Posted: Monday Dec 19, 2011
Commencement Address by Carlos M. Cardoso
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kennametal Inc.
Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
December 17, 2011
Greetings and congratulations to the graduating class of 2011. What an exciting day! I am humbled, honored and grateful to be in the presence of such an accomplished group of students who represent a bright future for our country and our communities.
While we are celebrating a joyous occasion, I do want to take a moment to express my condolences to family, friends and faculty on the recent loss of student Matthew Russo. The community mourns this young life taken too soon and our thoughts are with you as you recover from this tragedy.
As you sit here today, I hope you feel proud of all you have accomplished. Earning a degree is no easy task. Success is hard to achieve without support and throughout your studies I am sure each of you had someone who supported you in reaching your goals. I hope, as you celebrate this milestone today, you will take the time to thank those that have helped you along the way.
When I received the invitation from Archabbot Douglas to speak at commencement, I immediately began to think about what I could possibly say that would truly make a difference on your graduation day.
As I reflected upon my own education and life experiences, what came to mind were three guiding principles I set for myself early in my career. Number one: Never forget where you came from. Remember to always be humble and understand the importance of your family values. Number two: Take the opportunity to learn from everyone you come across and every situation you encounter. Three: Make a difference in everything you do and everyone you meet. As I spent some time thinking about these guiding principles, I generated three points of advice I think are relevant to share with you today as you take the next step in your journey of life whatever that may be.
First, never underestimate the power of education. Now, by this I don’t just mean the education you receive in the classroom. Although this type of education is important and creates a solid foundation, I am referring to the education you can receive by being open and willing to learn from people and experiences you encounter every day. Textbook theories are useful, however, developing critical thinking skills and being able to apply theories in real life are invaluable. You will meet countless people throughout your lifetime and they will all have a story to tell and experiences to share. Learn from them.
The most valuable learning takes place outside of your comfort zone. And I’m convinced this type of education is what prepares you for the work force. For me, the importance of this type of learning came from an experience in my childhood. I was born in Africa to European parents and grew up living between two continents. As a result, I had to adapt quickly to different cultures and environments and be able to learn new things at a rapid pace. Being open to learn from those around me in this situation enabled me to succeed. It also gave me a greater appreciation for the power of learning and helped me develop the courage to come to the United States on my own at the age of 17 to pursue a college education.
While I have learned that culture matters, despite all the differences, people are actually more similar in many ways than they are different. At the very basic level, we all have a common ground. Taking the opportunity to learn from others and recognize your similarities will help you adapt to difficult situations and work through complex issues of all kinds. I encourage you to continually challenge yourself to try new things and empower yourself to listen and learn.
Just as learning from others is important, it is also important to learn from yourself and your own mistakes. This is my second piece of advice: look at mistakes as a blessing in disguise and rebound from failure with resilience. Embrace both positive and negative aspects of your experiences to learn and personally grow. As you enter into the work force, you will begin to prepare yourself for leadership, and part of leadership is being able to demonstrate resilience in challenging times. Earlier in my career, I was tasked to lead the turn-around of a struggling business. I had been in this situation before and been successful. Therefore, I didn’t waste any time and quickly put together a plan I thought would help re-build the business. In the process, I did not take the time to fully understand all the elements of potential failure and underestimated the capabilities of the team members around me. In hindsight, developing the plan in collaboration with my team would have allowed for greater success. The lesson learned is you must be patient with change. Oftentimes, leaders just want to run with a plan or action instead of taking it slow. If you don’t look over your shoulder as you are running to be sure your team is behind you, you will eventually look back too late and see there is no one there because they fell so far behind trying to catch up. As you go through life, make sure you take the time to look over your shoulder. You are only as strong as the team you have behind you.
Finally, as you grow in your experiences, you will become a leader and leadership requires striving to make a difference in everything you do. One of the biggest challenges I face every day as a leader is becoming obsolete. It doesn’t matter how good you are today if you aren’t doing something to make a difference tomorrow. At Kennametal we were faced with a crossroads during the recent recession. We ultimately had two options. One, do the best we could do to manage throughout the recession without making any significant changes to the business. Or two, really examine our business and our people and make tough decisions to transform our organization to become even more competitive in the upturn.
We chose the road less traveled, which involved making very difficult decisions that impacted our employees and our business so that we could be sustainable in the future. We chose the more difficult option because it made a difference and we are now seeing the benefits of this decision.
When we are profitable, we are able to give back to our communities. We are able to invest in our people and in technologies, to improve our operations for the benefit of the environment.
The difference we are able to achieve far surpasses any difference we would have been able to make if we did not act on change.
Sometimes in life you will not make popular decisions but they are ultimately for a good cause.
I continually tell my employees that you do not need permission to do the right thing. I offer you the same advice in your personal life. Always aim to do the right thing and make a difference in everything you’re involved with including your community. This is leadership.
In closing, I would like to ask you to think about how you will make a difference in this world as you graduate today. I leave you with a quote from Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: “In the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you may gain the tranquility that comes from knowing that you have had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent and that it mattered.”
Congratulations, Class of 2011, and good luck!
To view photos from Commencement, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/saintvincentcollege/sets/72157628488299403/.