Master of Ceremony, Campus Dean, Assistant Dean of Academic Excellence, Professors, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you so very, very much for this great honor and privilege. I am honored to be with you here today at the most important day of your career and life. I want to acknowledge all of you the brilliant, talented, ambitious, awesome, accomplished and all around outstanding members of the class of 2017.

The same people in this room, you the graduates, inspired me to write my first book, you are an inspiration and without even knowing it. I believe a special thank you is in order for you. I hope I can and will inspire you. Sometimes is the very people whom no one imagines anything of, that do the things that no one could ever imagine. They are the entrepreneurs. They are the disrupters! They are you!

This is a very big day for me as well and let me tell you why. I am originally from Germany a country of great traditions; however, graduating from the university is a very simple ceremony. As a teenager when I graduated, I became mesmerized by the graduation ceremonies in United States; there was something very special about the regalia, the throwing of caps in the air, the commencement speeches and most importantly the entire graduation event. Commencement is filled with a rainbow of caps, sleeves, and hoods that pop out from the sea of black gowns. Every color symbolizes something and it is as interesting to explore, as it is to watch on graduation day. I am beyond excited today to be wearing my very own “Harry Potter” robes and to be celebrating this awesome day with all of you.

I am here today to give each of you 4 simple tips on how success is at your fingertips and how you can become your own best asset targeted to chart your own course in life and accomplish great things.

1.  My first words of advice to you are to discover what you are good at and to keep building on your talents and skills.

I would like to bring you back to a time when I was eighteen and my heart was filled with the goal of making a difference in the world.  With hard work and dedication, I was gifted with the skill of being able to speak six different languages (German, English, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese). I always recognized that I had a talent for languages, so I signed up with Amnesty International, and soon became a translator for the Human Rights Committee in Germany. I flew around Eastern Europe and saw a great deal of suffering in the world from the many trials and documents, which I translated.  My time with Amnesty International was a life changing experience.  I ended my journey, remembering the many refugees we helped, especially one Iranian professional swimmer, Reza, who was able to get his political asylum in Germany, after his boyfriend was killed for defending basic human rights.

Every day, all over the world, people make the most difficult decision of their lives; to leave their homes in search of a better life.  The wisdom taken from this experience was not to take anything for granted in life and if you have a talent or skill use it to help others. A positive word of encouragement can help someone’s entire life.
My talent was languages. What is yours?  Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Be curious, ask questions and try new things. This is how you will learn what you are good at and how you can make a real difference in the world.

  2.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of my second tip for success, which is the importance of building and maintaining relationships.

Our journey in life and careers is a sum of all the people that we meet. In the end, it became very important for me to have gained from that experience with Amnesty, years later it set me up with a network I never knew I would need again. Common sense will show that in order to establish a one and one relationship, you often have to follow the lead of the other person. The key is to be approachable, articulate and authentic. Show that you know people and have established a network of people who aren’t just in your business field but also outside of it in order to capture a bigger professional niche. Trust me, this will go a long way and further assist you with your career.

My first big break in business happened when I was twenty-one and transitioned out of school and into the workforce as a service associate fetching cars for top businessmen. I’ll never forget a man and CEO by the name of Frank Demmer who gave me my first big break. I was promoted to manage a fleet of over five hundred cars for a communications company in Germany. The CEO always asked to have a specific Mercedes Benz lined up for him when he went on business calls. Today, I still remember that car. It was a black Mercedes S500 with a navigation system. Perhaps you’re laughing because a navigation system is easy to come by these days, but it wasn’t so common in 1994. Back then; a navigation system was like having the latest iPhone today. I positioned myself as the man he could count on to always provide him with that car and that utility. My ability to acquire those items on a consistent basis demonstrated to the customer my initiative and willingness to follow through on projects assigned to me and provide the highest service to our most important clientele.

