Dickman to grads: Be creative, entrepreneurial

Craig Dickman, commencement speaker

Business entrepreneur and UW-Green Bay graduate Craig Dickman delivered the commencement address at his alma mater Saturday (Dec. 14) and he told the Class of 2013 that he wasn’t a standout student, himself, when he was in their shoes many years ago.  At least not at the outset.

“My early semesters were spent distracted in the campus bar and grill at the time, the Rathskeller – which I believe is the Phoenix Club today – where I learned to shoot a pretty good game of pool,” Dickman said, drawing laughter.

But, he quickly continued, he soon put his head down, achieved some 4.0 semesters and became a “pretty good” student. “Somehow, during my time here,” he told the Weidner Center audience of nearly 2,000, “I recognized the need to get serious and move on with my professional life.”

Dickman earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1982. The founder, CEO and chief innovation officer for Breakthrough Fuel, he has won acclaim for his innovative approach to supply chain logistics and fuel cost management. In less than a decade, his Green Bay company has grown to become a partner to some of American industry’s leading brands. Dickman is the inventor responsible for two patents for energy management.

Telling the graduates his UW-Green Bay experience contributed to his personal and business success, he predicted that creativity and an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving would be critical to their futures, as well.

“I can tell you my business was built on creating new connections,” Dickman said. “It enabled me to patent new ideas, build a team and start a business based solely on our new ideas.  It enabled us to be first to market — although I sometimes wondered why a person in Green Bay, Wisconsin saw something first.  I attribute part of that to this University and the professors who guided me.  At the time, I may not have appreciated the true interdisciplinary nature of this University and the skills that it taught me, but I do now.”

A graduate of Southwest High School in Green Bay, he said his hometown has always embraced innovation and those who make a difference.

“When you look at the world-class businesses that have come out of this community, this area, it’s amazing,” he said.  He cited the example of the Packers — one of the world’s most famous sports franchises — as well as Fort Howard and Green Bay Packaging in paper, Schreiber Foods in cheese, and Schneider National in transports and logistics. All were local startups that became global players and changed their industries.

“And we are by no means done creating new industries and value,” Dickman added. “I personally know of emerging companies who will be bringing new products and services out to the market in areas like advanced informatics, charitable social networks, technology, healthcare, bio-technology and many others. There is an entrepreneurial spirit here.  We’re ideas people.”

Dickman shared a story about a person who was curious about his business — managing the energy that companies use to move products to market — but seemed surprised that large and successful corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Whirlpool or Kraft Foods would need to seek outside expertise in this area.

“The answer is simple,” Dickman told the graduates. “They have exceptional talent on staff, primarily experts in their core businesses… but they don’t have all the talent, or all the ideas.  There is room for someone in Green Bay, Wisconsin – especially in Green Bay, Wisconsin – to make a difference. “

He advised the Class of 2013 to set aside the natural Midwestern tendency to be humble and instead be loud and proud about their own abilities and the quality of their UW-Green Bay experience. “Don’t be too cautious about pursuing that next great idea,” he said. “Don’t wonder if a UW-Green Bay graduate can make that difference.”

Dickman also talked about his business philosophy, and shared a favorite quote from the late Michael Hammer, a former-business professor at MIT and well-respected author and analyst. The words are displayed just inside the front door of Breakthrough Fuel’s headquarters in a restored railroad depot in downtown Green Bay.

“Business creates,” Hammer wrote. “Medicine heals… education enlightens… science discovers… art inspires… but business creates.  It creates products, it creates services, it creates jobs. It creates value for its customers and assets for society.  Without the vital creative force of business, our world would be impoverished beyond all reckoning.”

Dickman said the quote resonates with him, as he and team members “take great pride in the creation of new knowledge that can be applied in a meaningful way to bring value for others.” He also appreciates that, while it describes business as a driver of progress, it also recognizes other pursuits as equal and important aspects of a great and healthy society.  (Dickman said his only amendment would be to add to the list workers in public health and safety and the armed forces  — “I am proud of the work this University does for our military and veterans.”

Dickman recalled that at his own commencement 31 years ago, he was a little nervous about entering the job market in a tough economy. He says he now realizes he worried too much.

“Relax, and have a quiet confidence in the course your life will take,” he advised the grads. “You’re very well prepared whether your future will be creating… healing… discovering… enlightening… inspiring… or serving, I wish you the best on your journey.  Remember to have some fun along the way… take time for your friends, your family, your community and yourselves. I can’t wait to see how you transform our world for the better.”


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