Kathi Seifert Delivers Keynote at 2004 UWFox Convocation
[This page is preserved for historical and reference purposes only. The information contained on it may no longer be current.]
9/14/2004, presented by Kathi Seifert, Retired Executive Vice President, Kimberly-Clark Corporation (All rights reserved; reprinted with the permission of Ms. Seifert.)
Thank you, Dean Perry, for that warm introduction. It’s great to be here today…to be a part of this exciting occasion.
First I would like to salute all of you students for deciding to pursue advanced education. We need you more than ever to help make this world an even better place! I would also like to applaud all of our parents, friends and faculty here today for all of your support and care of these students. They are our future!
As I was thinking about being with all of you today, I couldn’t help but remember my first couple of weeks of college. What a roller coaster of emotions! Excitement and anticipation about having a fresh start...beginning a new chapter of my life. Right along with the anxiety about the unknown. And, wondering where my new adventure would lead.
Looking back on those years, I treasure the time spent in college as one of the most incredible experiences of my life. During those years, I learned many valuable life lessons and established many life-long relationships. My college years provided some of the first building blocks—in my adult life and in my career.
As you will likely experience, my college education extended far beyond the things learned in the classroom. In fact, the things beyond academics became some of my most valuable learnings. Things like the value of hard work, integrity, teamwork and most important, the fact that I had the ability to do whatever I wanted to be. Sounds exciting, but a little scary, right?
Venturing out into the world of college and career, I was not very different than many of you here today. Growing up in the Fox Valley, I graduated from Appleton West High School, was an above average student, was very involved with extracurricular activities and had to work hard to earn my grades. What I didn’t know is exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I really had that figured out.
When I first graduated from college with a marketing/management degree, I worked for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati in their market research department. I left P & G after two and a half years and bummed around Europe for four months (parents hate to hear that!) trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I returned to Wisconsin and landed in Madison working for a division of Beatrice Foods as a distribution analyst, tracking railroad cars (not a great fit for me). I then moved back to the Fox Cities (which I swore I would never do—but it was the best decision I’ve ever made!) I applied for a job with Kimberly-Clark and was rejected which was devastating. But I pressed on…commuting to Green Bay to work at Fort Howard Paper Company. Two and a half years later, my luck changed, when a headhunter told me about a job at K-C. I applied and got the job, even though it wasn’t in the area I wanted to be in. With a foot in the door, I was hopeful good things would happen.
From the first couple of days at KC, I knew it was a great fit for me. There was a tremendous team culture, high ethical standards, strong brands, and great people. One of the greatest things was having a culture that was so supportive, providing others and myself with many opportunities. The same holds true for you. As you embark on your new phase of life, seek opportunities to put yourself in an environment that encourages and supports you….that helps you do and be your best. You’ve already taken a step in that direction by pursuing your education here at UW-Fox Valley.
I’ll never forget the great encouragement and mentoring I received from my first boss at KC, Jack Besser, who took me under his wing, treated me like a daughter and helped me learn the ropes. Jack had a tremendous impact on my career. He gave me advice, and took it upon himself to make sure I was exposed to the leaders of the company. I learned some valuable lessons early in my career. Lessons that have stayed with me throughout my life.
In preparing for today, I was thinking about my life’s journey….what it takes to be successful. And, I kept coming back to a quote that Jack Besser shared with me many times, and that is “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” And as I reflect on my career, I can’t think of any better words of advice to impart to you today. Because we all have the ability to create our own opportunities….to put ourselves in a position to succeed. But when you get right down to it, there’s simply no replacement for hard work and putting yourselves in a position to do your best at all times. Of course, sometimes a little luck doesn’t hurt either!
Thinking about my early career at Kimberly-Clark, at the time, it was largely a field dominated by men. I realized early on that I would have to have courage….to really prove myself….work harder and smarter to gain respect and to get ahead. I would need to make things happen….take risks and get results.
I wasn’t smarter than my peers….didn’t have an Ivy League degree or an MBA, but what I did have was an unwavering passion for the business—and an undying passion to work hard in order to succeed. I was…and in fact, still am….involved and committed to making things happen.
Thinking about the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (which, hopefully you have all had the chance to experience), several years ago, this state-of-the-art facility was nothing more than a dream. Being part of the team to make this dream a reality was one of the most challenging and most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with in my life. Despite roadblocks and challenges too many to name, we pressed on….driven by a passion to bring the vision to life. What made the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center possible? Hard work and passion to pursue a dream.
Having worked for four companies, I’ve had the opportunity to hire many people and have observed others hiring top talent. So what are companies looking for in the people they hire? What qualities do “top talent” posses? When it comes to skills for success, here’s what I have found is the top ten list:
Number ten: you need to set high expectations and goals. Think about what you want to be: and whatever you choose, set your expectations high and maximize your potential. Don’t let the fear of failure stand in your way.
Number nine: be a great communicator. Regardless of your position in an organization it’s important to clearly communicate your thoughts, and it’s not only what you say, but how you say it...good body language and eye contact communicates that you respect and care about the opinions of others. Equally important is the fact that great communicators are also great listeners. Listening can help you learn from and understand others.
Number eight: accept responsibility. We all have responsibilities—to our family, school, work, community and to our friends. Always strive to do your best…to live in a way that makes yourself and others proud…and that does justice to your educational pursuits.
Number seven: be a team player/help others. It takes teams of people to accomplish great things. And, when someone on a team wins, the entire team wins. When Brett Favre wins, so do all of the Packers and all of us! Do not underestimate your ability to contribute to or influence teams that you are part of…and remember that together, we can do more…than any one of us can do alone.
Number six: help to lead, mentor, and motivate others. It is so important to help inspire and mentor others, to put the interests of others ahead of your own…for me, Jack Besser, who I mentioned earlier, is my idea of a great mentor.
Number five: be prepared...but be flexible. Wherever you end up in the world, it’s important to be prepared and flexible. As much as you are prepared and you “do your homework”, things can happen. When unexpected events happen, don’t let them derail you. Stay focused on your goals but be flexible in how you work to achieve them.
Number four: personal integrity. Be true to yourself. Be honest, sincere and trustworthy. Throughout your life, you will be challenged. You will have to make tough decisions...decisions that test your moral, ethical and religious beliefs. Stay true to yourself. Do what you believe is right.
Number three: never stop learning. The world changes so quickly. Keep your eyes and ears open…absorb information that is available to you. Information and knowledge enable you to not only see but seize opportunities. Don’t just learn from books and classes. Observe the world around you…listen to others…participate, ask questions…be involved. Learning happens in many ways throughout our lives. Learn to live and live to learn.
Number two: be yourself. While it’s great to have role models and to learn from others, don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be sincere, authentic and true to yourself, because if you aren’t, you won’t be happy or successful. Be your best…and, success will follow.
And, the number one quality of a “top talent” person is to: have a positive attitude! You own your attitude. If things don’t go according to plan…if you fall short of achieving a goal or don’t get the job you wanted, stay positive. No one can take your attitude from you…you own how you feel about things and how you allow yourself to be impacted by life around you. Be positive.
This country and this world needs top talent for the future…and I am confident top talent leaders and team members are sitting right here in this room today! But remember…many of you are entering a whole new level of education. College will be more challenging and more competitive than you’ve experienced before. You will need to work harder and smarter…with greater focus and discipline than you’ve ever had to before. But with hard work, discipline and focus, the reward you will reap will be greater than any you’ve accomplished before.
So as you leave here today, be willing to take risks. Don’t be afraid to change your major or your career in mid stream. Stretch…get out of your comfort zone…that’s the only way to change and to expand your realm of experiences. Most important it’s the only way to open yourself up to more opportunities and new chances to make a difference. And, remember that, “Success is never final and failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
When I think about a message I’d like to leave you with today, it’s this. You have the ability to be whatever you want to be. Why? Because you have choices. Take inventory of your life…take a look at what makes you excited…brings out your passion.
I heard a great quote the other day from Andre Agassi who as many of you know, is a great tennis player who has seen his career go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. During a recent interview, he was asked about the choices he’s made in his life he said. “Every decision I’ve ever made has brought me to where I am today.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Over the years, I believe that when it comes to shaping our future, we each have the power…the ability to make it happen. It won’t be easy. It will take lots of hard work, discipline and focus…it will take overcoming many challenges and, exploring many options. But this is the time to seize that opportunity.
Today, many of you are here, much as I was many years ago…with a clean canvas… what an exciting, scary, awesome time. As you embark upon your new journey, keep this in mind, do your best…seize opportunities…and, remember that, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Thanks for having me here today. It’s been an honor to be a part of this event and best wishes to all of you for a very bright future!