Jim Ransom’s 35-year career spanned finance and advisory services as well as senior leadership roles in private and public companies. He leveraged 10 years with Arthur Andersen and Accenture to earn roles at Everbrite Inc., as executive vice president and later at Menasha Corp. as division chief executive officer. He spent the next 15 years at Bemis, starting as division president and retiring in 2017 as executive officer and president of Bemis North America. He built his career around servant leadership, a strategic agenda and delivering results. Since his “retirement,” Ransom has enjoyed the role of instructor in UWO’s MBA program.
The following is the speech Ransom delivered as part of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 146th spring commencement:
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I graduated 37 years ago, and you might wonder why would the University pick somebody as old as me to chat with you today.
- Well I prepared for this so I watched 20 hours of TikTok,
- I listened to 13 hours of the Tiger King, I’m having Carol Baskin flashbacks… all you cool cats and kittens,
- and I’ve had two Bud Lights for every day that I’ve been in, well three Bud Light’s for every day I’ve been in quarantine
- and my daughter cut my hair.
I am prepared.
But on a serious note, congratulations, to all of you, this is a wonderful opportunity. Even though we need to do it in this virtual format, it doesn’t take anything away from what a great experience this should be. I’m really proud and I congratulate all of you. And it isn’t the end of anything really, it’s just the beginning of a lifelong learning experience, a lifelong opportunity to explore and a lifelong adventure. It’s a real journey. And I know it’s a little chaotic right now. You’re probably anxious, but I would turn that energy into being curious, not anxious.
The world is changing, obviously, but with that change comes opportunity and if I think of some of the big huge industries that are gonna shift – think of healthcare and what tele-medicine is gonna do to that changing environment. Think of the investment into the sciences, probably more than any point in my lifetime. I also think about the world of education, which I’m now partially working in, and we’re gonna learn and teach differently than we ever have before.
And obviously the business community is a bit flipped upside down but the last time we went through a crisis, not as bad as this, but back in ’08, companies emerged prior to that you never even heard of: Hulu and Netflix and Amazon and Venmo and Uber, and I could keep going on. That’s going to happen again. Supply chains that took 20 years, 30 years to build are gonna get upended.
All of that is gonna be an opportunity, an opportunity for you to be curious, an opportunity for you to explore your adventure. How can I help you think through that? What are the kinds of things you might want to keep in mind as you go through this adventure?
First and foremost, think about your dream job in the dream company, in the dream city. It might be two weeks, two months…several. What are you gonna do with your time? Between now and then? That’s an incredible question I think employers are gonna ask.
You can differentiate by just what you do over the next two, three, four months. Use that time to explore what that next opportunity might look like.
Whether it’s volunteering, whether it’s reading, whether it’s some sort of online class, don’t sit and waste time. It’s the one thing you can’t get back and it’ll help you differentiate when you search for that first big job.
Think about networking, it might be counterintuitive right now because the world’s somewhat shut down. Don’t let that stop you from continuing to network. Think about your alumni friends, your student friends, your professors, your parents’ friends, people you know that might now somebody…that might know somebody, that works in the city that might know the company that you’re going after.
I think you’re gonna find that people are very very aware of the need to continue to meet and chat. And they’re gonna be there for you, so use your time wisely. You can’t get it back.
Continue to network and think about a couple other things, lessons I think I’ve learned, hopefully they’ll make a difference for you.
You can’t control much–right now, obviously. But there’s one thing you can control, and that’s what you think about when you get up every morning and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, they wake up on Monday hoping it’s Friday and they string a whole bunch of those together.
OR – you can wake up and make it the most magnificent day of your life. I know that sounds a little corny, but it really really is true.
So you can decide to be anxious, you can decide to be average, or you can dare to be great, but you actually truly get to make that choice. You can’t control much else but you really can control that.
Another piece of advice I would give to newer students going into their first job, even if you’ve been out in the work world for a long time, so many people make it about themselves, it’s all about me. I gotta tell you, if you really want to differentiate, make it about everybody else. Make it about the people that you work with, make the people around you better. Don’t make it all about you, you will differentiate right out of the box if you think that way.
There’s a famous quote from Pat Summitt. She died a few years ago. She was the basketball coach at the University of Tennessee and she said, “nobody cares how much you know “until they know how much you care.”
Think about that.
It works every single time.
And finally I would say if you think about what really truly brings peace and happiness into your life, yeah it’s not the new job, it’s not the new check, it’s not the first car it’s not any of those really. True peace and happiness comes from the quality of your relationships, starting with yourself. And I know that might not resonate with a 22 year old or someone just getting out of college, but it really really is true when you think about what’s most important in your life, particularly right now.
So, you know the light’s gonna go back on, the sun’s coming out, America will be just fine and so will you. And I think what’s kind of cool, you’re gonna be at the heart of what this new normal’s going to look like. You’re gonna have a front row seat at helping kind of create it, and I think you gotta look at that as an adventure, and look at that with the curiosity it takes to win in that kind of environment.
So again congratulations, please remember… be positive, be kind, be curious and most importantly dare to be great.
You can do it, I know you can. I’m so happy for all of you and your families.
Congratulations again and go celebrate tonight and have some fun,