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Butler Shares Lessons In Excellence

eric-butler-storyimage-102x83.jpgEric Butler (E’81, TPR’86) has dedicated himself to excellence, both in business and life. As part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series, the executive vice president of marketing and sales for Union Pacific Corp was back at the Tepper School of Business on September 25th to treat students to his colorful and no-nonsense advice.

Using lessons learned from his life and career, Butler exhorted the students to fully appreciate their numerous opportunities and give back accordingly, both to the organization and the community.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Butler, who is also an ordained minister. Raised in New York’s inner city where many around him fell prey to prison and drugs, Butler remains grateful to his alma mater, currently serving on the Tepper School of Business Alumni Board and having endowed a student scholarship.

“I’ll be forever indebted to Carnegie Mellon,” said Butler, “because I recognize that this school didn’t just give me skills, which they did, or give me training, which they did. This school helped me to broaden my perspective and understanding of the world, which was the foundation for whatever success I have achieved.”

As an integral part of becoming future leaders, Butler enumerated the students’ obligations to company and community, including doing your best on the job. He emphasized his point with his employer, Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the U.S. “We have 10,000 customers,” he said simply. “If we’re not doing our job, we could shut down America.”

Butler stressed an “unrelenting focus on excellence,” encouraging the students to ignore the limitations placed on them by others. He also warned the crowd that fulfilling intentions requires hard work while accepting responsibility requires courage. Excuses and mere complaints require no strength and mean nothing more than taking the easy way out.

His straightforward business ‘lessons learned’ captured the group’s attention. The pointers included:

  • You spend the majority of your hours at work. If the environment doesn’t fit you, it’ll kill you.
  • Change is a constant.
  • You must believe in what you do and have a passion for it.
  • Focus on the future - where you want to be is a better exercise than focusing on where you are.
  • People may doubt what you say, but they’ll “listen” to what you do.
  • Our business world is becoming much more complex, competitive and volatile. Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership is about driving and thriving in that unstable world.
  • As leaders of teams, community organizations and companies, focus on capturing the hearts and the minds of people that you impact. The wallets will follow.

Students’ questions prompted more honest and useful insights from the self-described “tough, but fair” executive, including never make your decisions on the basis of popularity and deal with challenges respectfully and honestly. People will appreciate it, he said.

Butler differentiated between mentors and sponsors, describing the latter as those who advocate for you, often unknown. Consequently, he cautioned the students that “in the business world, every interaction counts.” Moreover, to avail themselves fully of the valuable advice only mentors can give, students would be wise to demonstrate their openness to honest feedback.

Butler’s words regarding diversity were thoughtful, stating that true diversity represents more than racial or ethnic variation, but the fact that people approach issues in differing ways. “The key is to value these differences but mold them toward the same organizational outcome,” he noted.

While Butler has spent time in his career in a number of functional areas, his last ten years in marketing and sales revealed an important conclusion. “Customer service is king in any business. It is absolutely critical. Really understanding that is the only way any business can survive.”

Coming from an engineering background, he encouraged the audience not to underestimate the critical role of analytics in marketing, noting that analytics are what help a business to thoroughly understand customer value and develop products and strategies in response. He argued that marketing and sales are driven by analytics, key in understanding the value proposition.

And to get the most out of the highly regarded opportunity to be at the Tepper School of Business, Butler stressed, “Don’t spend your time in graduate school just to get the degree. Get the experience, the education. Learn from your professors and your classmates; broaden your perspective of the world. Then use that to go and make a difference.”

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Mark D. Burd

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Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Ave.
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