Gerald (Jerry) MacCleary, President of Bayer MaterialScience LLC and a B&E accounting graduate, spoke to hundreds of students in the Mountainlair Ballrooms on April 8 as part of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series.
MacCleary shared his story of how he began at Bayer in 1979 and moved up the ranks to lead the company, a world-leading materials provider. On his way to the top, he assumed positions of increasing responsibility within accounting, sales, marketing and strategic leadership.
He began the lecture with some grim unemployment and underemployment statistics. But he gave students hope that some things are beginning to look more promising, such as an increase in manufacturing and investments, as well as opportunities to replace a rapidly retiring workforce.
"Every seven seconds, a person like me, a baby boomer, is retiring," MacCleary said. He explained that companies are looking at skills they are in danger of losing with the retirement of boomers, as well as how to train and retain new talent. He said that companies certainly recognize that college graduates have great skill sets, but that they must also listen to the knowledge and experience of their predecessors.
"You both can teach and learn from each other," he said.
MacCleary also gave students some pointers on finding career success in business.
"Staple yourself to your customers, external and internal. Listen to them. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason," he said. He explained that businesses will always have an obligation to their customers, so it is beneficial to be customer-centric. "Let their voices guide what you do," he told the crowd.
MacCleary also emphasized the importance of broadening and building upon the skill sets learned in college. He said there's an element of risk-taking to achieve this – he has changed jobs 15 times on his way to becoming president of Bayer.
"Don't look at your career as a ladder, but as a pyramid," he said, debunking the common perception that a career is a vertical ladder to climb. "Get out of your comfort zone."
His final lesson to students was for them to own their careers.
"Nobody owes you a career. Your career is your business, and you need to accept ownership," MacCleary said. "It's up to you to manage your career in a way that will allow you to maximize your contributions."
The Distinguished Speaker series will resume on Thursday, September 18, with Nathan Savage, Senior VP and Group Leader, Oil & Gas Midstream Solutions, Savage Services.