Sherwin-Williams CEO Chris Connor gives advice to undergraduates

It’s not often that a CEO of a major global corporation tells a room with 40 college sophomores to email him directly to discuss job and internship opportunities. Yet, Christopher M. Connor, chairman and chief executive officer of Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co., did just that.

Following two lectures at Fisher, Connor took time to chat with students one-on-one who were lined up in a Schoenbaum Hall classroom. Each student received his undivided attention, advice and words of encouragement.

“Here’s my card and when you e-mail me, don’t forget to remind me that I met you here at Fisher,” Connor told a student he talked with after the second class. Connor and his wife, Sara, provided a $100,000 gift to Fisher to fund an undergraduate pilot program, which began this year for sophomores.

Two separate classes of 40 pre-business majors are a part of a small learning environment that provides team-building activities and develops soft skills that will further enhance career success after graduation. The pilot builds on the university’s First Year Experience program.

Students participate in extra-curricular activities throughout the quarter, including community volunteering, public speaking and presentation workshops and career management coaching.

“When they presented this idea to us, we thought it was a terrific. We loved it,” Connor said about the decision to fund the pilot program. He, his wife, and two children, are all Ohio State alumni. A third child began his first year at Ohio State in the fall.

A member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, Connor said he feels a strong connection to Fisher and is dedicated to giving back to Ohio State.

During the lecture, Connor discussed the importance of financial metrics and how they guide corporate strategy and results at Sherwin-Williams, a global powerhouse in the paints and coatings industry.

For many students, the highlight of his visit was receiving career advice. He encouraged the students to have faith in the business world despite the dismal economic climate.

“Have faith; it’s not ruined,” Connor said about the turbulent business environment. “We go through cycles like this, but the world needs excellent business men and business women. Don’t quit, don’t give up on us.”

Connor also told students their grades mattered. He likened grades to financial metrics that companies use to compete, measure results and demonstrate accountability. He also encouraged students to get involved in extracurricular activities that exhibit their readiness to take on responsibility and leadership roles. He was most emphatic in urging students to pursue a career path guided by passion.

“People start their careers thinking about where can I make the most amount of money,” Connor said. “But it’s really about doing something that you absolutely love. Passion trumps money every single time.”