“Just stay true to yourself and own your career…I know it’s easier said than done, but when others try to put you down for excellence, it’s something that stems out of their own insecurities, and that’s not your problem” 

Yesterday afternoon, as the Teaching Assistant of the Introduction to Industrial Engineering (IE 200), I had the pleasure to meet our first IE alumni speaker, Andy Burke.

The theme of his talk was, “[His] Crooked Career Path.” Andy opened with a joke about how “crooked” meant nonlinear not to be confused with something nefarious. Then, he proceeded to tell us about his current status as the President of Dry Beverage Systems and Kerry Convenience.

From there, he went back in time and began detailing how he was able to make his way up to becoming the successful alumni he is today. After graduation, Andy started moved out  to Dallas, Texas to have fun, hang out, and take a “gap” break with his brother. Once the novelty ended, he started looking for work and he found himself working for an electronics company based in Dallas. Unfortunately, that job moved him back up to Indianapolis, Indiana, an hour away from where he had just left (West Lafayette, Indiana).  After going through training Andy did not enjoy the mundane job, so when his friend from college called him to inform him of a new job opportunity, he took her up on it, applied, and accepted a job with Noxell Corp in Baltimore, Maryland. That strategic move in Andy’s career spurred his progress up the corporate ladder, (it is also the first company he has listed on his linked in). Eventually, Proctor and Gamble bought Noxell Corporation, and under world class supply chain management engineers, he was able to learn how the “big companies” used systems. At this point, Andy had received work experience from a smaller intimate setting of a company (Noxell Corp.) in addition to the work experience  and training he was getting from a big name and internationally acclaimed company (P & G).

At one point, during Andy’s time at P & G, he asked his boss where his boss projected that he would end up. His boss drew a linear timeline in order to indicate that at the rate Andy was learning and working, he would end up as a director in the company and be able to retire on a decent salary. While many people would have been happy having earned the title of director in a big company and the wealth associated with that position, Andy knew he could do better. Within six months of that conversation, he quit the job, and found a role with a company called DIAGEO. Interestingly, he was known as “Mr. Smirnoff,” from that role because he was in charge of the process of that vodka brand in the DIAGEO. Andy was able to again use his talents where he saw opportunity, and because he did such a great job in applying a marketing aspect to the process that he learned fro P & G, DIAGEO wanted to send him and his family to Ireland so he could also oversee the Bailey’s  Irish Cream. Andy was about to pack his family and his bags to get ready to leave, but a different smaller company offered him an opportunity. Pinnacle Food Products was a small company founded by his connections he made in Noxell, the founders knew he had expertise in operations so they offered him a plant manager position at first. But after Andy met with them  in person to review their company and recommend areas of improvement, they decided to allow him to be a VP of Operations. From there, Andy was able to catalyze improvement and efficiency in their system by expand their profit to four times from their original profit with just one fourth of the original workforce. Finally, Andy was able to take over the company, and the founders stepped down to key investors of the company. Andy Burke is currently the President of a company he built up and because it was a thriving young company, it got bought by Kerry Convenience.

The greatest thing I took back from his story was when he told us he had a fellow Purdue Engineering friend, who majored in Chemical Engineering instead of Industrial Engineering. Andy claims that even though his friend was much smarter than him, and a better student at Purdue, they ended up in completely different places in their careers. His friend ended up retiring as a director of an operations at P & G, with a great salary (exactly as Andy’s boss had projected him to end up as well). However, Andy was able to forge his own path to higher success because he didn’t settle for the comfortable “linear” path. With hard work and work experience he surpassed the expectations of his boss in the past and also his own dreams as a Purdue student to just become a plant manager.

P.S. Here’s a kind response from Andy when I reached out to him. I think how a person treats someone who doesn’t have anything to offer them, says a lot about that person’s character: