Tips from the pros

Nov 24, 2003

They came from different graduating classes and different parts of the country, but they were united in their message.

They came from different graduating classes and different parts of the country, but they were united in their message. Six African American Kettering/GMI alumni returned to campus Saturday, Nov. 22, to share their thoughts and their personal experiences on climbing the ladder of success.

They all spoke of making the most of opportunity, of being prepared, of working hard, of trying to find balance in their lives, and the importance of helping others.

Frank Preston '70, moderated the panel discussion that included James Martin '83, Thomas E. Darden Jr., '82, Joseph Sawyer '77, Barbara Whittaker '74, and Steve Pettiford '71.

Martin, director of Product Portfolio Planning for General Motors-Powertrain Group, opened the panel with the importance of being prepared. "You can't control opportunities," he said, "but you can control how prepared you are when opportunities arise."

Whittaker, executive director of Machinery, Equipment and Indirect Purchasing for General Motors Worldwide Purchasing, built on the idea of preparedness as a key to success and added sacrifice. "You CAN do it all," she said, "if you are willing to sacrifice. The challenge is to decide what is the appropriate amount of sacrifice in any one area." She also stressed to students they need to find time to regenerate themselves.

Pettiford, executive director of Production Control and Logistics for General Motors-Powertrain Group, emphasized values and making the most of the experiences you are living today. "You can't do everything all the time, so wherever you decide to spend your time, make it count," he said.

Sawyer and Darden gave students a non corporate perspective on success. Sawyer is managing partner in the Sawyer Law Group, specializing in patent law. After spending some time in corporate America, Sawyer "realized I was better suited to owning my own business." Starting with a home office, Sawyer now employs six attorneys. "When you have your own business," Sawyer said, "it's not a 9 to 5 job. You work a lot of hours, but the satisfaction is great."

Darden, founder of Reliant Equity Investors, a management-centric private equity investment firm that invests in later-stage, middle market companies, also spoke of hard work. Having realized, while still a student, that he wanted to build his own business, Darden mapped out a plan at age 19 and focused his energies on learning everything he could about business. After heading a number of start-up companies, Darden decided growing a business was his forte and he founded Reliant. "My favorite quote describes entrepreneurship as the ability to go from failure to failure with a high level of enthusiasm,'" he said.

All panelists cited mentors and contacts made in college as essential to their success, and encouraged students to reach out to younger students and help mentor them.

"Stay connected to one another," said Pettiford, "you never know where the individual sitting next to you today will wind up. Unity gives us strength, strength contributes to progress and we all move forward together."

The event was co-sponsored by the Black Unity Congress student group, the National Society of Black Engineers student group and the Office of Minority Student Affairs at Kettering.

Written by Dawn Hibbard