I barely scraped by the first three years, but in that time, I joined the Lambda Chi fraternity. I was elected President of the house in my junior/sophomore year (chronologically I was a junior, scholastically a sophomore). Our house financial advisor was Professor Mary Steers. She was also my personal advisor since I was an Accounting major. When I took over the house, it was in a financial mess — owed lots of money to the food supply company, was late on utilities, and a physical mess. I had no idea what to do.
Professor Steers said, “You have to get the place in order.” I got that and proceeded to call in overdue house fees, delinquent membership dues and late food payments from members eating at the house. I became a dictator of the house, a realization that, at times, it was essential to take control. It was a great learning experience for me. I also flunked out of Marietta the next semester. I joined the Army. That was October of 1965. Yes, the prime time for Vietnam.
I survived my Army experience and realized that I had to come back to Marietta to finish my degree. This is where Professor Steers was my ANGEL. She coached me through what courses I needed to take to get my grade point average up; she found a way to bring me back under a configuration of criteria that let me graduate with the minimum of courses. And, she got me a job at her bar to help me pay what the GI Bill did not. She was a blessing. Anyone in Accounting knew that she was very caring.
After I graduated, I got a job with the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB doing financial analysis. But my experience with the Lambda Chi house and Mary Steers showed me that looking for financial waste was key to making things work well. I became the internal “whistleblower” for wasteful spending. That led to a big promotion to help the entire Laboratory manage change to more effective methods. That led to a shift from finance to organizational development … and a new job.
I left the Air Force and joined Cummins Engine Company in 1977, and quickly rose to be in charge of Organizational Effectiveness, as we attempted to install the Toyota Production system — the first Fortune 500 Company to attempt that. I learned a lot; and when the senior management backed off, I left. A habit I seemed to have become accustomed to doing. I ended up with the Kaizen Institute of America and consulted to senior management in the U.S. car industry. In that role, I remembered those lessons from Marietta and Mary Steers. Make the house work better!
I wrote three books and had a wonderful career, but a little outside the norm. Much of this goes back to the support I had from Professor Steers. She believed in me, supported me, gave me help and found ways to help me succeed. What more can you ask from a college advisor? I will always be indebted to her.
Tom Lane ’66/’71
Tom lives a quiet and simple life in Columbus, Indiana, where he moved to 40 years ago. He has been retired for 16 years, but still follows his passion for writing. He has a blog — https://wakeuptl.wordpress.com — with more than 900 essays on the nature of human consciousness/awareness. That was the key to his success in his professional career.