Dr. John Psarouthakis,
Executive Editor, The Business Thinker.
There is no sure way of predicting when opportunity may present itself. Even if you are alert and look for it, there is no predicting when it might come. I know, because an opportunity that changed my professional life came at a time and in a way I least expected it. It was only years later that I fully appreciated the lessons I learned, lessons that I have since used countless times.
I was still a student at MIT, in my senior year. I was fortunate to get a job at a nearby utility company and once I completed my degree, I continued working there. In many ways the utility was a nice environment to be in. Some might say it was ideal. Comfortable, stable, dependable, secure. In other words, for me the utility company was a dangerous place.
Dangerous, because it did not ask enough and did not spur the young engineer to demand more of himself. But that was my first real engineering job and I had as yet no frame of reference.
So there I was. Each day, I managed to get my work done in 2 to 3 hours. I spent some of my free time reading technical books. It seemed to me that for many of my co-workers somehow 2 to 3 hours of M.I.T. type of intense work was expanding to fill an 8 hour day.
For a while I drifted along like that. Then something totally unexpected happened. On a day, while walking along a Boston sidewalk, I bumped into George, a friend from M.I.T., whom I had not seen for a while. George was bubbling over with excitement. He told me he was starting a new company. He had plans to get into something called energy conversion, something I knew very little about. We talked for a while and I marveled at his enthusiasm for this dream of his. But it wasn’t just a dream – he had specific goals and schedules and plans.
Then he did something that startled me. He offered me a job. I couldn’t believe he was serious, I had no advance degree at the time. I knew next to nothing about energy conversion. I had a very comfortable, undemanding position at the utility company. Now, by conventional standards, there was no decision to make. It was, as they say, a “no-brainer.” So what do you suppose I decided to do? Right. I took the job.
What I hadn’t realized back then in 1958, was that when I left the cozy utility company job and went into this fledgling energy conversion company, I did more than one change, one job, one paycheck, for another. I had stepped out of one era and into another. In a small setting and in a small way, perhaps, I was in on the dawn of the space age. More than that: I was privileged to have a role in the growth of a business from the moment the seed of the idea was planted until it blossomed into a vital, successful enterprise. And perhaps most important of all, I was learning lessons that I would apply again and again years later as I dealt with small or struggling companies.