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From meager beginnings…

September 15, 2011

I am sitting in the US Airways Club at Pittsburgh International waiting for my flight to Boston to attend Orientation for the MIT Sloan Executive MBA program. It’s a very exciting moment, more exciting that I had really imagined that it would be. I’ve certainly completed more than my fair share of degree programs, but somehow this one has felt different to me, more emotional somehow, than the others.

I grew up on my family’s farm in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania under meager, rural beginnings. As a boy, nearly all of my time outside of school was spent with my grandfather, doing farm chores or, when not working, just sitting on a swing under the cherry trees watching the world go by. There was not much of the world going by our farm.

I recall quite distinctly, when I was perhaps 10 or 12, talking to my grandfather about what I might do when I grew up. He just said simply, “Be a ‘zeckative.” I had never heard of a ‘zeckative and asked him what they were. He said, with much more careful enunciation, “Ex-ec-u-tive… the big bosses. Be the boss.”

It was the only career advice that I ever received from any of my grandparents or great-grandparents. My grandfather did not speak much, so there was never any real opportunity for me to understand his thinking, why he made the suggestion, or even how one might become an executive. In all likelihood, he would not have had much advice to give. He graduated the 8th grade, then went off to work during the Depression, after his father and his grandfather both died in the same year. The year before he died, he came to my BS graduation. He was very happy that I had become what he called “an educated man.”

I’ve been a C-level executive for 15 years now and on occasion, I think back to that moment and wonder if somehow he knew that this is what I would do.

-R.

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