Sam Allen, the CEO of John Deere, was our commencement speaker this year. The man runs an international company with sales in excess of $30 billion, but there was nothing lofty or pretentious about his visit or address.
Mr. Allen offered two pieces of advice to our graduates that I think apply far more broadly than to those who were wearing the mortar boards.
First, he counseled people to “seize opportunities” and to volunteer for projects and tasks that will allow for growth and personal challenge. Mr. Allen worked in a wide variety of Deere divisions and served on four continents over 34 years before being named CEO, and saying yes to very diverse experiences allowed him to have the breadth of knowledge that landed him in the top job. He urged graduates to seize opportunities and learn from them rather than following a straight path.
His second piece of advice: pay attention to The How. How you do things matters. Having integrity matters. It is not only important to get things done, but How you get them done will determine your success. John Deere’s core values: integrity, quality, commitment and innovation are How the company strives to do its work. Mr. Allen advocated following your values and focusing on The How.
Seize opportunities and The How are very simple concepts, but powerful thoughts when put into practice. You don’t have to be a graduate to apply these lessons in your life today.