Standing at the lectern, gazing at the bright and energetic faces of 325 graduates, Norm Eaker encouraged them to never stop learning, be grateful and optimistic, and never have regrets. The principal and chief administrative officer at Edward Jones spoke Saturday at the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ summer commencement.
Eaker, who earned a BSBA in accounting in 1977 from UMSL, began classes at the university just a few short weeks after his first visit to campus with his father. He worked full time while taking classes, so UMSL was the best fit for his needs. He said he was able to receive a quality education, at an affordable price while accommodating his schedule.
“Thirty-three years ago, I remember sitting in this very auditorium,” he told the graduates. “The first thing I did was find my name in the list of graduates to make sure it was no dream. I assure you, your family and friends have located your name already.”
For the majority of his college career, Eaker worked the night shift making doughnuts at a local shop. After graduation, he landed his first job at Peat Marwick (now KPMG) before joining Edward Jones in 1981.
Eaker asked the graduates to think about their journey to this point and how they got there.
“We never really achieve big things all on our own. We have help along the way … your family and friends have supported you, cared for you, prayed for you and sacrificed for you … none of you are here solely by your own efforts. Gratitude for the help of others and the showing of genuine appreciation is something we could all be better at. We need more gratitude and less attitude.”
Although the graduates’ classroom days may be over, Eaker said learning is never over.
“To illustrate the value of continuing to learn, I’d like to tell a brief story,” he said. “The story starts in 1959, a young man named Darryl Pope with only a high school diploma was looking for work. He was hired at Edward Jones, as the 38th employee in this history of the firm. This was before computers, so all of the customers records were kept on index cards in pencil. At the end of the month, customer statements would be typed from the cards. Then Darryl would take the cards and a big pink eraser, and erase the cards so they could be used again. That’s where Darryl started, but he moved on from erasing cards, to writing on the cards, to running the trading department, human resources, operations and services. Darryl moved up over time to become the third general partner in a firm of over 25,000 people. Darryl hired me in 1981 and was my mentor, teacher, guide and good friend.”
Eaker said he asked Pope how he rose from the pink eraser to becoming the third general partner at Edward Jones, and he told him it was because of two things:
“Darryl said he set out to get an MBA in the brokerage business. He read, studied, talked to folks and worked to learn as much about the business as he could. He wanted to become an expert and knew with more knowledge and understanding, he could add more value,” he said. “And secondly he took full responsibility for his learning and his career. If it was to be, it was up to him.
“Darryl retired in 2005. He taught me many things, most importantly was to take full responsibility for yourself and your career. No excuse, no regrets.”