speech

The following is a transcript of the speech delivered by Wentworth alum and Brocade Communications CEO Lloyd Carney during Wentworth’s August 25, 2013 Commencement event.

Thank you for the gracious introduction.

Congratulations to the Wentworth class of 2013, congratulations to the parents, guardians, loved ones  of the class of 2013. That smile you see on your parents’ faces, that glimmer in their eyes, maybe a tear or two, yes they are proud, but they are really glad you will be coming off the payroll and moving out soon. And last but not least, congratulations to the staff and faculty of the wonderful institution that is Wentworth Institute of Technology, an institution that I am proud to call my alma mater. You have taken yet another cast of young men and women and once again molded them into successful graduates.

Twenty-six years ago, I was the student speaker at my graduation from my master’s program, here in Boston. My daughter and wife were there, as was my brother and his family. Two generations. Fast forward to today and now my son—who was not born at the time—is here, with his son, my grandson, Oscar.  We are joined today by other friends and family, most notably my mother, who flew in from Jamaica yesterday. Four generations are here.

So as I thought about what I would say to this group, I tried to harken back to what I said 26 years ago to that graduating class… something about stopping wars, ending hunger, I might even have said something about stopping global warming—I was ahead of my time. Well that speech was not very effective. We have more wars going on than ever before, there are more hungry people, and global warming has not ebbed. Still those are all laudable goals.  

However, this time around, I opted for the more practical approach, the hands-on approach, the Wentworth approach, the “do, learn, succeed” approach. This time around I am going to speak to you, all of you, as if I were speaking to my grandson Oscar. I have been fortunate, very fortunate, but there are a few things that I have done over the years to prepare me to take advantage of my good fortune, and I want to share those with you. I really believe that in the United States of America, everyone is faced with the opportunity for success, if properly prepared. As graduates of Wentworth Institute of Technology, you have taken a major step in your preparation for success. You are very fortunate to be graduating today, and there are three things I want you and Oscar to remember, in order to maximize your good fortune.

One, have a plan. Someone said if you do not have a plan, any path will take you there. A plan gives you clarity of choice. When faced with a fork in the road—and there will be forks—it will provide you with the path forward. I often have young people come to me in despair, not sure what to do, even adults, not sure what the future holds for them. My first question is—and always is—“What is your plan?” No one can create a plan for you, there are no more guidance counselors, the training wheels are off. What is your plan? Personally I tend to make five-year plans, some people like three-year plans. But you have to be patient; success does not come swiftly. It takes time, dedication and hard work. Today as I stand here, I am in year two of my current five-year plan. You get to choose the end destination. I suggest you choose a plan that leads to happiness. Yes happiness, not wealth. As I get older and I think about the people I care about, I don’t wonder what kind of car they are driving, how big their house may be, I wonder about their happiness. As you get older you will realize that this is the most important goal: happiness. You need a plan that you are willing to sacrifice for, to work hard to attain. Yes, I used the word sacrifice—I know, a downer. With age you realize that most things worth accomplishing take sacrifice. Being in Silicon Valley, I get people coming to me with business ideas, startup ideas, all the time. If the idea is to make a lot of money you may as well buy a lottery ticket. If the idea is to solve a problem that is hard, to passionately, tirelessly, work seven days per week at a concept that you care deeply about, that is a plan. If you are passionate about the goal, monetary reward is an ancillary benefit—important, but not the most important reward. Your feeling of accomplishment and heightened self-worth is a much more important and fulfilling reward.

