By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Irvine, Ca, May 30th, 2014 -- Orange County business icon Donald Beall held an informal advice session with about 75 UC Irvine Multidisciplinary Design Program students and faculty last week in the Calit2 auditorium. The entrepreneur, philanthropist and retired Rockwell chairman/CEO urged the students to work hard, find good mentors and never stop learning.
Beall began with a short introduction: he was born and reared in Northern California, earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from San Jose State and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, married at 21, has two children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and began his career at Ford Motor Company division Aeroneutronics.
He then led the audience through Rockwell’s history before focusing on tips for success in business.
Mentorship is vital. “I had many mentors; I still do,” he told the audience. “That’s crucial to all of you, no matter what direction you take in your life. You can’t get enough help and wisdom.”
He attributed his very quick rise through the executive ranks in large part to those mentors. “It’s all about having really good advisors and great people around you,” he said.
One student, who said she wanted to become a CEO before she turned 40, asked Beall if he knew during his college years what he wanted in his career. “The answer is no,” he said, adding that he knew only that he was interested in management; over time, though, as circumstances changed, he saw and pursued opportunity.
Working hard is just the beginning, he told the group. “You’ve got to do your job 100 percent, but that’s not enough. What you really need is to get some mentors…. Work with them to understand what management is trying to do and to get a strategic understanding of the business.”
Other tips: Invest the time to understand customers, markets, suppliers and competitors. “Be seen as somebody who’s willing to pay the price to do that at every stage of your career.”
And if students follow his advice but run into resistance and/or a mind-numbing bureaucracy? “Leave. Find a place that’s going to accommodate your ambition and your willingness to commit yourself,” he told them.
The 30-year-old researcher works at the cutting-edge of genomic science - and health. His work began with an analysis of regulatory sites in the mouse genome that others in Pevzner's lab were analyzing for their evolutionary implications, including genome rearrangements that account for the different paths humans and rodents have taken since splitting off from a common ancestor roughly 87 million years ago. These rearrangements "happen in cancer naturally," Raphael notes, adding that "by studying the rearrangements we can identify genes that are important for tumor growth, development and malignancy, and these may serve as diagnostics of tumor stages."
Beall lauded UCI’s commitment to hands-on research projects for undergraduates, and said those experiences are critical. “Doing projects, not just learning fundamental subjects, but building something and operating as a team and collaborating … all those things are so important and are great for your resume.”
Even though business models are changing, personal accountability remains essential, Beall said, adding that the most successful businesses – no matter how large – have a “small business mentality.” Honest communication is key, he said, which inspires teamwork and cooperation.
Lastly, he focused on the importance of understanding markets. “Market focus is crucial,” he emphasized. “A lot of times in engineering-related businesses, people feel if they come up with a better mousetrap, customers will definitely buy it.” But without in-depth market research and an analytical understanding of customers’ needs, many of those products will fail.
“Even though it’s a brand new concept,” he warned the future entrepreneurs and inventors, “you’ve got to be sure there is a reasonable market for [what you’re selling].”