Jack Shaw

Shaw tells audience to ‘know what you want to do’

The former president and chief executive officer of Hughes Electronics Corporation encouraged Trine University students and those in attendance at the university’s final Distinguished Speaker Series of the school year to get to know themselves.

Trine University President Earl D. Brooks II, Ph.D., welcomed Jack Shaw, who serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, as an “Impressive and accomplished individual” and a “great leader, role model and patriot for whom I have much admiration and respect.”

“He has spent countless hours on our campus with one thing in mind: How do we make the experience and education better for our students?” Brooks told a nearly full Ryan Concert Hall on Wednesday, April 19.

Self-deprecatingly introducing himself as “a small-town guy with bad grades,” the Auburn native noted there is nothing in his career he wanted to do that he hasn’t done, from managing small companies to leading one of the highest-valued technology companies on Wall Street, and participating in six startup companies either as an investor or principal.

“Do not shy away from anything that you want to do,” he told the audience. “Try everything. Use your talents to address challenges and opportunities, but don’t minimize your scope of view to just things that are comfortable. I was not very comfortable riding a Harley-Davidson to start with, and it took me a little while, but then it was cool.”

A key to learning what you want to do, Shaw said, is to take time to assess your talents. As an example, he talked about his first job after graduating with an engineering degree from Purdue University.

“Looking at my fellow employees, I said to myself, ‘Jack, you may someday be a good engineer, but you’re probably not going to be a great one,’ ” he recalled.

Instead, he realized he had a knack for getting people to rally behind an idea and accomplish it.

“Getting to know myself and understanding what I was good at, and what I was probably not so good at, was very important in my development,” he said.

Later, he was given the opportunity at Hughes to be part of a team that worked in Australia to put one of the early communications satellites into orbit. That meant leaving for a year only six months into his marriage, but it became his life’s work for the next 40 years.

“We couldn’t possibly have made that decision if we didn’t know who we were, what was important to us and what we were good at,” Shaw said. “Make sure you know what you want to do and dedicate your life to doing it.”

Another part of knowing yourself, Shaw said, is to determine personal business ethics. He gave the example of CEOs from businesses such as Enron and Qwest who ran afoul of the law.

“No matter how high up you are and no matter how big a deal you think you are and no matter how much money you make or have made, you’ve still got to know right from wrong,” he said. “This is knowing yourself: What do you believe is right and what do you believe is wrong? You’ve got to come up with boundaries.”

Shaw closed by saying, “It has been an adventure every day of my life. I have met wonderful people all over the world and I have friends all over the world. It could never have been imagined from a guy who graduated with C’s from Auburn Indiana High School and C’s from Purdue. It shows you that you can accomplish a lot by being yourself, knowing yourself and making sure you know right from wrong.”

“You folks in the audience are important to your country and your state,” he continued. “You will eventually be important to your companies that you choose or choose to start. You and others like you have tremendous opportunity. Never lose your fire and never lose your curiosity or your passion for the future.”