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Cherian Thomas’ Commencement Address Transcript

At the May 20 Graduate School Commencement ceremony, Cherian Thomas, MBA’12, founder and CEO of Spotluck, Inc., told the story of his start out of college and how he came to start his company. He urged the 230 graduates to surround themselves with the right people—people to mentor, complement, and support them—and they will find success.

“It’s not about finding the right job; it’s about finding the right people,” he said. “Find your missing pieces. Find those key people. Find that mentor and ride their coattails as far as you can. Find or be found. If you’re not starting a business, be a complement to someone who is. Find those who have supported you and right after this speech, and thank them. Your accomplishment today is just as exciting for them as it is for you.”

Following is a full transcript of Thomas’ remarks. Watch the video. Check out the selfie at the 1:24 mark!

Thank you President Chapdelaine, Dean of the Graduate School, Board of Trustees, Board of Associates, faculty, friends, family, and YOU…the graduating class of 2017!

It is with great privilege to be here as we celebrate your accomplishments on this incredible day.

Fist of all, BE PROUD! I know the feeling and encourage you to take it all in, remember this day and capture these moments. Most speakers would frown upon the use of cell phones but as an owner of a mobile app, I say… embrace it!

Bust out those phones, and selfie up! Tag, post, and share this moment! Remember this moment.

See it wasn’t too long ago when I sat in your same seats, both inside the walls of Rosenstock (anxious to get my capstone to Dr. Jose on time) and on those very same lawn chairs (anxious to get through the commencement and launch my cap and career onward and upward)! But don’t rush it, take time to remember this moment, this day, and this ceremony.

Be PROUD! What you’ve accomplished was NOT easy! I’m not talking about classwork and deliverables. I’m talking about getting through the past few years while juggling full time jobs, kids for many of you, and trying to maintain somewhat of a personal life. It was NOT easy and believe you me, I know. I remember both the deliverables AND the journey. I remember working full time, commuting from Bethesda to Hagerstown, then Hagerstown to Frederick then Frederick back to Bethesda. Essentially, everyday was windshield appreciation day and I’m sure many of you share similar experiences…

Today, we celebrate the total package, not just this academic milestone but the entire journey and your ability to have balanced the dynamics of work, life, and school, while accomplishing this long term personal and professional goal.

What you’ve accomplished was not easy and just as I tell my team at Spotluck, “IF IT WAS EASY,EVERYONE WOULD DO IT.”

The diploma, sashes, tassels, and class rings are all keepsakes to remind you of this special day, but let’s examine the intangibles!

See the lessons learned, friendships amongst your classmates, professors, and what’s UP HERE can never be mounted or monogramed. These intangibles stay UP HERE, and UP HERE with you forever. Every job interview, every project you manage, every team you join, and every podium you stand behind …your mind is better equipped giving you an upper edge for the rest of your life.

Again, I’m incredibly honored to be here and deliver this commencement. As I look back, exactly five years ago today, I can’t help but think “What would the 2017 Cherian say to the 2012 Cherian?” aside from “definitely learn the moves to Gangnam Style, it remains a party favorite in the future” … I realized the following statement sums up the best advice I could have received.

IT’S NOT ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT JOB, IT’S ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

See I’ve realized that the best ideas, best software, best patents, algorithms, etc. doesn’t mean Sh*t without the right people! And without the right people, failure is inevitable.

There are THREE key people to find as you adventure off campus and set sail for the next journey in your personal and professional path.

Find someone to MENTOR you.

Find someone to COMPLEMENT you.

Find that someone to SUPPORT you.

From Steve Jobs, to Bill Gates, to Marc Zuckerberg, these incredible innovators each had mentors, a complements and someone to support them.

Mentor was a name used in ancient Greek Mythology but was later adopted in English. It is defined as “someone who imparts wisdom to…and shares knowledge with…a less experienced colleague.”

For centuries, the practice of sharing knowledge to those less experienced has been utilized throughout Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Whether it be a guru, sensei, rabbi, or simply an elder…mentorship has been a vital part of our civilizations ability to progress forward.

FIND SOMEONE TO MENTOR YOU 

When I finished undergrad I had an opportunity to work for Unilever or take on a job with Mathew; a family friend and entrepreneur who built and empire of manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. Fresh out of undergrad, I distinctively remember talking to my parents about this dilemma. They said “Cherian, you’re a marketer, you’ll be great a Unilever but if you really want to learn the ins-outs of business, real business you should work for Mathew”. I listened, and immediately drafted up a simple pros/cons list for both alternatives. Remember this was pre-­Hood MBA so I didn’t have the know–how to run a risk analysis, calculate LTV’s, run regression models, or outweigh the simple benefits of being paid in British pounds vs. the U.S dollar. Instead, I trusted my gut, took my parents advice, and made a decision that would forever change my life. It was this decision that led me to find my mentor, Mathew Devassy Chakola.

Mathew set the bar high. As an Indian immigrant, he came to this country in the 1970’s to complete his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. With $2,300 to his name, Mathew overcame racial discrimination, unjust hold ups from the police, and even one on one run-­ins with the KKK. With minimum money but maximum education, Mathew had the discipline, desire, and determination to build a multi million-­dollar manufacturing empire here in the U.S.

Mathew taught me that BS only goes so far and you must earn credibility to be respected in the business world. He was the reason I pursued my MBA here at Hood and then later, my master’s at Georgetown University. Regardless of our 40 year gap in age, he brought me along to join every business trip, banking meeting, board room, plant acquisition, auction and quick sale. He took me under his wing and essentially, everywhere Mathew went, I went… Even though my institutional knowledge of the manufacturing industry was beyond most 22-­year-olds, I didn’t have the academic degrees to back it. I didn’t have credibility… I set out on a mission to earn those academic badges and be respected in the business world, regardless of my age…

Mathew taught me the importance of education and a bottoms up approach to management. I’ll never forget my first day. I get to work dressed in a suit and tie (looking Chicago-Fresh) and Mathew says to me “they’re ready for you at the plant. Today, you’ll be getting your forklift certification and then we will teach you to operate the cranes.” As a marketing guy I said “the what certification? Who’s working what crane?!”

See I didn’t know it at the time but Mathew wanted me to be respected…from the bottom up! He made me trace every pipe at the plant, learn the book-­keeping and understand how the mechanical components of our hydro-­pulper, agitators, boiler and steam systems worked…AND WHY? To be respected. To have credibility when talking to plant managers, industry experts, and other veterans within the space. Mathew taught me that in order for people to listen, you must have credibility. Not just through education but also by showing others you’re willing to get in the trenches and learn from the bottom up.

Mathew inspired me to further my education without sacrificing time in those trenches allowing me to gain both book smarts and business smarts. More importantly, as a mentor, he systematically set me up for success. It just took some time for me to reflect internally and realize his end game.

After graduating from the MBA program here in 2012, Mathew encouraged me to further my education. I competed the Master’s of Leadership Program at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business WHILE working full time in those trenches. It was this program that ultimately led to Spotluck by finding the second piece to the puzzle, FINDING SOMEONE THAT COMPLEMENTS YOU.

I feel Spotluck is relatable to each and everyone of you graduates. And not just because its an app and its 2017… It was my capstone. It was a deliverable (or homework) that went from an idea to the #1 “dining” app on the iTunes App Store. To reiterate this couldn’t have happened without the right people. Specifically, that someone who complements you. 

See the greatest thing about the Master’s programs here at Hood and at Georgetown is that both programs encourage group work, collaboration, and team deliverables. As frustrating as all the group work can be, its indicative of the real-­‐world. The classroom experience allows you to uncover where you shine but more importantly, identifies your weaknesses or where complements are needed.

As mentioned, when I started Spotluck it was just an idea. As much knowledge as I obtained from Hood, Georgetown, and even through Mathew’s mentorship, I realized I had a weakness. My vision for Spotluck wouldn’t become a reality without the right complements. Specifically, our co-­founder and CFO, Brad Sayler.

Brad was a corporate attorney and CPA working at a major law firm in D.C. Although I somehow managed to pull of A’s in both Business Law and Corporate Accounting here at Hood, those domains were weaknesses for me. Mostly, because I didn’t enjoy it. Knowing this, knowing the need for that complementary dichotomy, I literally wrote Brad’s name into the original business plan for Spotluck as our co-­founder and CFO.