 I will spend a little more time on the technical side—plans that technical entrepreneurs would have. You need a plan and you must be flexible with your plan; if facts change, you have to change. The first idea usually is not the most successful; the derivative ideas tend to be the most successful. The 3M Post-it glue was an accident in the lab, a glob of sticky material that did not leave behind a residue, and they found a use for it. They did not go into the lab that morning to make Post-it pads, they were not even trying to make glue. The iPad was not optimized initially for video, now video is the most important app on tablets, but the first iPads did not support the most popular video formats. Google was a better way of chronicling data sites on the Stanford campus. They did not wake up one morning in sunny California and say, “Let us be billionaires and do no evil,” they were solving a technical problem. You have to be willing to adapt your plan and review your plan frequently. Probably the most important attribute any entrepreneur has is being flexible; as the facts change, you must change. The worst thing you can do is try to bend the facts to fit your plan.  Most people change careers three to four times in a lifetime, those are radical plan shifts. Be prepared for them.

Facebooks and Googles are rare. About one in fifty startups get funded; about one in twenty are successful. At that high of a failure rate, learning from your failure is very important; it will serve you well in your next venture. I am a limited partner in three venture firms, so I see a good amount of deals. We actually look for entrepreneurs who have experience in startups, even if they failed. We expect that they have learned from their failure. Learned how to better budget, manage people, manage projects. Given the same idea, we would prefer an experienced entrepreneur who has failed and learned to one who has never led a startup.

Your idea does not have to be original; original ideas are very hard to find. Because it has been done, does not mean it cannot be done better. As a matter of fact, with time, it is almost guaranteed to be done better. Before Google there was Yahoo!. Before Facebook there was MySpace. The Apple mobile phone operating system had the entire market for smart phones. Now, three years later, they are number two behind the Android operating system, which was created by 30 engineers. The experience you garnered in a failed enterprise can be invaluable. To recap, most venture-backed firms fail, most original ideas are not the successful ones, and most successful entrepreneurs had success on their second or third venture, not their first.  Moral of the story, if your plan is to be an entrepreneur, financial success cannot be your only reward, you have to enjoy the journey and learn and grow from the path you take.

Second, choose your friends and mentors carefully.  With plan in hand, run it by friends, mentors and family members—people who you trust, who care about you, who will tell you the truth even though it hurts. I remember watching a show where people were contestants in a singing competition. This one guy was very bad and was deservedly dropped from the contest; he could not carry a note if it were in a grocery bag. Outside he and his friends and family were outraged, they took umbrage that this contestant did not get to move ahead. I thought to myself “Did they really think he could sing?” Moral of the story, if your plan is to be a singer, don’t ask a group of tone-deaf people if you can sing. Run your plan by people who understand the market, people who know your capabilities, people whose input you can trust. Once executing against your plan, work hard. This is your plan, your path to success, if you are not willing to work hard and sacrifice for it, then you probably will not get much from it. More importantly, if you are not willing to work hard at it and sacrifice for it, people are not going to work hard and sacrifice for you and with you.

People are always watching; you should also always be watching. You should be watching to learn from others’ successes and mistakes. My first engineering mentor was Ed Kramer and I was on co-op from Wentworth. He taught me to be a good engineer, he taught me missteps to avoid, he reinforced what my own father taught me, an old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, cut once.” He took me under his wing because he said he liked my work ethic. I was the first one there in the morning, last one to leave, never late, I took the hard projects, I was inquisitive, I wanted to learn. He and I would share a single tea bag; he would dip it into his hot water, and before it changed color, he would put it into mine. People made fun of us. The tea is free. Why are they sharing a tea bag? I asked Ed eventually why he did that. Ed rolled up his sleeve and showed me the numbers on his arm. He was in a German concentration camp where hundreds would share one tea bag. He could not drink tea if the water color changed. So here I am, a 20-year-old from Jamaica and my mentor is a Jewish concentration camp survivor. Moral of the story, your mentors can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. You have to show them that you are passionate about what you are doing and that you are willing to work hard and that you care. If you do that, people will help you, they will mentor you. If you are the office prankster, the life of the party, don’t be surprised if you don’t get the right people wanting help you.  Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. If you carry yourselves with dignity and grace and work hard, people will take notice. The right people will take notice.

