For Steve Thompson, vice president of finance at Delane Consulting & Talent Management in Bethlehem, continuous learning is a way of life.
It led him to his current job and inspired him to become chairman of the board of Lehigh Valley Public Media, which oversees the Lehigh Valley’s Public Broadcasting Station, Channel 39, and many other educational initiatives. But his education goes beyond his Bachelor of Science Degree in electrical and computer engineering from Brown University, or his Master of Science Degree in electrical engineering from Penn State.
For him, it all started with getting laid off from his job.
Thompson began his career in 1973 as an engineer at Western Electric in Allentown. He stayed on as the company evolved into its later incarnations, first Lucent and later LSI. That’s when his upwardly mobile career went south.
He was in charge of converting integrated circuits made by the company into devices that could be used by the military, a major sales target. He did everything right. His team made the circuits correctly and kept everything under budget, but the military didn’t buy them and he was laid off.
Looking back, Thompson now says getting laid off “was the most positive thing that ever happened to me.” The layoff put him on the path to learning new skills.
Perplexed as to what happened, he took a job with AT&T in New Jersey as a product manager. “It was my first foray into the business end. I think like an engineer, but I wanted to know what went down,” he said.
As he learned more about the business end of the engineering world, he found that it was the marketing of the products, not the design or manufacturing that led to the failure at his previous job. That’s when he decided that to be a success he had to understand all aspects of how a business operates, because all are important. He decided to challenge himself to take on new roles and learn new skills so he could be the best at any job he undertook. But, his love was still in operations, so as he looked to expand his education and career he looked towards process management and programing.
“That was helpful. I had worked in and touched just about every spot that was in manufacturing, so I could see past what people were telling me,” he said.
With his career heading in the direction of project management, finance didn’t seem like a logical leap but, always eager to learn more skills, that’s exactly what he did, taking on a role in project management and finance for Verizon. While the finance end was a new skill set for him, he brought value to the organization because of his background in engineering and manufacturing.
The people making the financial decisions “didn’t know a router from a server. They didn’t know what they were spending money on,” he said.
Now, finance is a big part of his job at Delane and he spends much of his time concentrating on such issues as 401ks and measuring the company’s positive and negative results.
But having his background in engineering and manufacturing still comes in handy and he’s sometimes called in to as a consultant when his experience can help improve a situation.
“To me something can always be more efficient than it was yesterday,” he said.
Thompson says it’s important to use the whole tool box when solving problems in a company. “I spent my entire life trying to find new tools.” He has little patience for those who don’t embrace continual education. “You want to annoy me, tell me you’re done learning and that you already learned everything you need to know.”
His the mission of Lehigh Valley Public Media helps him spread the word of continuous learning to the next generation with its emphasis on educational and informational programing. “I’ve told young people more times than I can count, continuous learning is the number one thing. Technology moves very quickly. Your area will change while you sleep, so you better have studied or you’ll be behind.”