International businessman Dick Gochnauer advises UW-Green Bay graduates on the ‘Now, what?’

International businessman Dick Gochnauer addresses students graduating in UW-Green Bay's Cofrin School of Business and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
International businessman Dick Gochnauer addresses students graduating in UW-Green Bay's Cofrin School of Business and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

While graduates get practical advice; international businessman Dick Gochnauer speaks from a world of experience. He told UW-Green Bay Cofrin School of Business and College of Science, Engineering and Technology students at UW-Green Bay’s afternoon Commencement ceremonies May 14, 2022 to stop at the “intersection of purpose and career.” “I have learned that it is at this junction that people become their best selves and as a result are more likely to achieve success in all aspects of their life. I come out of the business world so my examples are there, but these principals apply to any endeavor or organization.”

“The purpose I am talking about is not about you and what you want or need. Rather it is about your positive impact on others. Think about others as everything from the person in front of you, to your organization, your community, or for some, even your country or the world.

Next, do not worry too much about knowing what your purpose is at this point. Rather focus on your path. The first thing to understand is that there are many paths. In fact, many people’s purpose continues to evolve over time and goes through a process of expanding and then sharpening then expanding again.  think of it as a journey of continuous learning, growing and experimenting.

The first thing you need to understand is that your career path can either accelerate or hinder your journey.  So, to help you, here are four questions you should consider in selecting the organization you work for and thus your path:

  • Does the company or organization have a clear vision about how it is making the world a better place. if so, does it really mean it.
  • Does the organization have a strong positive culture that values and grows its people?
  • Does the organization operate in an sector that is healthy and growing? despite all the best intentions, if a sector is not growing it is hard for your organization and you to grow.
  • Finally, your last consideration should be your starting salary. I have learned if you get the first three questions right, the money will take care of itself over time.  In other words, play the long game not the short game. I know you get this because you have already made the decision to delay earning a living by four years in order to get your degree. That is playing the long game.

Gochnauer explained his own career path… a degree at Harvard Business School. But he passed on attractive job offers from two highly sought after companies. And instead, accepted a significantly lower paying job with Schrieber foods as a second shift production supervisor. “My classmates thought I had lost my mind. I chose Schreiber because of its strong values and culture, its commitment and track record of investment in its people, its strong encouragement for employees to give back to the community and the growth of the industry. I have never regretted this decision. Schreiber helped me develop a strong foundation on which I solidified my values and informed my journey to become a committed purposeful leader.”

He discovered his own purpose when he became CEO of a Fortune 500 company years later. He started a corporate foundation and charged its leader with enabling employees to have the joy of giving back. They initiated a program to donate school supplies to inner city kids from our inventory of products. Employees brought their families to our warehouses on weekends to pick and pack the school supplies into backpacks.  Employees themselves handed out the backpacks at school to the kids. “The joy and excitement of these children was contagious. It changed hearts, not just for our employees, but their family members who were proud that their parent worked for a company that cared and that they had helped.”

“It did not take long before we had thousands of employees creating innovative ways to address various local social needs, and in the process, finding the joy in helping complete strangers.” Customer and suppliers noticed and asked to join, and so “it became so core to who we were that it became a competitive advantage and central to our company strategy and success. Most importantly, it enabled our employees to find purpose in their work.

Gochnauer recognized Paul Polma at Unilever and Brad Hewitt, CEO of Thrivent and Mark Bertolini of AETNA of leaders making a similar difference. And he left graduates with three thoughts:

  • Many of the happiest and most successful people i have found are those who find their purpose in their work.
  • Purpose is not about you but your positive impact on others.
  • Don’t worry if you do not know your purpose yet. rather select the best path and employer to help you find and activate it.

“If you start on this journey, you too will become your very best self and find fulfillment and success along the way.”

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