Richard C. Notebaert, chairman emeritus, Notre Dame Board of Trustess: 2017 Graduate School Commencement Address

by Notre Dame News

Father Jenkins, Provost Burish, Dean Carlson, distinguished faculty, staff, family and friends. And especially you, the members of the graduating class of 2017. This is a special day. A day to celebrate, and let me add my congratulations to you. Congratulations to each of you.

Dick Notebaert

As I read about your amazing achievements and considered your outstanding education, I wondered what I might contribute here today to help equip you for your future. So I am going to share some insights that I have learned over my many years, keys that have changed my life, with help and guidance from my mentors. Let’s start with two of my many mentors and what I have learned from them. Then I will share several other keys to success and happiness.

First, I think of my wife, Peggy, whom I met my freshman year in college. Besides being the best thing that ever happened to me, she has always been an invaluable barometer on everything I do. That has convinced me that each of us needs a confidante — a friend, a family member, an associate — that will tell us when we are moving too fast or too slow or in the wrong direction and who cares enough about us to be honest about things they feel we need to know or do.

An example of another of my mentors was a gentleman by the name of Bill Weiss. In the 1980s and 1990s I had the privilege to work for and with Bill Weiss, the chairman of our company. He promoted me, he lectured me, he shared triumph and anguish and every emotion in between with me. But, most of all, he provided me the equivalent of a doctorate in what effective leadership is all about. He was a person who taught me to seek out other people’s views of problems and/or solutions. He would encourage pushback and wanted input from people he knew would see the world through different lenses. He never got upset or angry or defensive because he learned that the interaction was important to creating a solution and a path to implementation by those who were critical to execution. I learned this really made the path to success a team effort. The other part of that path was that once the leader took that input and made the decision we were committed. No waffling! No turtling. We called that democratic input and dictatorial execution. We all need coaches and we need to listen to and learn from them.

So here are three more important insights I have learned over the years.

First is that you need to have passion — that you do what you do because you love it. Passion creates energy! The people I worked with would not let me drink coffee and would be very upset if I didn’t run in the mornings before I came to work. My energy level was too high for them to deal with if I didn’t follow their advice. I couldn’t get to the office quick enough in the morning and solve whatever issues were at hand. It took me years to connect the energy with the fact that my job wasn’t just a job it was more than that – it was my life.

So, I advise you to pursue whatever it is that gives you a sense of joy and fulfillment. Of course that doesn’t mean there won’t be times of frustration. Passion needs to be focused so that along with passion for what you do you need a goal orientation. What do you want to achieve? What are the various avenues to take you there? Most importantly, how will you measure success? How will you know when you make it? Will it be awards or publications? Will it be the success of those you help? Only you can make such determinations.

We see this passionate goal orientation in you. You have studied hard. Committed time and effort to reaching today. You have made sacrifices and trade-offs.

Some asked me, “Should it be a five-year plan?” For some that makes a lot of sense. But in the world of the professional you need a 90-day plan taking you on the path. The world we live in is one of rapid change. Technology, especially, is constantly redefining itself. So we need to have both a clear picture of what we want to achieve and the flexibility to adapt to new realities.

The path through the maze will have twists and turns and maybe even setbacks. I experienced two demotions on my way to where I wanted to be. And that was OK, because when setbacks help you to grow, they are only bumps along the way to your endgame. Those demotions were a great learning experience because the assignments I went to were areas I needed to learn and experience and grow in.

The next lesson is that balance is not just a good idea but an essential to the success of every aspect of your future. You may have heard the saying that God gave us 24 hours so we’d have eight to work, eight to sleep and eight to keep our personal lives on track. And while the number of hours certainly can vary, it’s important not to neglect any of these three areas.

Consistently abuse your body — with lack of sleep or exercise, junk food or other harmful substances — and you will pay the price. Consistently work 12-hour days or toil in a job that makes you miserable, and watch your health and personal life disintegrate. Focus on personal activities to the exclusion of work and health, and miss the satisfaction of making a difference or worthwhile contribution. Or neglect that personal life and wake up 20 years from now wondering, “What is the point?”

I’ve seen people make these mistakes more times than I care to remember. So what I do know now is that balance is an important gift only you can give yourself. Only you can determine that balance. And I hope you’ll diligently pursue it.

Finally, my last piece of advice — and possibly the most important one of all. And that is that as you reach for your definition of success, you conduct yourselves in ways that will pass the “newspaper test,” and I’m talking here about the critical matter of personal and professional integrity.

The newspaper test is the simple conscious practice of looking at choices you make in terms of the question, “If I were to do this, and it were to appear on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or, in today’s world, some blog or YouTube video, would I be OK with that?” Now in the world of social media, there is usually criticism and second-guessing, but you need to always know that you did the right thing for the right reason. As I have always said, it is OK to make a mistake if the motive was right. Learn from it and move on.

This has been an important touchstone in every organization I have led; in fact, I doubt you could have found anyone at Qwest who couldn’t tell you what the newspaper test is and the value of applying it. Because as too many people in business, in government, in sports and in virtually every other facet of our society can tell you, trust broken can seldom be regained. And personal integrity is far too valuable an asset to risk.

And that’s it. My short course on what I do know now — all things I hope you know as well as this day launches the bright future you envision.

Congratulations, graduates. Congratulations parents and spouses and friends. And thank you again for allowing me to be part of your celebration.