Sikorsky President Urges Graduates to “Find Your Voice”
Sikorsky President Urges Graduates to “Find Your Voice”

by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

In his keynote address at Winter Commencement on Jan. 19, Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, urged the graduates not to be afraid to speak up with a new idea or a better approach.

“No matter if it’s your first day on the job or your last day in the corner office, adopt a point of view and commit to it,” said Maurer, who was conferred an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. “Find your voice.”

(L-R) Toni Harp, Larry Flanagan, UNH President Steve Kaplan, chair of the UNH Board of Governors Phil Bartels and Mick Maurer.

He recalled a story from his days in the U.S. Navy to illustrate his point. He had recently been appointed officer of the deck on a nuclear submarine in the North Atlantic, where he oversaw the vessel in the captain’s absence. “I’m in charge, a little full of myself, and I give the order, in my best alpha male voice, ‘diving officer, make your depth 400 feet.’”

Rather than follow the order, a helmsman, the lowest-ranking person on the boat, shouted a different recommendation. Maurer responded, “What the bleep are you talking about?”

The helmsman replied, “Sir, the bottom is at 300 feet. We need to build up lots of speed if we are going to make it to 400 feet.”

If it hadn’t been for that young man, Maurer said, his naval career probably would have ended somewhere on the bottom of the North Atlantic. “So if an 18-year-old kid can tell his senior officer how to run a billion-dollar nuclear submarine, you should certainly feel free to speak up in a meeting with far less at stake,” he said.

Maurer began his United Technologies career in 1989 at Otis Elevator soon after completing his MBA at Stanford. While his classmates were headed to jobs on Wall Street, he was responsible for fixing elevators.

“I chose this path because I believed that to be successful, I needed to really understand the product, the customers, and our employees,” said Maurer, who also holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. “It also showed my bosses that I was committed to the business, that I was willing to learn and that I was up for anything.”

His last piece of advice for the graduates: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, especially early in their careers. “Fear leads to risk-aversion and avoiding real challenges,” he said.

One of the best compliments he received from a boss, he said, was being told he was willing to do the tough jobs that no one else wanted. “That’s exactly where you want to be, because if you’re doing something easy, you’re in the wrong place.”

As part of the ceremony, honorary degrees also were awarded to Connecticut State Senator Toni Harp and Larry Flanagan '80, former global chief marketing officer at MasterCard, where he shepherded the company’s much-lauded “Priceless” advertising campaign. He also previously served as executive dean of the University’s College of Business and now serves as special assistant to the president at UNH.

Visit the Winter Commencement photo gallery.

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