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Dell executive, an Elon alum, shares advice with students

Stephen Schuckenbrock dropped out of what was then Elon College after his first year, but when he met the woman he would eventually marry, the future business leader re-enrolled to complete his degree. The Elon alum now serves as a top executive for Dell Inc., and on Oct. 4, he shared advice with current students on achieving success in the business world. Details…

“The questions you ask are more important than the questions you answer when you go out and look for jobs,” said Stephen Schuckenbrock, chief information office for Dell Inc.

Bob Weston, the head of Elon's Executive Education program, had offered Schuckenbrock a standing invitation to  campus after Dell announced Schuckenbrock's appointment. The longtime businessman took Weston up on the offer and arrived at Elon this week after visiting South Carolina this week. Today he lives in Texas with his wife, Becky, and their five children.

Schuckenbrock's career spans more than two decades with companies such as Frito-Lay, PepsiCo and The Fuld Group (now EDS), an information technology consulting firm. Those roles helped him develop insights into business that serve him well at the computer giant.

“Get all the perspective you can get in your first 10 years,” the 47-year-old senior vice president and chief information officer for Dell told students in a Responsible Leadership course. “Whatever you do, don’t ever stay in one role and think you’ve found the end all and be all.”

Schuckenbrock stressed to students the importance of studying abroad. In any business, let alone a world economy, meeting customers face-to-face is critically important to developing products that fit their needs.

“You have no idea what’s happening in China unless you go to China,” Schuckenbrock said. “If you haven’t been to one of these emerging markets, you’ll be blown away by the poverty on one end, and you’ll be blown away by the commerce on the other.”

Throughout his discussion with students, Schuckenbrock suggested the following:

1.) Take the time to understand a business, especially its history, as a way to gauge whether it meets the needs of its customers.

2.) When you first arrive at a company, don’t be critical of past business decisions, because you weren’t there and don’t know what led to certain practices and corporate cultures.

3.) It is no longer enough to be the best at either innovation, cost effectiveness or customer intimacy -- and then just average at the other two. A business must be great at doing all three.

4.) “The questions you ask are more important than the questions you answer when you go out and look for jobs,” he said when discussing the people he hires. It's acceptable not to know the answers to everything, but successful employees are the ones who demonstrate an interest to learn. “I believe that all jobs are perishable … and perspective is your very best defense mechanism.”

Schuckenbrock told students, then again in an interview afterward, that the Elon name continues to serve him well, especially in recent years as the university continues to receives national recognition for its programs.

“It’s spectacular,” Schuckenbrock said in the hallway outside the second-floor classroom in the Koury Business Center. “My degree gets more valuable every year because of the transformation of the college to a university.”

Eric Townsend,
10/7/2007 8:01 PM