"Lessons From A Road Less Traveled"

Commencement speech by Scott Stabler, HII corporate vice president, internal audit, to the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University (as prepared)
"Lessons From A Road Less Traveled"
HII Corporate

Thanks, Rich!

Good afternoon!

I am deeply honored to be here today and to join firsthand in this celebration! I have been fortunate to stay connected to the school since graduation, and today is an absolute high point for me in that relationship. I encourage you to be equally engaged with N.C. State as you start a new chapter in your lives. On behalf of the department, we are very proud of you as graduates and look forward to the exciting paths you will take as alumni.

Let me start by offering my formal congratulations to the class of 2015! This is also one more chance for families to cheer for their graduate—please make sure I can hear their names …

Scott Stabler, HII corporate vice president, internal audit

Let me also recognize those in the audience who helped make this day possible. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, wives, husbands, significant others and last, but not least, faculty—all those who contributed time, financial support, childcare, pizza, after-hours counsel, all those who sacrificed to bring these graduates to this happy day. Graduates, please join me in a round of applause for those who have helped you get here today! 

The challenge before every commencement speaker is to be brief, to be profound and to be remembered. I am definitely going to be brief …

My intent today is not to talk about the great engineering challenges of our time, the evolution of our profession or the need for more engineers to sustain our global competiveness.

What I am going to discuss is the fun I have had, and frankly continue to have, as part of a somewhat non-traditional engineering career and to describe the three core principles that have guided my career and personal life along the way. These principles are my best shot at “profound.”

Your N.C. State engineering degree is a door-opener. In addition to helping me get hired over 30 years ago at Newport News Shipbuilding, having that degree has been a critical bit of credibility that helped me find roles in:

  • Construction Engineering
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Life-Cycle Maintenance
  • Business Development
  • Construction Management
  • Program Management
  • And now, working in the corporate office of a Fortune 400 business!

Now I know what many of you in the graduating class are thinking—“Hey, Scott, enough of the small talk. Tell us how we too can leverage our brand-new engineering degrees into an exciting career in internal audit!” Not so fast, my friends!

Some things will just take time.

As I mentioned earlier, there have been three core principles that have been central to my approach. While I didn’t have the maturity or insight to understand or describe these touchstones when I graduated, each principle reflects what I have learned along the way and how I try to answer the “How did you get here?” question.

The first idea I’d like you to consider is balance. More specifically, balance between four key things:

  • Your work
  • Your physical health
  • Your faith
  • And your family

All four require attention on a daily basis. That’s right: I said daily. Don’t think of these as competing priorities; understand that each must have its place.

Work is a good place to start. My early career involved substantial travel time away from a young family—a year and a half in Mississippi and another in New Jersey. My experience later in running an aircraft carrier construction program took place over eight-plus years with the last few years dominated by very long hours, routinely six or seven days a week. Balance between work and the other priorities is one idea I have had to learn—repeatedly. Just ask my family.

As to physical fitness: If you are able, do something each day—anything from stretching to walking to running to a swim. It’s not just stress relief—routinely “breaking a sweat” will improve your mood, give you more energy and enable greater productivity. It is part of my daily routine and, if you’re not already there, a great habit for you to form now.

Faith as a daily “must do” may make some uncomfortable. It shouldn’t. I’d advocate that this can be as simple as spending a quiet moment in meditation, prayer or reflection. None other than Jim Valvano talked about taking some time each day just to “think.” Volunteering is another way—anything that enables you to consider and positively act on a sense of greater purpose.

Similarly, family can take many forms. Spending time with loved ones, staying in touch with your classmates. Coming back to homecoming and stopping by EBIII to say hello to your old friends in the faculty—they are going to miss you—are all ways to accomplish this objective. Here’s one more old school perspective for you: Call—do not just text—your parents! Can I get an “Amen” from the mothers here today?

While those of us in business may not say it often enough, you are a much better employee, and likely a better person, when you do these things for balance.

My second principle is to consistently “stretch yourself”

“Stretch” means taking the initiative to play hard even when it means stepping into situations you find awkward or uncomfortable. It is from such situations that you will find true growth and, perhaps, some of your most cherished memories. You will have daily opportunities to take on tasks you haven’t done before, things like public speaking or moving into a new organization. Take advantage and get in the habit of stepping outside your comfort zone.

My first real career break was moving from waterfront engineering into a supervisory role in purchasing. It gave me leadership experience—the chance to see how other companies operated and to understand how closely material design and marketplace cost are linked. It was an experience from which every engineer would benefit. Situations that force you to grow are what will set you apart and are one of the best ways to expand your comfort zone.

One important qualifier: Stretching doesn’t mean you’ve have to abandon patience. Every day will bring a new set of experiences and opportunities. Learn along the way, ask questions—there are no bad ones—and pick your spots. Your chances for growth will come.

My third and final bit of advice is that you must be resolved to take ownership for whatever you do. Wherever you sign your name, whenever your name goes on a drawing or calculation, whenever you hold a meeting or provide direction, you are putting your indelible thumbprint on a work product.

In my present role, I lead the group that provides assurance to the Huntington Ingalls Industries Board of Directors that management controls for running a $7 billion company and reporting results are sufficient. To do so means understanding how the business operates, what constitutes enterprise risk and where the numbers come from. If we don’t do our job well, company value and reputation can be compromised or destroyed.

Clearly your graduation is a reflection of the fact that you have personal responsibility. As you grow within your career, you will have the opportunity to supervise, manage and lead others. They will take a cue from the level of “ownership” that you demonstrate.

As I close, let me share a quote from the book “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom. It’s a true story about the lifetime wisdom of a dying professor being incrementally passed to a younger man who had the good sense to stay in touch with his mentor. I was reminded of the story when I re-read this quote in my daughter’s blog. I encourage you to think about future success this way and not by salary or some other material terms. Hopefully, this ties together much of what I have said. Morrie’s quote is this:

“The way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Class of 2015, I hope you find ways to create both purpose and meaning in your life. Stay balanced, don’t be afraid to stretch and demonstrate ownership every day. Along the way, have some fun too

Thank you!

About HII

HII is an all-domain defense and technologies partner, recognized worldwide as America’s largest shipbuilder. With a 135-year history of trusted partnerships in advancing U.S. national security, HII delivers critical capabilities ranging from the most powerful and survivable naval ships ever built, to unmanned systems, ISR and AI/ML analytics. HII leads the industry in mission-driven solutions that support and enable an all-domain force. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s skilled workforce is 44,000 strong. For more information, visit: