May 23, 2014

Abridged speech delivered May 19, 2014 at LSU College of Engineering Diploma Ceremony by Harry Longwell, Retired Director and Executive Vice President, ExxonMobil Corporation; 1963 LSU Petroleum Engineering Alumnus.

As an LSU Petroleum Engineering graduate 51 years ago, it is indeed an honor and pleasure to speak to the 2014 LSU College of Engineering graduating class. Today you are completing that first big step in your success story. What a great day for this important milestone in your lives. This is a day you will always remember in that the diploma you will receive is your “ticket to ride” in pursuing your dreams. Congratulations!

Regarding your future, what kind of advice can I share with you from my experiences? I would like to share the fundamentals for successful achievements as you embark on your engineering career.

I boil this down to an overall set of ethical guidelines or a “Personal Code of Conduct.” Similar to what you have repeatedly heard at home, church and school, but hopefully this additional concentrated dose will reemphasize the importance as you go forth.

Your ethics are the same in everything you do. You cannot separate private and public behavior. If you cheat in your personal life, you will likely cheat your company, shareholders and constituents.

Proper ethical behavior is simply stated, “Do the Right Thing” driven by your character. It is trite to some, but says it all about ethics in general and business ethics in particular. The “Right Thing” is absolute, not relative to what others are doing and you can’t make up ethical standards as you go along.

Ethical behavior is founded in a number of principles within the overall “Do the Right Thing” philosophy:

  • It begins with a strong work ethic to make the job yours with full accountability. To elaborate, I really believe ethical behavior begins with hard work and ownership of the work product that reflects who you are and who you want to be known as. 
  • Full disclosure, truthfulness and full compliance with laws and regulations, no exceptions. Know what you are talking about and most importantly what you don’t know. 
  • Fairness to everyone and inclusiveness. I can’t over emphasize the importance of evaluating diverse opinions and listening carefully. 
  • No compromise on principles. When you know you are right and what is right, stick to it. Make no small wrong steps in hopes of making things better or right later and don’t get into a position that you have to have or do something.
  • Finally, make decisions and take positions on fact and science based judgment underpinned by your faith that you can live with long term and defend publicly. As I heard recently and is implied in the engineering creed, “know the facts because the facts are looking at you.”

Ethics are like most things in that it takes a long time to build a reputation but can be lost in a heartbeat. So we must be relentless in pursuit of these ideals. Pursuing these ideals results in them becoming integral in our actions, like muscle memory in sports. I really believe if you live your life and pursue your career based on these ethical principles over the long term you will distinguish yourself while being successful and happy.

I would also like to offer you another piece of important advice as you leave LSU and that is to fulfill your implied obligation to work to make this institution even better for students who come after you. My philosophy at ExxonMobil was in order for a manager or professional to be successful, his or her successor had to do a better job than they did. That is the fundamental principle that long term successful societies and companies thrive on.

So it goes with the LSU College of Engineering. If graduates don’t support the College in a variety of ways, faculty and staff can’t do a better job in preparing your successors to compete in the engineering world and the College will decline. Long term, the real value of an educational institution is recognized through its graduates, not its sports teams, although they are an important part of the institution and we love them dearly. So bring the College along with your success story and help it be the best it can be by giving back your treasures of advice, counsel, influence, participation and financial support.

I sincerely hope this heart-felt discussion will help as you pursue your dreams and make our society a better place through your engineering endeavors. Work hard, be adaptable and inclusive, do the “Right Thing” and give back. Never forget your roots and the benefits of this education you have worked so hard to achieve.

Congratulations again and I wish you and yours the very best and that you are always proud to be an LSU Tiger and that you are an outstanding reflection of LSU.

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