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WGU Commencement Address from Pete Yonkman
WGU Commencement Address from Pete Yonkman
Western Governors University
<p>The President of the Cook Group and Cook Medical, Pete Yonkman delivered the Commencement Address at WGU's Commencement in Indianapolis, Indiana.</p> <p>Transcript of the video: </p> <p>Dr. Allison Barber: It is now my great pleasure to introduce you to a friend of ours at WGU, Pete Yonkman. Pete is our Keynote Speaker. He is the CEO of Cook Group and Cook Medical in Bloomington, Indiana. Pete has been with the company seventeen years starting off in 2001 as in-house general council. Pete served a variety of roles at Cook including one of the local manufacturing sites as executive vice president for ten years in his business unit. Pete was named president in 2014 and in 2015 and the roll of Cook Group. Pete is a local Hoosier. He wants you to move here too. [laughter] He is originally from Crown Point, Indiana. And graduated from Indiana University with degrees in Psychology and Philosophy went on for his law degree from Indiana University as well. He is very involved in community issues, workforce development, education attainment, fostering startups and creating a business culture that supports entrepreneurs. Pete lives in Bloomington with his wife Janelle who's here today. Thank you, Janelle, for joining us. Pete and Janelle have two boys. I tell you what, when I wrote Pete and asked him if he would speak at commencement, he wrote me back immediately and said "I'd be pleased to." And that is why with all the accomplishment that Pete's had, and all the titles he's held, my favorite is that he is a friend of WGU Indiana. Pete, thank you for being here and welcome.</p> <p>Pete Yonkman: Good morning. Thank you to President Pulsipher and all the team here at WGU. It's great to be here with you. </p> <p>All right, we have to get something out of the way. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking three things. Number one, who the hell is this guy? Number two, why is he talking to us? And most importantly, number three, how long is he going to talk? So, I'm going to start with the last one first. I'm not going to talk long. But the reality of it is, you don't have any choice, so you can get comfortable. </p> <p>So now, for who I am. My name is Pete, and I'm president of Cook Group, Cook Medical. Our headquarters are about an hour south of here in Bloomington, Indiana. We are a global life sciences company of about 12,000 people. And we manufacture medical devices for physicians who are practicing minimally invasive medicine. </p> <p>And I'm here talking to you today for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I'm here because I believe that the original commencement speaker canceled, and I happened to be available. [Laughter] It's okay. It's okay, I'm not offended. It's okay, because actually the commencement planners got lucky, because I'm actually the perfect person to deliver this speech, and I'll tell you why. It's because I know all of you. All right, I don't know all of you. It would be kind of ridiculous if I knew all of you. We're not even Facebook friends yet. </p> <p>I'll take it back, I do know one of you. There is actually a Cook employee here today who is getting his MBA. Austin, where are you? Stand up, Austin. [Applause] Round of applause for Austin, congratulations. [Applause]</p> <p>All right, you may be still thinking, "He doesn't know me though." But actually, I do. I know that at some point you made a very brave, emotionally scary decision to continue your education. You balanced your family obligations, work, school. You studied late into the night, even though you knew you had to get up in the morning, take care of the kids, feed them breakfast, get their homework done, and still make it to school on time. And from what I hear, you passed these online tests with somebody staring you right in the face. [Laughter] And the fact that you're able to do that, damn near makes you a psychopath. [Laughter] It's incredible. </p> <p>You sat on the couch with your laptop by yourself, and you thought, you know what, I'm not going to make this. And you pushed yourself. You called on energy and emotional reserves that you didn't know you had. And you did all of this because you wanted a degree. But it was more than that. You wanted that next opportunity at work. You wanted to care for people when they're most in need. You wanted to show your friends, your family, and your community how much you had to offer. You wanted to improve your life and your family's life. And some of you did it because you wanted your kids who are here today, to see you walk across this stage and show them what's possible if you're willing to put in the hard work. </p> <p>And that's who you are. And that's why I have such tremendous respect for each and every one of you. And by choosing WGU, whether you did it consciously or not, you joined a movement that is changing the face of education. </p> <p>I think we can all agree the world's changing faster today than many of us would've imagined. There are whole sectors of jobs that come and go in a matter of years. Now technologies rise up before we even knew what buttons to press on the old ones. Regulations increase the complexity of our processes and systems. And for God's sakes, when you wake up in the morning, look out, it looks like aliens have invaded and scattered their scooters all across the city. [Laughter] </p> <p>Now, if you're going to be somebody who is going to survive this modern world, you better be ready to take on new skills, and new ideas and learn throughout your life until you're ready to retire. </p> <p>It feels like to me the idea of confining our education and learning to our early teens and 20s and then limiting ourselves to studying subjects that some college curriculum committee defines for us, seems a little bit antiquated. </p> <p>And as employers, we need people with proven skills who are ready to work on the day they start their job. We need people who have competencies that relate directly to the work that needs to be done. And we need people who have proven that they know what they want, and they're willing to work to go out and get it. So from my perspective, what it sounds like what we need is you. </p> <p>I'm looking around, and I can see a few of you getting antsy. So I'm going to give you a status update on the status of this speech we're halfway done. But I want you to hang in there because I have a unique proposal for you at the end of this speech that I hope you'll consider. </p> <p>All right, so I expect that you would feel shortchanged if I didn't give you some life advice that every self respecting commencement