Diversity and Inclusion Wisdom from a College Student

Enjoying Georgia Tech homecoming 2017 with mascot Buzz

Often in my “off-work” life I am on the look out for good material for my blog, especially since I try to publish an entry three or four times a month. And I lucked out while attending by 40th college class reunion at Georgia Tech in late October this year.

The Georgia Tech Alumni Association offered a robust series of events on Homecoming Friday at their new Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. One session I attended was the student panel talking about student life at Georgia Tech. I knew it would be fun to see how campus life differed from my time (1973 – 1977) 0n campus.

The panel included 2 male and 3 female students from various majors involved with a wide range of activities on campus. The panel moderator opened the discussion with a few planned questions before opening the floor to alumni, most of who were attending their 40th and 50th class reunions. Discussions included topics such as favorite traditions, hardest classes and easiest classes. Certainly there have been many changes over the past 40 or 50 years.

One of the more notable changes is the gender make up of the entering class. When I arrived at Georgia Tech, approximately 10% of the student body was women. Now the latest entering class was over 40% women. It is great to see the drastic increase in women pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and careers.

Then one gentleman in the audience asked a particularly fascination question of the students, “Who do you feel are smarter at Tech – the men or the women?”

After a short somewhat awkward pause, one of the women on the panel gave a profound answer. She said:

“I have been on project work teams in my classes where I was the only woman. I have also been on project teams that have been entirely women. And I have found the most successful project teams have been those with a good mix of men and women. We often have different ways of looking at issues and problems, and it seems that teams that have more diverse ways of thinking end of with the best results.”

As a diversity and inclusion consultant and trainer, I was so heartened that this young woman could articulate the value of diversity of thought that many organizations still need to learn. Often diversity breeds an increase in creative thinking leading to the best solution to business challenges, the best product offerings and the best customer support. This makes me enthusiastic about the future of American business and the future business leaders coming out of universities such as Georgia Tech.

From Small Technology Entrepreneur to Large Successful Corporation: John Palmour of Cree

John Palmour, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Cree, Inc.

John Palmour, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Cree, Inc.

On May 27th of this year, I attended “Marketplace 2015,” a biennial regional “reverse” trade show event which provides small business like Total Engagement Consulting the opportunity to meet contracting officers from over 50 federal, state and local government agencies and some of their large prime contractors. The event also includes useful workshops on how to pursue government contracts as well as inspirational talks from role model businesses.

One such inspirational address was from the luncheon keynote speaker, John Palmour, Co-founder and now Chief Technology Officer of Cree, Inc. Cree started as a technology spinoff from a project at North Carolina State University in 1987 to grow into a $1.6B global business. Cree is a market-leading innovator of lighting products, LED components, and semiconductor products for power and radio-frequency applications.

Mr. Palmour, a home-grown product of North Carolina, was a down-to-earth compelling speaker with a story which can inspire any entrepreneur. Two key points he made about Cree’s and his own business success included:

• Not buying into that old saying “it cannot be done.” John actually put it as “I was too young and stupid to not believe that it cannot be done,” but honestly, I think that really demonstrates the power of sometimes defying conventional wisdom and going with your own instincts. While most other technology companies were migrating to Silicon Valley in California, John believed he could find the required talent and funds in North Carolina to grow his business. And he did!

• Cree was successful under John’s leadership to break into the federal contracting business and winning key contracts with the US Military, which helped provide needed business and capital to grow Cree’s business. But then Cree moved beyond the government contacts to diversity and find additional sources of revenue such as the residential product market.

Then John continued into discussing key challenges facing technology businesses in the USA and North Carolina today. These included:

• The ever increasing global competition, especially from Asia. Businesses in the US must stay on the forefront of technology and not get complacent and satisfied with the current status quo.

• Assuring that the quality of education in our state and the country advances. We need to continue to build strong technical expertise with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and the business aspects of building savvy entrepreneurs.

And then John closed with the key message that much of Cree’s success was that they combined building products and offerings using innovative technology with highly-motivated great employees.

NEXT BLOG: In two weeks, I will follow up with a profile of a successful small diverse-owned local business I met at the Marketplace Event.