Now imagine that, try to put yourself in Brads shoes… “Hey Brad, you don’t know it yet but we’re starting a business together”…“it’s right here in this business plan”. See, I knew Brads strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa. If you draw a Venn diagram and put Brad in one side of the circle and myself in the other, there is very little overlap. And that’s a good thing…The part in the middle where we do overlap, rests our core values, our conscious, our morals, and our synchronized mind-­set to do the right thing when making tough choices.

Finding Brad impacted our entire business. Specifically, who we hire. Our dichotomy created a Spotluck mantra of hiring complements, allowing our individual team members to be the CEO’s of their own positions. 

Brad, I know you couldn’t make it here today but I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Thank you for being my complement, and thank you to the entire Spotluck team for strengthening our weaknesses. It should really be ALL OF US behind this podium but hey… it pays to be a Blazer and get that Hood MBA.

The third and final gem to discover is finding that person to support you. As you look behind and see your friends, family, and co-­workers, you realize this accomplishment couldn’t have been achieved without their support. You realize the past few years has been a personal sacrifice for both you AND your loved ones. In the end, you get the degree while they get… well…they get you back!

Over the past few years these people have shared the highs and lows throughout your journey at Hood. Whether its missing a wedding due to a deliverable or canceling a vacation because Southwest flights didn’t jive with your finals schedule, your support system made sacrifices, for YOU. Please know that these mutual sacrifices don’t stop as you enter the next chapter of your professional journey. That said, it’s even MORE important than ever to find that person to support you.

You see, the reality is that outside the walls of Rosenstock, its higher antes, higher stakes and higher risks. Graduate school is no joke but starting a business…raising venture capital, acquiring customers, loosing customers, product setbacks, managing cross-­functional teams, and wondering if you’re going to make payroll is a high risk game. Mostly because failure is no longer individual, failure can impact the overall livelihood of those you care about.

At Spotluck I strive to always be ON. Limited time, prevents me from being pessimistic, or even showing my internal lows in front of my team. They wont find me venting or moping around the office regardless of how challenging things things get.. But let’s be honest, bottling up those emotions can only go on for so long before you burst! And when you do, having that person to support you is ever so important.

For me, that someone to support you is YOU, Katie…My wife. (sorry to embarrass)….Thank you for absorbing those emotional bursts that are kept hidden from the world. Thank you for always believing in me regardless of the adventure. Thank you, Katie …for everything you do for me, our son Devassy, and the Spotluck family. It’s your support and belief in ME that indirectly keeps our team positive and motivated to achieve the impossible.

Lastly, thank you for encouraging me to further my education and providing unconditional support…..Just as the loved ones here today have supported the graduates throughout their journey at Hood.

Why are these THREE people so important to find as you start the next chapter of your professional career? Combined with your degree from Hood, having a mentor, surrounding yourself with complements and finding that person to support you, allows you to take calculated risks. 

Hood provided me with the foundation to understand business concepts, Mathew gave me the guidance and opportunity to understand real business, Brad’s strengths negated my weaknesses, and Kate gave me confidence knowing no matter what happens, I’ll always have her support. Starting Spotluck was risky, but calculated. I encourage each and everyone of you to find those THREE people and take risks, calculated risks. Graduates, now more than ever is the time to stop dangling your feet in the shallow end, and jump into the pool of opportunity! The water is warm and the risk to reward ratio favors entrepreneurs that take calculated risks…

I’m not saying everyone should quit their jobs and start a company. I’m saying find you’re missing pieces, find those key people. Find that mentor and ride their coattails as far as you can. Find or be found! If you’re not starting a business, be a complement to someone who is.

Find those who have supported you and right after this ceremony…thank them! squeeze them! congratulate them! Your accomplishment today is just as exciting for them as it is for you. They too were part of your journey and often times your “someone to support you.”

And lastly, as we toss these caps remember one thing. When the caps fall, we are now part of an elite alumni network at Hood College. We owe it to ourselves to mentor Hood Blazers, complement Hood Blazers, and to support fellow Hood Blazers.

Good luck on your journey to find or be found and celebrate today!

To the graduating class of 2017, Congrats!

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