One day, as I handed the keys over to Frank, he started a conversation with me. He said, “Would you like to come work for me?” His request seemed to come out of left field. Frank ran a technology company, and I was just a young professional who ran the fleet for his company. I outright confessed that I knew nothing about technology. This was very true. At that time, I didn’t even know how to use a cell phone. In those days, cell phones were new on the market, and it was a luxury to own one. Frank taught me a pivotal lesson that day. Which was later reinforced by months of training and years of working under him. Furthermore, I will never forget his response. He said, “It’s not about the cell phone, it’s not about technology, and it’s not about how much you know or don’t know. It’s about relationships. “At that moment, he gained my attention. Thereafter, I was hired and thrown into a six-month boot camp for sales representatives with a hundred-other people who were just like me. Notwithstanding, I became part of a class and journey that wasn’t easy and quite challenging; however, after the challenging training, I saw the first paycheck. I most importantly earned the prestige of being part of Frank’s company and management team. I learned a valuable lesson, which prepared me for the future where there wasn’t an ounce of failure left in me. This endeavor taught me the determination to succeed no matter what. Clearly, not everyone shared my will and determination. When we graduated, there were only about twenty of us left. Among those twenty, I was at the top of the class. Ultimately, it came down to consistency and relationship building! There it was. I had to give Frank the credit because of what he had said and done for me. His wisdom ended up being so true and profound. It was about discernment. It was about being relatable. These were the elements of establishing relationships.  My biggest fear is that you will walk away without truly understanding how important it is to make a human connection with the people you are serving. I cannot stress this point enough.

3.  My third tip for success for you is to be passionate about your work.

Give it your all.  Nothing is worth pursuing unless you are passionate about it and can deliver it with all of your energy.  Build your career for two reasons: to create a legacy or an exit strategy. Either you want to build something great that will have a lasting impact on the world for some time to come, or you want to create something where you can get a quick paycheck. People who care about the legacy never care about the money it is their passion that drives them to do great things. For instance, as an example, I think Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was never ever concerned with being a billionaire. From the very beginning, it appeared he cared about the website being up and running around the clock. He cared about his brand, which was simply his work and helping friends connect online. He was passionate about creating a social network. He didn’t realize that he would become a billionaire later. The passion was there. There is no greatness without a passion to be great, whether it’s the aspiration of an athlete, a lawyer, educators, a scientist, a parent, a doctor, or a businessperson. What are you passionate about? If you love your job and are passionate about what you do it won’t feel like work. It most certainly did not feel like work for me flying over 4 million miles in my career, to over 130 countries, sometimes in one week 3 different continents for countless meetings.

4.  My fourth tip for success is to take risks and to be innovative.

True innovative leaders rarely follow the straight and narrow path. They are willing to take risks and try new things. I saw this theory prove itself when I moved to the United States. Determined to write a new chapter I intended to sell my ideas to a female high-level executive in a technology company. My approach was so bold that I didn’t even make an appointment to see her when I arrived in the country. I just walked into her office. That day I was dressed for success!  And approached her assistant’s workstation with purpose and told her with a very heavy German accent, I had a meeting with her boss, Jamie. Without hesitation, the assistant granted me permission to enter Jamie’s office. At that time, Jamie was building a new network access point, and it just so happened that I was selling fiber networks. My introduction was simple, “I have an idea of how we can combine our two companies.” I immediately had her attention, but I didn’t stop there because I was on a mission. In the next couple of minutes, I began to lay out my intentions. More so, I told her that with my contacts and her technology, we would sell our business products jointly.  To my surprise, I was in her office for less than five minutes before she abruptly pulled the plug. “The meeting is over.”
“Did I do something wrong?” I said to her.
“No, go speak to my assistant and we’ll talk again next time.”
I said to myself, Damn, I messed up big time. Regardless of how I felt, I waited to speak to the assistant. When I approached her workstation, she handed me an appointment card and to my disbelief stated, “You’re having dinner with Jamie tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Morton’s Steakhouse in Miami.” A few hours later, I was sitting in front of Jamie at the restaurant, where she shared some news with me. “I wanted to speak with you about something. I am going to be appointed as head of revenue of a new organization, and I need someone to run global sales. You are the guy to do it.” This is where I first learned about the importance of emotional intelligence in driving your success. Follow your gut instinct.  

As I state in my book The Rival “Emotional intelligence is the stuff that will allow a listener to follow someone down an unknown rabbit hole.” Emotional intelligence is the glue; it is the stuff that I’ve been preaching about from the first page of my book (The Rival). Emotional intelligence will help you take those facts that you have learned here in school and use them to your ultimate advantage. Relying on a mix of book and street smarts will allow you to build and foster important relationships, take risks, create your own network, and tackle those sweet, sweet deals you’ve been dreaming of while on the road to success.  As a leader, I’ve had to look at policies and procedures in the eye and decide when it is the best time to go by the book and when to follow my gut feeling. Most importantly, I have always held on to a commonsense rule: when making deals, nothing is more crucial than emotional intelligence. We’ve all made early career mistakes on our professional life – some of us more than others – (God only knows I did) but I have learned to grow from my mistakes and capitalize on my gains. It is a hard lesson to be learned! Great entrepreneurs and leaders know how to deliver an electrifying message, which requires them to focus on emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize, practice self-awareness, understand and manage your own emotions.  That is where the real alchemy and risk in building a business and relationships comes from. It’s a combination of relationship building, emotional intelligence, and knowledge.

