Advice from Alumni

Retired CEO of Kraft Foods Group, Inc. Tony Vernon ’78 shared personal and professional lessons that he aquired during his career on Wednesday, April 13 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. Emphasizing how significantly his personal values contributed to his professional career, he related valuable experiences and memories that helped him achieve his goals.

Vernon started handing out small notebooks with specific techniques of business and family pictures to students to emphasize three personal values he cherished throughout his career: being a good husband, good father and good businessman. Vernon shared that being urged to go to business school by a high school teacher during his teenage years was a huge watershed moment for him to transition into a business career later in life. Despite this, he valued the liberal arts education of Lawrence that helped him cultivate his learning ability and discover other interests he would continue to develop throughout his lifetime.

As he briefly talked about his early trajectory, Vernon recalled an interesting moment that he had to write down his career goals in ten words while he was a student in Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. While everybody else talked about grandiose goals including becoming a great founder of an enterprise like J.P. Morgan or a successful physician, Vernon confidently presented his personal values: being a good father, good husband and good businessman. Many students initially mocked this vision, but the professor complimented his personal goals as the most valuable goals among others. Vernon said he never regretted his decision to live by these principles and believes that this practice encouraged him to ultimately succeed in his career.

Throughout his 23-year career, however, Vernon confessed that he almost abandoned very important value of family at one time. He was then one of the top officials at Johnson & Johnson and busy with traveling all over the country while missing the chance to see his son playing baseball in the field. After he faced several conflicts with his family, he finally made a huge decision: to resign from his high-level position at the firm. Fortunately, his boss dissuaded Vernon from resigning and allowed him to take the spring off so that he could spend time with his family. He did not have to resign after all, and continued to share his valuable memories with his sons and wife. This experience still reminds Vernon of the utmost importance of balancing between family and career so that he could succeed in accomplishing his goals in the long term.

As the practical advice to students interested in business, Vernon suggested one word for the key to success: persistence. “The companies want to see you keep contacting and sending personal emails,” he added. “Don’t take their no’s and keep trying and asking.” While many students feel disappointed if they do not hear any reply from their companies, Vernon advised that it is important to show your passion by persistently trying out and sending the emails to the firms. By not focusing on the failures, he underlined the importance of persistence in the process of realizing one’s dreams.