Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy

Mike Petters delivers keynote speech at the 2016 awards luncheon (remarks as prepared)
HII Corporate
Mike Petters Speaks at Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy Luncheon
HII President and CEO delivers the keynote speech at the Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy Luncheon

Thank you, Chancellor DuBois, for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak with you today.

And thank you to all the Chancellor’s Award for Leadership winners.

While you’re helping community college students realize their dreams of continuing their education, you’re also playing a critical role in Virginia’s workforce development efforts and, I would argue, securing the future of our nation.

You may not have been motivated by national security when you wrote your check to the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, and that’s fine.

But it’s a good example of what I want to talk about today: Why do people give?

It may seem ironic in a room full of people being recognized for leadership in philanthropy.

But the truth is: We all have different reasons for giving.

In fact, social scientists have broken the reasons down into two broad categories: pure altruism and impure altruism.

Pure altruists donate because they value the social good done by the charity …

Impure altruists donate because they extract value from knowing they contribute to the social good for the charity.

To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with impure altruism.

If giving has ever made you feel good, you’ll probably agree that most of us are probably motivated by a mixture of the two.

I do believe that by talking openly about our reasons for giving, we can learn from each other.

And since social science also shows that giving is contagious, maybe we can also motivate others to give.

So I’ll talk a little bit today about why Huntington Ingalls Industries gives and also why I give …

First, let me once again thank all the Chancellor’s Award winners.

As a member of the Virginia Community College Foundation Board, I salute you for your generosity.

Our mission at the Foundation is to provide access to education for all Virginians.

By supporting the foundation, you support access, affordability and student success at every one of Virginia’s community colleges across the state from Big Stone Gap in southwestern Virginia to Melfa on the Eastern Shore—and 21 community colleges in between.

We have awarded more than 65 scholarships this year—each one ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

While your contributions help those individuals, you are also investing in the community college system as a whole.

From a workforce development perspective, that is one of the best investments you can make.

Here are a few of my favorite statistics from the Virginia Community College System:

  • More than 260,000 students earned community college credits last year
  • More than 30,000 degrees, diplomas and certificates were earned last year
Mike Petters with Chancellors
From left, Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges; Ron Holmes, Chairman of VFCCE; Dana Hamel, Founding Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges; and Mike Petters, HII president and CEO.

When you consider that tuition at our community colleges is about a third of what you’d pay at a four-year public school, the return on investment is very compelling.       

Here’s my favorite statistic of all: More than 13,000 employers are served through the workforce programs at Virginia’s community colleges.

My company, Huntington Ingalls Industries, is just one of them.

Community colleges are a critical element of the workforce development pipeline.

Our Newport News Shipbuilding division in Virginia employs more than 20,000 people.

And not all of those jobs require bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

In fact, nearly 5,000—a quarter of our workforce—are graduates of post-secondary, non-bachelor’s degree institutions. 

That includes:

  • More than 1,500 employees with associate’s degrees
  • More than 400 employees with vocational certificates
  • And nearly 3,000 graduates of The Apprentice School, which is partnered with Thomas Nelson and Tidewater community colleges.

We currently have more than 300 employees enrolled in community college programs.

We have similar statistics at our Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Mississippi:

From 2014 to 2015, we hired more than 1,000 employees through Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s pre-employment program and more than 400 from Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama. Ingalls also partners with community colleges in neighboring Alabama and as far away as Georgia, Kentucky, Texas and Missouri.

You can see why, as a company, we’re so passionate about supporting community college education.

Of course, like you, I also personally give to causes that are important to my family and me.

For me, education is the primary arena where I try and make a difference.


Because someone – actually several people and organizations – reached out and helped me with my education and this changed the trajectory of my life.

I grew up on an orange and cattle farm in Florida, the oldest of six children.

When I was in the eighth grade, my parents encouraged me to take the entrance exam for a Jesuit high school that cost well beyond their means—and was located 40 miles from where we lived.

Not only was I accepted, I earned a scholarship to work off half the tuition by cleaning classrooms and doing other odd jobs around the school.

I saved up the rest from my wages from working on my dad’s farm in the summers.

And because I attended that school, my path was forever changed.

