Janet Marzett, Vice President, Daimler Financial Services

Ms. Janet Marzett, Vice President of Collections, Customer Service, and Remarketing at Daimler Financial Services, was the commencement speaker for the College of Business May 2010 Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 16. With Daimler Financial since 1980, Janet has achieved success in a variety of functions and at multiple levels and is currently a member of the Operating Committee that guides the business in the Americas. Janet's extensive civic involvement includes membership on the board of the Texas Motor Vehicle Division and the Advisory Council for the UT Arlington College of Business. A Dallas native, Janet is a graduate of The University of Texas at Dallas.

The following is the transcript to Janet’s Commencement address.

UT Arlington College of Business
Commencement Address by Janet Marzett
May 16, 2010
The Value of Values

It is my great honor to address the UTA 2010 graduates. It is no coincidence that I am standing before you today to deliver your commencement speech. Having worked over 30 years in a successful and rewarding career with Daimler Financial Services, it is my desire to ensure that you are well prepared to begin your successful and exciting careers. As I prepared for today’s speech, I considered many relevant topics. This speech is not meant to be a lecture, riddled with statistics and facts. I would like to share a very basic, yet important principle on the “value of values” and how each of us should hold true to our unique and diverse perspectives throughout our careers. Living your values consistently will increase your self-respect and confidence and give you life-time success in business.

While many will agree that valuing values is important, we have all seen that this principle is not always well practiced. At times, society has seemingly lost its way, as evidenced by the numerous examples of people and companies who operate without values.

Enron, Lehman Brothers and Countrywide Mortgage are sobering examples of how some organizations operate without values. Our economy is still adversely impacted from the way they chose to conduct business.

We are now all amazed that these large corporations were permitted to engage in illegal activities to make them profitable, which eventually led to their demise. In many cases, loans were secured by applicants who falsified personal information. Creditors would at times “coach” applicants on what information was critical for loan approval to ensure that they knew exactly how to get their loans approved. These applicants who falsified their information had misplaced values. They placed greater importance on acquiring real estate which was clearly above their means. My late pastor, Reverend Foster, used to say, “We buy things that we don’t need, to impress folk that we don’t like.” In other words, these people placed the wrong value in an effort to “window dress” an image that they perceived to be the picture of success. There were so many misguided motives on several levels. Creditors knew they were fraudulent in offering a high-risk portfolio that was portrayed as minimal risk in order to generate unwarranted profits. Whether it was the customer or the lender, both operated without principled values.

Your values may differ from others, but leveraging your differences makes you unique. Sometimes we are confused about whether being different is a good thing or not. Let’s use the fingerprint as an example of how unique we are. The order of the million base pairs in each person’s DNA has a different sequence. There are numerous scientific facts that support individual differences. Yet some people haven’t figured how to leverage their unique style, experiences and personality. These people place more value in being like someone else. Even the American Idol judges often remark to the contestants that when performing an original artist’s song, they need to make it their own. The “Make It Your Own” advice took me some time to learn. I file this lesson under the “If I knew then what I know now” category. While I did not attempt to be like someone else, more importantly, I did not attempt to be different. Standing out as an African American manager earlier in my career, was not something that I wanted to highlight at that time.

However, I soon learned that the diversity that I represented offered a different perspective in many ways. Mastering diversity in the workplace in the 80’s was not always well understood. Diversity was not popular, widely practiced, or always valued.

I had to strategize on how I could leverage diversity in the workplace to benefit the company as well as myself. In other words, how could I influence others to value the diversity that I brought?

My strategy for success was to identify what the dealers viewed as adding value. The goal was to overachieve on the dealer’s expectations. Conducting business with the highest integrity and staying true to my own values became key ingredients for my advancement. The more I was able to stay true to myself and my values while achieving success significantly contributed to my confidence. The more confident I was, the more I took on greater challenges to achieve greater success.

In reflecting upon why some companies have faltered, the common practice is that they have chosen to abandon their values. You might be thinking that these illegal practices are not applicable to you. Let me caution you against thinking that these tempting traps will not cross your path. As you begin building your careers, your commitment to your values will be tested. The test will present itself in obscure ways. I would like to share some real life examples of how I have seen people compromise their values for a short-term gain. Consider these examples:

  • You are seeking employment and have found what you believe to be “your dream job.” You feel pressured as the job market has been slow and this job will give you bragging rights to your family and friends. After reading the position description, there is a required skill that is not your strength. You realize that the only way to land this job means that you must stretch the truth to embellish your credentials. You justify this exaggeration by telling yourself that you are a quick study with the belief that you can quickly get up to speed. After all, you’re intelligent plus you graduated from the College of Business at UTA. Luckily, you land the job, but you quickly find yourself in an unpleasant performance situation. You have underestimated the required skills and you are unsuccessful in your job.
  • Or perhaps you are working in a commission-based job and you’re about to close a big deal, resulting in a sizeable commission to be paid in your next pay check, if you close the deal today. As you review your documentation, you notice that you have failed to secure a required signature on one document. Without this signature, the deal will not be processed in this time period for payment. You have already planned this commission in your budget and you need the money. You feel desperate and you begin to reconcile in your mind that your client meant to sign the document and you don’t want to delay the sale. No harm, no foul. To expedite things, you forge the client’s signature. Since no one is watching, you tell yourself, “I’ll compromise my values just this one time.” Somehow the practice of compromising your values gets a little bit easier each time.
  • You’ve made a mistake but no one knows that it’s you. No one can prove you are at fault. Why step up if you don’t have to? The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article entitled, “Survival of the Fibbest: Why We Lie So Well.” Simply said, lying is so wide-spread that this practice is being studied.
  • You observe what appears to be “creative accounting” at your job, but since the infractions are minor and there is no material impact, you choose to ignore it. Plus, you need a job to pay your student loans from UTA.

