Carol Bartz is an American business executive, former president and CEO of the internet services company Yahoo!, and former chairman, president, and CEO at architectural and engineering design software company Autodesk. Carol delivered a great speech to the graduating class of UW Madison with core themes like embracing failure, communication, and hanging with the right crowd.
Announcer: To introduce you to Carol Bartz, who will deliver the charge to the graduates. Carol has extensive experience leading complex global technology companies while CEO of Yahoo, the world’s premier digital media company, Carol modernized technology platforms, acquired companies for expansion, divested businesses for focus, ignited partnerships, cut costs, expanded margins, and grew consumer audience to 800 million people. Not a small task.
Prior to Yahoo, she was promoted after 12 years of successfully leading AutoDesk as CEO to the executive chairman until February 2009, when she agreed to lead Yahoo. Earlier in her career, Carol held several business leadership positions at Sun Microsystems, including vice president of the worldwide field operations and served as executive officer of the company.
Carol is currently the lead director on the board of Cisco Systems, the worldwide leader in networking. She also serves as the director of the National Medals of Science and Technology Foundation and as trustee of the Paley Center for Media. She has also served on other public company boards, including Intel and NetApp. Carol is known for her strong leadership style, is frequently featured as a prominent business leader in the industry, and is regularly listed as one of Fortune’s most powerful women. Carol supports key causes important to her including the American Breast Cancer Foundation and the American Heart Association. We are deeply honored and gratified that Carol is with us today. Please join me in welcoming Carol Bartz.
Carol Bartz’s 2012 UW Madison Commencement Speech Transcript
Thank you, encore chancellor. Welcome, grads. Are you awake, or is this the cemetery? It’s not Friday morning, it’s Saturday, and welcome especially to the moms and mom figures that you have who worried every single day that you were here. Every single day. So a special thanks to moms.
Because guess what? You don’t answer e-mail, you certainly don’t answer phone calls, and you make fun of our texts. My daughter always said to me, “Mom, why do you sign it mom? I know it’s you.”
And I’m in technology. So I can only imagine what happens to all of us here. So I’m so honored to be here. I did leave here in 1971. I never had the chance then to go to my graduation because I was already going to start work. So I feel super excited that I’m here, and I really am proud for all of you. I’m proud for this great university, and I never fault to tell people where I graduated. Because I’m really, really proud, and they understand how great Wisconsin is.
So, but I do tell you that I think my remarks today should come with a warning label, and the warning label goes like this. Attention, attention. The advice you’re about to receive comes from a 63 year old, unemployed, former CEO whose language is frequently described as salty. Now what a stupid term that is, but anyway. So you’re warned, but also consider yourself fortunate not because I’m here, but because you’re graduating, classes are over, exams are over, and you’re just entering another wonderful phase of your life.
You’re actually fortunate that you’re entering a world more exciting and challenging and eye opening than any other previous generation. I think we all thought that. I just am so excited for you. You know, you’ve read the headlines. Jobs are tough. I talked to some of you yesterday on campus. You said you didn’t have a job yet and so forth. Economy’s uncertain we know. Some of you are going to have to face the reality of moving back in with your parents. Now that might be good. That might be bad. I will not make a judgment. My daughter has already boomeranged back, and she thinks she gets to pick the TV shows. No. You’ve been gone five years, sweetie. No.
So that’s just a word to the parents. They don’t get to pick anymore. They’re not, you know, they’re not the apple of your eye. They’re the apple of your heart, but you get to move on.
So I graduated in 1971, and I will tell you I do have one bad note for you. The rest of your life, Thursday nights will never be as good. Never. Never, never. Never.
You know, yesterday, ostensibly, I was out trying to find some T-shirts and so forth for my family, and instead I was actually looking for my old hangouts. Sad to say, they are all gone: The pub, the KK. Schmitty’s, the Townie Bar. I don’t remember what it was called because we were so snobby, which was stupid, but anyway.
The good news is I found all kinds of replacements. So I’m sure on Thursday nights, you guys had a ball, and just cherish all that. Cherish those friends. Cherish those Thursday nights. But anyway, back to 1971. A little bit of a treatise on what was going on then. It was hardly a high watermark for American optimism. Inflation was rampant. Unemployment was about to reach a 20-year high. The war in Southeast Asia was expanding. Yes, I was here during all of that. I have many stories, most of which would get me in jail.
Back then, economists wrote that it was the end of an era. The global dominance of the U.S. economy had come to an end. Seriously, 20 years ago, 40 years ago. Geez. Oh, please 20. Had come to an end. OK. And Japan and the entire European community were the rising stars. That’s what the predictions were. So it was very hard to see past those headlines when I graduated, and the future really didn’t look bright.
I had a UW degree in a new field called computer science. Jobs in that field were scarce, especially for women. Now, that’s no surprise. That hasn’t changed. Maybe you can help change that. But it was a special year in the United States. So I want to actually tell you a few things that were happening.
In 1971, the NASDAQ began trading for the first time. A new airline called Southwest started. In California, a company called Intel invented the microprocessor. In Florida, a new theme park opened called Disney World. The U.S. lifted its trade embargo against China, and in 1971, a new telephone business called MCI offered cheap rates on long distance except you don’t even know what long distance is.
Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of this coming, but what I want you to do is draw some hope from this history. Look past the headlines, and actually don’t believe that the events of today are the ones that are going to shape your future. Because your work life is very, very long. You’re the first generation that is preparing for a 50-year work life, and you know why. You have to support all of us. You know, that probably sounds like an eternity now, and you’re probably saying let me first get a job and then I’ll worry about working 50 years, but truly, for all kinds of reasons, health reasons, economic reasons, most of you will be working into your 70’s and 80’s, which actually isn’t all that bad. Retirement now at 62 and 65 as we think of it will be a thing of the past.
You know, think of instead of this as a burden as a series of opportunities. In fact, people used to go to a job and stay in that job forever. That doesn’t happen anymore. How boring is that? So think of it as a chance to find and discover new things. If you start a job or business this summer or fall or a year from now, you’re going to realize how much runway you actually have.
In the past, people talked about career ladders, and that’s what work felt like. If you were lucky, and you were diligent, and you sucked up and all that stuff, you went up the ladder. Do you want to do that, no. First of all, ladders are very unstable. Do a career pyramid so you have a great basis, you can change your mind, you can do a lot of different things. It felt like that when I left to join 3M and then Digital Equipment. It felt like that at Sun Microsoft in the 80’s. Back in the 80’s when I was at Sun, computers didn’t talk to one another. There was no Internet. There was no e-mail. There were no web apps. There were no ping pong tables and bean chair, bag chairs in the lounge. It was pretty boring. In fact, we sent letters to customers, and then waited two weeks to get a response. It was actually kind of chilling, but that’s not what your life is about.
Corporate information was very, very hard to get to. The world of work was very hierarchical. None of this stuff is happening now. Businesses are so eager to get your brains. They’re so eager to get your ideas. They’re so eager to get your thinking.
So the question I have and pose to you is how are you going to take advantage of that. So no ceremony is finished without some advice. So here’s mine. I have a lot of advice, but this is the clean advice.
A good network can take you down. A bad network can take you down. A good network can give you inspiration and ideas. So hang with the right people.
OK. First, hang with the right people. That’s always been true, but it’s even more important in this open world of social networks. Networking was once considered a very self-conscious way to get ahead. It meant passing out business cards, but your social network is very, very important to you as you move through your career. A good network can take you down. A bad network can take you down. A good network can give you inspiration and ideas. So hang with the right people.
Second, learn how to communicate and how to listen. I don’t care what career it is. You have to know how to communicate. Practice actually writing a great paragraph, not a Tweet. Master the elevator pitch so that you can tell somebody in ten seconds what you’re interested in, what you do, what your company does, what your products do. The best path to success in any business, marriage, friendship is communication. After you’ve done that, learn to listen. The problem with Facebook and Twitter is we’ve trained a generation of people to post, chime in, react, respond, but not really sit back and listen. So remember how important listening is in every aspect of your life.
I sometimes worry that your generation is a generation on transmit and never receive. Do you even know what that means? That was supposed to be kind of funny. Thank you. Little too much Thursday night last night.
When I was a CEO of AutoDesk and Yahoo, some of the most interesting times are when the research, Ph.D.’s, and engineers sat down and said this is the future. So think, listen, absorb.
My third piece of advice, and this is the last one, accept failure and learn from it. Failure is part of life. It’s part of every career, and you have to know how to take advantage of it. The single greatest strength that this country has via Silicon Valley is that failure is seen as a sign of experience. Failure’s part of work. It’s part of life. People are willing to take risks on the way to innovation.
One of my fondest sayings is fail fast forward. Recognize you failed, try to do it fast, learn from it, build on it, and move forward. Embrace failure. Have it be part of your persona. You’re going to have long careers, as I’ve already told you. You’re going to have many failures, personal, business, professional. I’ve had my share, but just use as a building block to your next success.
Embrace failure. Have it be part of your persona. You’re going to have long careers, as I’ve already told you. You’re going to have many failures, personal, business, professional. I’ve had my share, but just use as a building block to your next success.
Most of all, be excited about what awaits you. The virtue of a 50-year career is it gives you plenty of time. Plenty of time to plan. Plenty of space for left and right turns for the unexpected, and plenty of friendships.
Plan to raise kids. That’s the best advanced degree you can get. You think you’re smart, have a child.
Plan, discover, and have interests outside of work. Once I got home, I could be a trip to India. I went all over the world. I’ve been in almost every country. I’d hit my garden. I’d see my family. I’m a Wisconsin girl. Big garden, and that was just enough to just chill me out.
But amid all this planning, be open to any fork in the road. When I was at Sun, I had half the employees, all the revenue, and I had a chance to be CEO at AutoDesk. I didn’t really care. I didn’t know, I didn’t plan to be a CEO. Best move I ever made. It’s a fascinating company. So don’t be blinded by taking a risk. Take a chance. Don’t be blinded by the anxiety of this economy. Bob Noyce, who’s the founder of Intel, had a great expression. He said, “Don’t be encumbered by history. Go out and do something wonderful.”
“Don’t be encumbered by history. Go out and do something wonderful.” – Bob Noyce
Because of all the hard work and diligence, the Class of 2012, you have the chance to do something wonderful. Go out and do it. Thank you.