As we – the interns of Valmont® Industries, Inc. – began eating our lunch, the initial tension in the room began to dissolve. Conversation started up and our nervous small talk, turned to laughs and discussion. I was mid-laugh when I looked across the room and noticed a man in a well-tailored suit, leaning against the doorframe. He had his arms crossed and a big smile on his face, waiting for us to notice his arrival. Mogens Bay, the chairman and chief executive officer of Valmont, is the kind of man who can diffuse the nerves and tension in a room simply by walking in. “Well, hello! What a good looking group!”
After introductions, Mogens jumped straight into the business’ update. Once he explained the state of the company, we could finally ask him our questions! I became anxious, waiting for my turn to ask my question, but I realized for each question, Mogens would look you in the eye and more than give you an answer. We asked what led to his success, what his role is as CEO, what are the things he enjoys most about being CEO, but the lessons I took away from our discussion were not what I had expected.
I had never had the opportunity to meet a CEO or major authority figure and pick his (or her) brain, so to speak. In my mind, these executives are too busy to bother with us lowly interns. These influencers and pioneers of massive industries got to where they are now by being forces to be reckoned with, hard in manner and of intimidating character. To my pleasant surprise, Mogens is a man who counter-balances these qualities with honesty, modesty and genuine belief in the good of people.
As I enter my last semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I am constantly questioning the dizzying future. Who will I be? Where will I end up? What do I want to do with my life? Never have I felt so reassured that not knowing the answers to most of these questions is completely normal.
Mogens talked about his multiple career path changes, the chance job opportunities that he grabbed without hesitation, and decision making based on personal happiness rather than monetary gain. These were all things I needed to hear.
“Swing dance into the office every Monday morning,” he told us. “If you’re not happy with your career, change it.” As a firm believer that life is too short and you never know what is waiting for you right around the corner, this was music to my ears.
We listened as Mogens told us about his failures, crediting them for his eventual success. He told us to embrace these failures, own up to them, and, most importantly, learn from them. I learned the importance of finding a company culture that is compatible with who you are, rather than changing yourself to meet the needs of a company.
“Just be honest! If you procrastinate, and that’s a weakness for you, then say so!” It’s better to be accepted for who you are, rather than someone you’re trying to be in order to get a job. This brutal honestly would give my business interviewing professor a heart attack, but I couldn’t agree more. We all sat there like sponges, soaking up every piece of advice Mogens gave.
Once the discussion ended and I was on my way back to Valley, my head was swimming with inspiration. I finally feel confident and comfortable with my mysterious future. Who knows? Maybe one day, my mistakes, lessons-learned and chances taken will result in my own success as a business executive, global citizen, local philanthropist and an overall well-rounded person – like Mogens Bay.