JT Battenberg III '66, CEO of Delphi, cleaned out the closet of his professional memories for Kettering University students Wednesday, Sept. 17. Taking a break from contract negotiations with the UAW, he spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in McKinnon Theater, and borrowed a song title from rapper Eminem as the title of his speech, "Cleanin' out my closet." He used the theme to share his tips for success.
"My mind is a virtual closet," he said, "of things I have learned and experienced." Focusing on three topics: career, community and calibration, he advised students not to be afraid of making career moves that seem like a step backward, saying that a demotion early in his career was one of the best career moves he ever made.
"I have had 13 different jobs at General Motors throughout a 37-year career, and every one of those jobs was a promotion except one," Battenberg said. "It was a terrific learning experience. And although I lost the company car for a while, there was a lot of hard work that helped me in future assignments. Boy did I learn a lot of stuff," he said, "I had to deal with patience, risk taking, resiliency and my pride."
He said having a long view of his career helped keep him focused, and having a long view in general helps him in business. Citing surveys of corporate and business investors, Battenberg said the characteristic most valued in a CEO is having a long-term view.
Battenberg also advised students to become "embedded" in their communities. He said getting involved with policy makers and community leaders that affect our time benefits business and commerce. "It is critical to interact with politicians, reporters, religious leaders, social and environmental activists, analysts and government officials," he said, "this wide constituency have a stake in my company, all companies, and our country."
"Don't fall into the trap of being disassociated from the community around you. Get involved, get informed, get imbedded in your community," said Battenberg. He also recommended that students round out their technical education with liberal studies for a broader world-view.
And finally, he advised applying the principle he calls "calibration" - a mix of skills required by the job with outstanding performance and frequent celebration of successes. Promoting what he called decentralized management, Battenberg admitted it is harder to work as a team than to let the boss dictate how things are going to be done. But it is worth the effort. "Make sure you hire talent, allow talent to flourish and recognize talent," he said.
He followed his speech with one-on-one conversations with many students at an outdoor luncheon in the Bell Tower Court.
Written by Dawn Hibbard