I hope that you can see that these examples with which you will be faced are not so far-fetched.

In reflecting upon my career, I am most proud that I have not resorted to comprising my values to move ahead. It is a principle which has enabled me to advance through 17 different positions, relocating 8 times with my family (still intact) and successfully attaining two vice president positions. During my advancement, I have been faced with many challenging situations which have tested my values. I once declined a promotion of becoming the first female African American zone manager to complete additional training. I felt this training was necessary to be successful in the job. There is a good ending as I was successful in achieving my dream in 2000.

I would like to share with you a life learning experience that further validates how staying true to your values is not always easy.

While attending a global meeting in Italy with all the top executives in the company, I was faced with a situation that I will never forget. I was one of the few women and the only female black executive attending. While dining, I was seated next to our chairman. The waiter approached our table with a big soup bowl and placed it in front of the chairman. The chairman picked up the bowl and placed it directly in front of me. My initial thought was what a kind and respectful gentlemen to allow me to first serve myself. My instinct told me that maybe it wasn’t that simple. I was right, it wasn’t. I waited a minute before moving and sure enough, there came additional instructions. The chairman proceeded to share information related to the Italian culture with guests at the table. Traditional Italian women take care of the men in the house. I stared blindly like “Where is this going?” He continued by asking me that in keeping with the Italian culture he would like for me to serve the male guests at the table. My heart started to race, I can only imagine what I must have looked like with my eyes widened and probably with an open mouth. Many thoughts were going through my head. My first thought was how many hundreds of years and how many more must black people serve the food. I also thought how unpleasant this would get if I refused to follow the chairman’s instruction. I thought, “Should I just suck it up and serve the darn soup?” I didn’t have any witness and the only person that would feel ashamed would be me. My personal “litmus test” kicked in and I asked myself would I lose sleep if I served the soup. The answer to that question was obvious. It was a resounding and deafening inner shout, “YES!”

Now that I knew that I would decline this request, I had to quickly think of the best response that would generate the least damage. (Notice I recognized that there would be damage, but my approach was to find a way to mitigate as much as possible.) I looked directly into the eyes of my chairman and firmly said, “I will not serve the soup, but I am happy to pass the bowl around so that each person could serve themselves.” In my mind, I had already considered that I could have started the sentence with, “I’m sorry, but I will not serve the soup,” but the admission of saying, “I’m sorry,” was simply not true.

Of course, my decision was not the response that he was looking for and he was disappointed that I had failed to follow his instructions. The chairman attempted to convince me to uphold the Italian tradition and serve the soup. I firmly responded that I had an appreciation for the Italian culture, however, this was not a tradition that I felt comfortable to act out.

The guests at our table were clearly uncomfortable and the awkwardness hung heavy in the air for a few minutes but we got through it. Over the next few days in Italy, I was able to share my perspective with my fellow Caucasian colleagues to educate them on what serving the soup meant to me. The act of serving soup resonated so deeply that had I carried out this request, I would have been consumed with shame, guilt, and remorse. I would have questioned myself on how far would I go to fit in?

Long story short, everyone got over it and over time the chairman and I understood one another’s perspective. In later discussions, the chairman and I would often share the story with others and it usually ended with laughter. It was a learning lesson for the both of us.

While you may never be in a position where you are asked to literally serve the soup you will encounter your own “Soup Test.” It will manifest in ways that challenge your heritage, beliefs, and values. How far will you go to fit in? As you search for employment, you should know that most reputable companies have core values. Having core values and living the core values are two very different things. My advice to you is to find out what are their core values and how are they reinforced in the business?

Value Rules to Live by

  1. Know your personal values and live by them consistently. People who operate with strong values are not tempted as often to engage in wrongdoing. People tempt people when they know they can be easily tempted.
  2. Defend your values even in times when the outcome does not appear to be positive. Be patient, the outcome is always positive; it’s just a question of time.
  3. Associate yourselves with companies and people who have strong values. Their success is more sustainable.
  4. Make sure that your core values align with the organization. If not, find a job that does.
  5. Don’t just talk values. Walk It. Practice makes perfect. Practice what you preach.
  6. Rest assured that you will experience your own “Soup Test.” How you respond will define who you really are.

In closing, you are capable of positively contributing to society. You are responsible for ensuring businesses are operating in an ethical manner including the treatment of employees in a respectful and fair manner.

The value of living your values should always serve as your guiding principle in life. People will judge you based on the consistency to which your values are applied. That, which makes you unique, also makes you special. Your values should be hard fought and hard taught. I am wishing that each and every person achieve his or her own measurement of success. It will be sustainable if it is based on living your set of values. I wish the very best of success to each and every 2010 UTA graduate.

Thank you.