Advice to millennials: Get curious, find focus

‘Berg alumnus Ed Knopf, ’65, who served as the School of Business’s Executive-in-Residence this week, has hired a few people in his day … well, more than a few. As the owner of nearly a dozen companies over his career, he’s uniquely qualified to speak about today’s workforce.

During his time on campus, Ed spoke to a number of classes, met with student organizations in the School of Business and participated in a panel on millennials in the workplace.

He sees some issues with millennials, and he has some serious advice for students who are about to embark on their careers. Knopf questions whether millennials “are really engaged in their jobs,” noting that about only about one in five stay in a job for more than a year.

“If you never get the chance to do the work, how do you know what a job could do that would be satisfying to you,” he asked rhetorically. “It depends on the person, but you’ve got to give it a little bit of time.”

Ed believes if today’s generation of employees had a greater curiosity about their jobs, they’d be more engaged. Additionally, he suggests they go back to basics with regard to writing and personal interactions.

“Part of it is the era we’re in,” he said. “Kids need to learn how to communicate, person to person.”

Admittedly “not a stellar student” while at Heidelberg, Ed did spend time with enjoyable activities that allowed him to focus – activities such as building things. “You’ve got to get focused in being serious about something.”

Ed’s “something” was bearings. Throughout his career, he has owned 11 companies, sold some and maintains an active involvement with five of them today. He is the CEO of Mechatronics Inc. a holding company for firms which either design, manufacture, sell or distribute bearings for a wide variety of products. His companies sell electronic components as well as bearings to the aerospace industry (where he got his start), the medical and dental field, military, sports and recreation and many industrial applications.

Although highly successful, Ed describes his career as “getting a Ph.D. in what not to do” – in essence, learning from failures and then, moving forward.

“When you make mistakes, fix them,” he advised. “Don’t be afraid to fail, speak what you think and ask questions.”

The bottom line is to find something you love so that keeps you engaged. “Be interested and be curious,” he said.

Although he majored in business and economics, Ed says the liberal arts aspect of his ‘Berg education has helped him become a well-rounded person. “From the liberal arts, I learned to love art through courses here.” He is an avid reader and writer and notes that he rarely texts.

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