speaker is required to give. So I'm going to give you three ideas and I want you to pay attention because these are gold. And I don't tell them to just anybody. </p> <p>So, idea number one: Eat in the cafeteria. See, I told you it's gold, right? Let me explain. So I had the privilege and good fortune to work closely for years with the person who founded our company, his name was Bill Cook. And he was the classic American story. Started a business in the spare bedroom of his apartment and he grew it into the largest privately owned healthcare company in the world. And he lived an outstanding life. It was full of entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, and where I come from, he was a legend. And more than that, he was a wonderful human being. And sadly, he passed away in 2011. </p> <p>And at his funeral, thousands of people showed up to pay their respects, including almost all of his employees. And I had the opportunity to shake hands with a lot of those opportunities. And it was interesting what they all said. They didn't talk about his money or his businesses or the awards that he won. But they all talked about, it was interesting, almost to a person, that they said was this, "You know, we come into work every day. We work hard. And we go to the cafeteria for lunch. And we see Bill sitting in the cafeteria. And he says, hey, how are ya, how's life, how are the kids? And we absolutely loved him for that because we knew that he cared, and he was one of us." </p> <p>Now I realize that most of us are not going to have the opportunity to build a multi billion dollar business. But each of us does, every day, have the opportunity to demonstrate to those around us that we care, and that we're all in this together. </p> <p>Idea number two: Pay attention to how people react to failure. So I've noticed that a lot of commencement speeches talk about failure, how it's fun to fail, fail fast, all that, blah, blah, blah. I'm going to tell you the truth about failure. Do you want to hear the truth? It sucks. [Laughter] But you can get something positive out of it if you do one simple thing: Watch how other people respond to failure. </p> <p>I learned recently that our engineers at Cook have something they call "the bin of shame." And the bin of shame is where bad products and dumb ideas go to die. And it's considered an honor to put your failure in this bin of shame because it means you took a risk, wanted to try something new. This is a great idea, right? It creates a community where people support each other through failure, and they want to take risks and they want to try new things.</p> <p>When I was 29, and just a year into my job at Cook, I made a mistake. It was actually a pretty big mistake. In fact, it cost the company a lot of money, and a fair amount of public embarrassment. It was a big enough deal and a big enough mistake that I heard the words, "would you like fries with that," in my future. Any other company, I would've been fired, and a scapegoat. </p> <p>Instead, Bill came into my office the next day. He said, "Do you know what, bad stuff happens. Look around. We're still here. We get to come in tomorrow and work with people we love. What's so wrong with that?" Now he could've screamed at me, yelled at me, made me feel terrible. Instead, what he did was he chose to be supportive and he refocused me on what was actually truly important. And that's a kindness that I will never forget. </p> <p>Now I've definitely learned the appropriate lessons from my failure. And so have the engineers at Cook. But I also have learned that the approach you take to failure, and the failure of others is the opportunity to change people's lives. </p> <p>All right, idea number three: Only fools take themselves too seriously. I was in my office one day, Bill stuck his head in, and this is going to be interesting because Bill never asks for permission, but he said, "I have a question for you, can I come in?" "Well, all right, come on in, Bill." </p> <p>And he said, "Hey, Pete, I've got this question. And it's not weird or anything, so don't worry. But I'm not happy with my current selection. And I don't know who else to ask. So, what kind of underwear do you wear?" [Laughter] He was dead serious. Not joking. Turns out he was actually studying the various kinds of underwear and their various merits. </p> <p>And so I said, "Well, have you tried boxer briefs?" He said, "No, why do you like them?" And I said, "Well, if you really want to treat yourself, go out and get a pair, and try it, and see what you think." And you know when you make somebody laugh like genuinely laugh hard and for a long time? That's what happened with Bill. And that is my absolute favorite memory of him. Here is a person who was brilliant, passionate, unbelievably successful. But he was still somebody who could laugh at himself and the ridiculousness of underwear. </p> <p>I think about that moment a lot, and it makes me wonder what our world would be like if our leaders had the humility to have a good laugh at our own underwear every now and then? I think it would be a better place. </p> <p>All right, now, you may have noticed those three ideas contained a theme. All of them say something about the company that I work for, Cook. And I hope that what you heard inspired you, and intrigued you to learn more about us. Because I'll admit of being a little bit duplicitous when I included Cook in those stories. I have an ulterior motive. </p> <p>I've been plugging the company because, well, we're growing, and I'm standing here in front of 800 and some highly talented people with newly printed degrees, and I'm no dummy. [Laughter] In fact, we believe so much in you, and WGU, that I'm excited to tell you that we have opened up ten new jobs. They are to be filled only by the graduates of the 2018 class of WGU. [Applause] </p> <p>New jobs are located here in Indiana, and also all across the country. They range from jobs in sales to regulatory, to business administration, and they're open only to you. Get ready to write this down. Get your phones out, or whatever you do. CookMedical.com/careers/WGU. Did you get that? All right. It's CookMedical.com I'm going to keep saying it until you write it down. [Chuckles] CookMedical.com/careers/WGU. </p> <p>I do hope that you will consider joining us at Cook, we'd be proud to have you. But, no matter where you go next, I wish you tremendous success. You have definitely earned it. And if you remember nothing else today, please remember to find beauty in failure, laugh at your underwear, and always, always eat in the cafeteria. Congratulations to you, and to the 2018 graduating class of WGU. Thank you very much. [Applause]</p>
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