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DTE’s own vice president and controller Jeff Jewell will be speaking to more than 5,000 students, families and faculty at the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Spring Commencement on Sunday, April 29 at the U-M Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.  As a U-M-Dearborn grad with a master degree in Finance and an advisory board member for U-M-Dearborn’s College of Business, Jewell has been asked to provide remarks from the alumni.

We sat down with Jeff Jewell to talk about who inspired his leadership philosophy and what advice he has for students entering the workforce.

Question: As a leader at DTE Energy, what words of wisdom do you have for students leaving college to start their career?

Answer: I have a few guiding principles that I like to share with young people entering the business world. First, make sure you do something meaningful every day.  If you are working on a project, make daily progress.  By doing so, you’ll advance your own personal learning, you’ll build experiences and relationships with others in the company, you’ll improve from those experiences and you’ll have more purpose in your life and career. Not to mention, you’ll also help to move the company forward.

Second, you’ve got to learn the details. If you want to be effective in big picture discussions, you must learn and understand the details of the area you are working on.  That way, when you are participating in a strategic conversation and asked for input, you’ll be able to talk from a base of knowledge and provide solid information.

Last, have fun. Whatever you decide to do for your career, make it your priority to find the fun and joy in it. It’s work and it’s going to be tough at times, but if you can’t find fun in it, find something else that is fun for you. If you enjoy what you do and have passion for your work, you will have a successful career.

Question: Before earning a master of finance at U-M-Dearborn, you earned two bachelor degrees from Texas A & M University. What did you study? Do you remember what you were thinking when you graduated? 

Answer: My family has owned and operated a ranch north of Dallas, Texas for more than 150 years.  I earned a bachelor of science degree in agricultural economics from Texas A & M so that I could better understand the ranch business.  I earned a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting so that I could fulfill my career aspirations. When I graduated, I remember being excited about the possibilities open to me and the potential opportunities ahead of me with starting a new job.

Question: You are a retired Captain of the U.S. Army Reserves. How did your military experience shape your career?

Answer: I joined the Corps of Cadets at Texas A & M and was a commissioned Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves when I graduated.  I went off to officer basic camp for six months and then straight into the reserves, serving in Texas, Missouri and the Carolinas for eight years. I was exposed to very physically stressful circumstances in the military. This helped me in the business world to think calmly through an issue and problem solve, and to provide guidance in a consistent, purposeful way to get things done.  I would say my military experience prepared me to successfully manage teams and accomplish results throughout my career.

At DTE, I also serve as the executive champion of our company’s veteran program. I am proud to say that DTE is a Gold-Level Veteran-Friendly employer by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. This means that DTE is committed to recruiting, training and retaining military veterans to our team. I like to refer job-seeking veterans to our careers website, which provides military occupational codes and translates the codes into open positions at DTE.

Question: One of your favorite leaders and authors is Abraham Lincoln. Why does he inspire you?

Answer: Lincoln is an interesting leader because of how he responded to many crises he faced during his presidency. He was not liked by a lot of people, our country was in the middle of a civil war, thousands of people were dying and he lost a son, which was deeply painful for him and his wife.  Through these challenges, he had a strategic vision and plan that guided him.  He also had a belief to treat people fairly.  This strategy helped him lead the reunification of the south and pull the country back together.

I also admire Lincoln’s practice of going to the point of activity and observing. Today we call it “Go & See.” He spent several nights at the telegraph office reading and hearing the unfiltered communication between the field generals and their supervisors during battle.  He was also one of the last presidents to go out to the battlefield to observe morale and talk to the troops so he could see the situation firsthand.

As a leader, where did you learn your leadership philosophy and how do you share it with your employees?

Answer: Like most people, my leadership philosophy was shaped by my personal and professional experiences, leadership books I’ve read and observations of other leaders over the years.  Not surprisingly, one of my favorite books is ‘‘Lincoln on Leadership’’ by Donald T. Phillips.  I ask everyone on my team to read the book and after we sit down and discuss it.  My three guiding leadership principles practiced by Lincoln are:

  1. Be consistent. If your team members don’t know how you are going to react or interact with them, they will stop bringing you their issues, concerns and problems. That is a death nail for a leader. The most effective leaders are consistent.
  2. Always put your people first before yourself. If you put your people first and help them to be successful, you’ll be successful.
  3. Follow-up. If you give direction and ask people to work on certain assignments, you need to follow-up and make sure that they are working in the direction and at the pace that you want them to. This helps people understand that their work is important.