Rodney O'Neal '76 really only had one reason for filling out his college application to General Motors Institute (Kettering University) back in the 1960s - he wanted his guidance counselor to stop asking him about it.
The guidance counselor's approach worked, and so did the academic preparation and career experiences that have led O'Neal, 48, to serve as executive vice president of Delphi Corp. and president of the company's Safety, Thermal & Electrical Architecture Sector.
O'Neal returned to campus Aug. 9 to deliver the keynote address for the 19th annual awards banquet of Academically Interested Minorities (AIM) pre-college summer program. The banquet honored the accomplishments of 36 high school students, who had spent six weeks of the summer in a pre-college preparatory program focused on calculus, chemistry, computers, economics, physics, management and marketing.
O'Neal recently received two of the country's highest engineering honors. In February he was named the 2002 Black Engineer of the Year, the top award presented at an annual conference hosted by the publishers of "U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology" magazine. In March, he received the 2002 Lifetime Achievement in Industry Award by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
"If I'm old enough to receive a lifetime achievement award," O'Neal said during his address, "I've become in touch with my own mortality."
O'Neal told the group it was great being on campus once again. "I love to feel the energy of youth. I'm very glad to be back," he said during the AIM banquet. "When I got out of high school, I wanted to earn $15,000 and have a good set of wheels underneath me. I couldn't have imagined traveling around the world or being an executive at a global company."
Back then, he explained, he wasn't necessarily welcomed in restaurants or restrooms. "A lot has changed since the 1960s," he told the minority students. "None of the doors that have opened for me, however, would have opened without an outstanding education.
"I'm well aware of what Kettering can do for you," he said. "I work for Delphi, a $9 billion company that does business in 38 countries. The top five out of six executives at Delphi are Kettering graduates," he said, noting the company stuck a Harvard grad in there just to mix it up a little bit.
"An outstanding set of people have come out of this place," O'Neal told the AIM students. "So remember this - the average starting salary for a Mechanical Engineering graduate in 2002 is $50,000. If you're going to work, you might as well get paid for it.
"There is a critical shortage of engineers, especially African-American engineers. We have to push hard to educate the next generation. And personally, I prefer a workforce that has options," he added.
"You are the envy of the elders in the room," O'Neal concluded. "There is no 'would have' or 'could have' in your life yet. Dream big. Dream the impossible and find out what it takes to make your dreams come alive.
"And remember this: It's not all about your title on your business card. Success is measured by how many hearts of others you gather along the way."
About Rodney O'Neal '76
Rodney O'Neal is originally from Dayton, Ohio, and began his career with General Motors as a co-op student in 1971. At Delphi, his responsibilities include leading a sector of 110,000 employees and $10 billion in sales. He is also a member of the Delphi Strategy Board, the company's top policy-making group and serves as the executive champion for Delphi's Ford customer team.
O'Neal was named the 2002 Black Engineer of the Year at the 16th Annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference, sponsored by the publishers of "U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology" magazine. He received the 2002 Lifetime Achievement in Industry Award by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in March 2002.
He is a member of the board for Inroads, Inc., and the Woodward Governor Company. He is a member of the Executive Leadership Council and serves on the advisory board for Focus: Hope. He is also involved in a number of organizations including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Mental Illness Needs Discussion Sessions (MINDS), Music Hall and Lighthouse Community Services.
Written by Pat Mroczek