The question about my future went from, “Are you going to college?” to “Where are you going to college?”

Later, I didn’t get into the Naval Academy on my first try.

But the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation thought enough of me to give me a $1,000 scholarship to attend LSU on the condition that I apply again to the Naval Academy the following year.

I did and this time I was accepted.

Those opportunities – that access to a really good education – were instrumental in my life.

I’m sure there are many in this room today with stories of your own.

For me, it’s the reason why I spend so much of my attention on education.

And as I’ve gotten older—and hopefully wiser—I’ve directed more and more of my attention to the beginning of the workforce development pipeline: early education.

Let me explain why.

The OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reports that investment in early childhood education in the U.S. is relatively high—fifth among OECD countries—yet enrollment rates for 3- and 4-year-olds continue to be considerably lower than average.

Specifically: Only 38 percent of 3-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in early education programs.

The OECD average is 64 percent.

Likewise, only 66 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in early education programs.

The OECD average is 84 percent.

In fact, compared to most of the world’s leading economies, the U.S. is ranked in the bottom third for enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds.

Translation: The rest of the world is starting to educate its children before the U.S.

And much of the rest of the world is educating its children better than the U.S.

Because even though the U.S. is fifth in investment in early childhood education, overall America is tied with Italy in the 28th position for OECD global rankings for overall education quality.

As business leaders, we see the consequences down the line, and that’s a shrinking pool of applicants years before traditional workforce development efforts even begin.

If you talk with educators, they will tell you that, by the third grade, the academic path of the student is pretty well defined.

If you’re not reading at grade level by third grade, it gets to be really challenging, if not impossible, to catch up.

Today, you can go into a fifth-grade classroom today and think: “One out of four kids will be employable. We’ll have to pay for the other three.”

Pre-K school education is our chance to change the future for those three students.

Pre-K school can help boost the chances of those three children to succeed because they start to learn earlier.

So why should this matter at the community college level you ask?

It matters because, without early intervention, there will be fewer academically prepared students applying to community colleges.

At HII – and for businesses across America, it means that there will be fewer “work ready” candidates for us to hire.

The most important factor in our ability to build ships for the United States Navy and Coast Guard is the investment we make in the men and women who build these ships.

And one of the most important investments our country makes is in the men and women in uniform who voluntarily sail these ships into harm’s way.

Investment in education means we have the needed pool of candidates to choose from to do both – build our military ships and sail them.

Investment in education helps keep our country economically strong and yes, impacts national security.

For us to keep our economy strong and to remain competitive on this global stage, we must invest in education at all stages of the pipeline – from the very beginning through college.

Full disclosure: My wife is a pre-school teacher, and both of our daughters have spent time teaching in the classroom, so they see the challenges up close.

In fact, our eldest daughter is currently getting her PhD in school psychology – and last month she provided us with our first grandchild!

So yes, now I’m Grandpa Mike.

And I have to tell you …

When I hold my granddaughter and look into her eyes, I become even more determined to help make a difference for others.

I want to help keep the American Dream alive for her generation and the ones that come after.

I want to do whatever I can do to keep this world safe for her and for future generations.

Yes, it’s personal.

I strongly believe that:

For those of us who have had the chance to be successful --

For those of us who, at some time in our life, had someone reach out a hand to help us --

For those of us who have the means –

We share a common responsibility –to lean forward and keep the American Dream alive.  

And I would suggest that for those in the room today – because you are so generous in both spirit and in actions – you have more than leaned forward to respond to the question posed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:

“Life’s persistent and most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Thank YOU for all YOU do to help others.

And, specifically, thank you for supporting Virginia’s community colleges … our Commonwealth’s future workforce … and ultimately, America’s national security.

Thank you.

About HII

HII is a global, all-domain defense provider. HII’s mission is to deliver the world’s most powerful ships and all-domain solutions in service of the nation, creating the advantage for our customers to protect peace and freedom around the world. As the nation’s largest military shipbuilder, and with a more than 135-year history of advancing U.S. national security, HII delivers critical capabilities extending from ships to unmanned systems, cyber, ISR, AI/ML and synthetic training. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s workforce is 43,000 strong. For more information, visit: