The Road Not Taken: Experiencing the World Without Forgetting My Midwestern Roots

road-not-taken

by Eric A. Spiegel, President and CEO, Siemens USA |

A lot can be accomplished with an open mind and big dreams. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, a city that has a robust history in steel. For a good part of the 20th century, it was the second-largest steel-producing city in the United States. Youngstown was also home to a GM auto plant; many small, local businesses run by second-generation Americans pursuing entrepreneurial dreams; and some of the biggest football fans you would ever meet. All of these influences helped shape my interests and dreams as a young boy.

Both of my grandfathers worked in the steel mills, but my dad was an entrepreneur. He owned a bar and restaurant, a construction company, a sporting goods store and other local business ventures, and my mom was a nurse for more than 40 years. I loved playing football and, when the time came, had many scholarships to play in college. Throughout high school, I held onto the dream that I might play football professionally one day. I also looked up to the executives who ran the steel mills, as I was determined to figure out how they got to the position of running the mills as opposed to just working in them. I had tremendous respect for my father as an entrepreneur, despite the fact he only finished school up to the 10th grade. Whatever I chose for a career, I was eager to ultimately make my mark on the Youngstown community. I was proud to be from a hard-working, Midwestern town.

However, my family and I knew that I would need higher education to pursue these larger dreams. Being the first generation in my family to go to college and having traveled very little outside my hometown, I visited many campuses both near and far that offered strong academic programs and potential football scholarships, including Northwestern and all three of the service academies, West Point, Air Force and Navy.

As I embarked on my quest for the right college fit, I was above all, intrigued by the opportunity Harvard University could offer me — particularly in academics. As I walked around Cambridge, my eyes were opened to incredible opportunities I was not exposed to in my youth, including Harvard’s rich history of producing leaders, the exposure to career paths I never knew were options, and the unique cultural experiences that presented the chance to meet people from around the country and the world. With renowned professors and endless possibilities to grow, I knew that behind those campus walls established in 1636, I would become empowered with invaluable life lessons and endless opportunities.

After enrolling at Harvard with the support of some academic scholarships, I learned that my view of the world wasn’t wide enough or big enough. During college, I quickly realized that my dream to return to Youngstown and pursue a position in the steel industry was no longer desirable largely because my view of the world and its opportunities had expanded and, of course, the steel industry had declined. I also quickly realized that, while I may have been good enough to play football in college, playing football professionally would have been a very different story.

Not many cities get a second chance, but Youngstown is a great manufacturing town now making a comeback, largely due to the emergence of the oil and gas industry. In fact, Siemens recently made a $440 million PLM software grant to Youngstown State University (YSU). The grant provides YSU students and companies at the Youngstown-based, America Makes manufacturing innovation hub – a center devoted to incorporating 3-D printing into U.S. advanced manufacturing – hands-on access to PLM software in fields such as robotics design, computer-aided engineering and additive manufacturing.

The experiences provided to me along my journey from my hometown to college in Cambridge, MA and beyond, have helped shape me into the person I am today. Since graduating from Harvard and, subsequently, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, I’ve lived in cities around the world including: Tokyo, Zurich, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, and Washington, D.C., and have worked and consulted in a variety of industries.

The global business and cultural experiences I’ve gained during my career, coupled with my passion for energy and manufacturing, all helped pave the way for my current role as CEO of Siemens USA. I am proud to be part of a technology powerhouse with a presence in more than 200 countries that has stood for global innovation and reliability for more than 165 years.

I am also proud of my Youngstown roots and have carried that hard-working mentality with me throughout my life. While I may have not made it to the NFL, and I didn’t end up running my pop’s businesses in Youngstown, by keeping an open mind, taking on new challenges and dreaming big, I was able to see the world through a whole new lens — and this led to opportunities I never knew existed.

Photo: The author in his high school football jersey

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