Hard work and passion are keys to weathering economic downturn

With downbeat talk on the current economic crisis dominating the news, Jeffrey Hemmer takes a slightly different view, referring to a famous quote from Winston Churchill. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Jeffrey HemmerHemmer, a 1980 BSChE graduate,says that these words help to put his life in perspective. He experienced the last significant recession in the early 1980s in his first role at Exxon Chemical, just six weeks out of college.

After witnessing the first layoffs at a plant that enjoyed substantial profits in its early years of operation, Hemmer said that the economic downturn forced the company to make tough decisions in order to survive.

Now drawing on over 25 years of experience in various roles in the petroleum industry as a Senior Vice President for solution implementation at management consulting firm Sinclair Group,™ Hemmer advises industrial firms facing similar circumstances.

He says his early experiences taught him that most companies only seek change when either they are placed in a serious “situation of pain,” or boldly choose to pursue new endeavors. As a result, Hemmer believes that rising to meet new challenges should be integral to the mindset of any business, entrepreneur, or individual.

According to Hemmer, individuals must take advantage of challenges and opportunities in order to stay ahead. “You have to find ways to add value, to help make your company more profitable so they want to invest in you,” he said.

Hemmer admits that some companies have failed to grasp this understanding over the past 15 years. With no significant downturn to speak of, he says only now, as a new generation of engineers experience a recession for the first time, are U.S. firms adapting to changing economic conditions and the effects of globalization.

Hemmer predicts these firms will go in one of two directions over the next five years. They will either continue to move to less expensive offshore locations or choose to make significant investment in new technologies to replace aging plants at home.

Hemmer believes that these challenges provide a tremendous opportunity for the next generation of engineers, but only as long as they have the right tools and frame of mind to rise to the top.

Those who simply expect success instead of working for it won’t cut it.

When I used to hire engineers in the 1980s, if I saw that their parents had paid for 100 percent of their education and they didn’t have full-time career-related summer jobs, I wouldn’t hire them,” Hemmer said. “I didn’t hire people for their head or their hands; I hired them for their heart.”

As he looks to the future, Hemmer refers to the need for engineers not just to have intellectual intelligence but practical intelligence and a desire to succeed in the industry, something he has emphasized since he took a position on the Purdue chemical engineering Industrial Advisory Council in 1997.

He says that Purdue graduates are held in high regard in industry because of their ability to show that they have
this practical experience, versatility, and determination.

“Engineering by trade isn’t about technical stuff, it is about the people,” he said. “You have got to wear two hats. You have to wear your engineering hat, and your selling hat. Because if you can’t get a group to understand what you are trying to do, and it doesn’t get implemented, it doesn’t have value to your employer or society.”

With this in mind, he argues that graduates need to demonstrate that they have the passion, courage, and commitment to sell an idea as much as to develop one. If they do, Hemmer believes, the next generation will show that they have the character to succeed, and “the courage to continue.”