By the way, if you want to see dignity and grace with hard work in action, look no further than Dean Driscoll. I will always be his student and he will always be my professor. Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you.

Third, be mindful of your digital signature. Your digital signature means more to you than the name on your diploma. There are two components: your social media profile and your credit score. Social media, Facebook , tweeting , etcetera.  If you think your mother or your grandchild would be embarrassed to know you did something or to see you doing something, do not put it on social media. Assume it will be there forever and accessible by all. I can see some of you reaching for your smart phones and the delete button. Too late. There is no delete button, remember that. Every tweet and Facebook picture is archived somewhere. Those companies value those archives and your data more than you do. There is no delete button.

Back to choosing your friends: we had a young man due to come in at 8 a.m. for an interview. His friend called at 8:15 to say that our candidate had a family emergency and he had to reschedule. An HR assistant thought it strange and ran an app that does a social media crawl—on his friend, not the candidate. Lo and behold, posted on the friends Facebook page at 4 a.m. was our candidate, drunk and Harlem shaking, declaring that he would not be making his 8 a.m. interview because he was too wasted. The candidate did not post it, his friend posted it and tagged him to it. Needless to say, we did not reschedule him. Moral of the story, you have to be mindful not just of your social media profile but of those people you associate with.

Now on to another uplifting topic: your credit score, one of the biggest impediments to success. Guard it carefully. Eight times out of 10, when people come to me with financial problems, their credit scores are already a disaster. Your credit score determines the cost of everything that is important to you, from your mobile phone to your mortgage. You could drive the same car, have the same phone, live in a similar home to your neighbor and your costs be thousands more per year, the difference being your credit score. There are jobs you cannot qualify for if you have a poor credit score. I had a VP we were trying to hire into a job that needed a security clearance, and the person was not qualified because they had a poor credit score. They were deemed “a risk to accept bribes from foreign entities.” 

Another suggestion, do not cosign anything unless you are willing to assume that person’s debt. The person you are cosigning for cannot afford the item they are buying, or has such a poor credit score they cannot buy it on their own.  I did not say do not cosign, I said do not cosign unless you are willing to assume the person’s debt. In default, the collection agency will look at the credit scores of the signers, and your friend with the credit score of minus 500 will not even get a call. You, however, with the perfect credit score, they will be all over you like a bug on a windshield. They know you care about your credit score.

With your newfound job, new credit card, go out and treat yourself. Take mom and dad out to dinner and pick up the tab. Then pull out your plan. Your plan will help you decide what you need versus what you want. You need a reliable car to get to work; a used Toyota fits your plan—a new BMW, not so much. One you need, the other you want. My guidance is, pay cash as much as possible. The only thing you should buy on credit is something you really need. You went to an engineering school, do the math; the monthly cost for a used Toyota, insurance, everything, versus that hot sports car with the five-year loan. After five years you probably would have enough for the down payment on a condo or to start that business that is in your plan. Any paycheck where you do not at least save a dollar—pay yourself a dollar—is a paycheck where you paid everyone else. The bank, the credit card company, the phone company, cable company, they all were paid. What about you?  

Some commencement speech; I have you sacrificing, working hard, buying your parents dinner, saving money…  I had you doing derivatives and straight math all in one speech. What I really want you to remember is to have a plan, choose your friends and mentors carefully, and protect your digital signature.

Lastly, I would say to Oscar, you are the citizen of a country that elected a black man of mixed heritage named Barack Hussein Obama president. I have traveled the world many times over, and there is no other country in the world where that would be possible. Not the UK, not Germany, not China, not Japan, not Kenya, no other country. If you have a plan, work hard, sacrifice, choose your friends and mentors carefully are mindful of your digital signature, you can achieve more, have more of a global impact, be happier here in the United States of America, than any other country in the world.

Good luck, take your place with the other fortunate people in this country with a college degree, make the most of your good fortune. Congratulations to the class of 2013, and I hope your plans bring you happiness.

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