That’s how you get into a room; but when you are given an opportunity to meet with any executive practice skills of emotional intelligence, not emotional blackmail.  Successful leaders can handle pressure in a healthy way, understand and cooperate with others, because they are good listeners, empathetic and are more open to feedback considering that they speak the same language and have faced similar business obstacles. They set the standard and the example for others to follow and are driven to make more thoughtful and thorough business decisions.

Let’s imagine a perfect world where you recognize your own emotions and how they ultimately affect your thoughts, actions and behavior. You can learn more about Emotional Intelligence in my book The Rival.  It will help you recognize your own SWOT analysis focusing on your strengths and weakness, opportunities and threats. The key is to exercise self-control of impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways. Take the right initiatives to make the right decisions, follow through on commitments, and most importantly the capacity to adapt quickly to critical changing circumstances that can adversely impact the overall outcome of your strategic goals. You are your own best asset; you have the best tool your diploma to start your new career and your life. Every time I was reviewing 1000 resumes, yours was the first on my desk. You all in this room have the potential to change the world. If, I was able to succeed with a heavy German accent and become as American as apple pie; the sky’s the limit for all of you great minds of class 2017.

There are a number of lessons I hope you have learned by looking over the adventures of my life’s work. I hope my message will change the way you live and therefore change you, same as you changed me and made me an author. I hope it will give you the confidence to succeed at something you previously felt uneasy about pursuing. Whatever it may be, please take this moment to reflect my final words, because it is in the ending that the beginning really makes the most sense and makes a difference. You might not remember me or my speech in 20 years from now, but I hope you can walk away with the notion that there is nothing more important than getting out there in life and having face-to-face meetings and building key business relationships targeted to shape your career and future. If I could leave you with a few final words it would be these:

1.  Discover what are your talents and skills: Try new things and explore the world.  Diversify your skills and do not become a specialist only in one

industry and field. Be endlessly curious.

2.  Relationships matter in the end is all that matters Nothing is gained by sitting behind your desk; you have to step into the world and make yourself
known. Building and maintaining relationships is a key to success.

3.  Be Passionate: Nothing is worth pursuing unless you are passionate about it and can deliver it with all of your energy.

4.  Take risks and be innovative.  : A focus on winning is built on taking risks, innovative thinking and emotional intelligence (understanding yourself
and others). Think outside the box.

My parting words for you are to step into the office and make the career yours, whatever that might be. If anything, I am confident I have inspired you to go after what really gets you out of bed in the morning and to be passionate.

For me, it was sales, but I know that can’t be for everyone, it is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Not everyone is a salesperson or needs to be part of an executive team. You need to be passionate about whatever you set your mind and hands to do. For instance, if you love being a nurse, technician, doctor, lawyer, educator, engineer, or businessperson and are passionate about it, you should do that. Follow your dreams and don’t be concerned about failure and taking risks. Life is about exploring and trying new things. Your interests, passions, and natural abilities may change over time but that is part of learning and growing. Stay calm, cool and collected and most important be effective. Furthermore, I am convinced and believe that in order to be successful, you can’t chase the amenities you want to have in your life: a big paycheck, fancy toys, and so on.  What you need to chase is your constant passion, and all the other things will fall into place—as long as you always move forward.

Congratulations class of 2017, keep moving forward, be curious and be amazing. YOU DIT IT!!! QUANTUM ERA DEMONSTRANDUM!!!



Benjamin Von Seeger is an entrepreneur, frequent C-suite member and telecommunications veteran with twenty years of global business experience. His book The RiVal: Play the Game, Own the Hustle, Power in Competition, Longevity in Collaboration (out now) draws on vast personal experience and proven philosophy to inspire a new generation of businesspeople and students. Visit his website and follow Ben on Twitter @benvonseeger.
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