When we caught up with Andy Hannah recently and heard about the commencement speech he gave at Pitt’s College of Business Administration, we asked to see it. And then we asked to share it with our readers. Since we’re all about change and what’s next for our region, we liked his convincing message that students will change the world. We especially like this part about the lessons he’s learned: Everything will be ok, the universe is unfolding as it should, and happiness is a choice. Read on to learn more from the former CEO of Plextronics and now co-founder of OThot, a predictive and prescriptive analytics company that helps customers predict, understand and change the future.
I am honored to be speaking to you this morning and challenged by the responsibility to impart a few words to you that may qualify as wisdom or insight on how to navigate the incredible voyage that lies ahead of you.
In preparing for this talk I reflected on some of the important words that impacted my life – the words that inspired; the words that pulled me through difficult times; and words that were a rudder to navigate my path.
Through this reflection I wanted to understand why certain words over others have stayed with me as consistent themes for my personal journey.
For example, I love Robert Frost’s famous words “I took the [road] less traveled by and that has made all the difference.” However, I believe they are more descriptive of my life rather than instrumental in setting my course or guiding me along my path.
What I discovered is that inspiring words are only half of the equation. The other half is that you have to be in a state of life and a state of mind to hear the words in order for them to have true impact.
To better articulate my thoughts allow me to tell you a bit of my story. I graduated from a university nestled in a cow pasture in the center of Pennsylvania. After a quick tour of history, political science and pre-law, I graduated with a degree in accounting. In 1987 I accepted a job with Touche Ross (that’s Deloitte today). I spent 3½ years at Deloitte, earned my CPA, became a manager but in my heart I knew I wanted to be a CEO and an entrepreneur but I had no idea how to get there.
I decided to pursue my MBA at Pitt where I focused on Marketing and Finance. I went back to Deloitte as a senior manager in a dual rule – mostly as a new product development professional. I was doing unique things and learning a lot but I was ready for the “next step” on my journey.
One of our clients was a startup company called ISI. I met the CEO and instantly was in love with his business. A couple of months later, at 29 years old, I joined ISI as employee number 18 and as its CFO too and began to build the infrastructure of the company. ISI went on to become a great success with 250 employees and 18 worldwide offices and was sold in 1999 to a large European company. At 34 years old, I knew that new venture creation was my professional love.
But there is an important back story here…
In 1994 my wife and I learned that she was pregnant with our first child. She was a buyer for Macy’s and her salary was higher than mine. She made the courageous decision to leave an accelerating career to be a full-time mom. (By observation, the hardest job that I have ever eye-witnessed and the products that she generated – my two wonderful daughters – are far superior than I will ever create in one of my entrepreneurial ventures.)
She quit her job and at the same time we bought our first house. In 1995 when I joined ISI I took a significant pay cut. So let me sum up the scene for you in 1995: new baby, new house/mortgage, new company with virtually no money in the bank and our household income was reduced to about 33% of the prior year’s.
Sounds like a movie plot, no?
When this decision to leave a secure and accelerating career hit the “family newswire” the phone rang and you will not be surprised to learn that on the other end of the phone was my father-in-law asking me what the hell I was doing with my life and why I was dragging his daughter and new granddaughter into this craziness. I met him for a drink and the only thing I could think to say to him was “I can’t tell you why but I know everything is going to be okay.” Six months later we moved the company to Boston and I was well down the road on a new journey.