Three life-changing numbers
David DeWalt shares valuable lessons with new graduates
4:59 p.m., May 30, 2015--David G. DeWalt, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of FireEye Inc., delivered the Commencement address May 30 at the University of Delaware, where he graduated in 1986.
At the ceremony, he also was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree.
An exercise in Parkinson's
DeWalt's remarks are reprinted below:
Good morning, University of Delaware! Go Blue Hens!
Chairman Sparks and members of the Board of Trustees, President Harker, Provost Grasso, Gov. Markell, fellow members of the Honorary Degree Class of 2015, faculty, alumni, parents and friends, and especially, all the graduates of the Class of 2015: Congratulations! What a day, what a very special day!
First of all, I would like to say what an honor it is to be here. It is truly a pleasure to be back on the hallowed grounds where I once stood myself, some 20-plus years ago. I feel a flood of emotions that words cannot even begin to describe.
You see, my time at the University was not only amazing, it changed my life forever!
There is a song that I have come to love, that tells a lot about myself and about my life. You all probably know the song by One Republic, called “I Lived.” But maybe you haven’t paid much attention to the lyrics.
It goes like this:
Hope when you take that jump, you won’t fear the fall
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out, they are screaming your name
Hope that you fall in love, it hurts so bad
And I hope you don’t’ suffer, but take the pain
And the song goes on to says, "Hope when your moment comes, you say, 'I lived.'
Words to live by. Words I have lived by.
I have come to learn a few valuable lessons since my time here at the University. Some successes, some failures.
So today, I would like to share three numbers with you, three stories of my life. Three of my greatest successes and my greatest failures. As I do, think about your own stories of your success and failure, and think what you learned like I did.
Everyone here has had memorable experiences -- ones that have probably shaped your life. Think about the potential numbers of your life and dream a little while I tell mine to you.
In 1982, I arrived a boy here at the University of Delaware. In 1986, I left a man. A changed man. The University had an amazing impact on me.
You see, I grew up very modestly near Reading, Pennsylvania. My mother and father were amazingly supportive parents attending nearly every event I ever participated in. They got on planes for the first time to see me compete. They drove countless hours to watch me, even if it was only for minutes. I will never forget that support -- and never have.
So, it is only fitting that the first number is 177. This number defied me, defined me. This number was my wrestling weight class here at the University -- or “wrastling," as my Dad used to say, in his Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
Wrestling is a very demanding sport -- lots of sacrifices, very few rewards. Now, I'm 6 foot 4 and normally weigh about 220 pounds, so the 177-pound weight was very difficult to maintain. Oftentimes I had to go without food and water for days trying to make this number. Oftentimes, I would have to workout countless hours with layers of sweat suits on to make this number. Because of this number, I think I learned every crack on every piece of asphalt from here to Rodney Hall and Christiana Towers as I ran countless times back and forth to the Field House and the Carpenter Sports Building.
I also suffered enormous hardships during my wrestling career, including breaking my collarbone, dislocating my shoulder, two knee surgeries, cauliflower ear and even losing my front teeth participating in this sport.
Through it all, I wrestled 110 matches for the University, winning 101 of them. And, my parents saw every single match. Did not miss one!
Once my parents even drove 20 hours up and back to Boston in a snowstorm, on a Tuesday night to watch me wrestle against Yale and Boston University: 10 hours up and 10 hours back. Now, wrestling wasn’t a big fan sport, but because of the snowstorm that night they were the only two people in the stands. But they were the most important two. My fellow teammates couldn’t believe it. My parents had sacrificed a lot to see me. That night I wrestled 33 seconds. I pinned one guy, and the other team forfeited to me. My parents didn’t complain, didn’t say a word and quietly drove back home, arriving in the very early morning, and subsequently went right to work.
Maybe I took that for granted at the time, but now as a parent it sticks with me to this day.
And then on March 21, 1986, no victory became sweeter than my last one as a Fighting Blue Hen. I finally stood on the podium that day, in front of 16,000 fans at the University of Iowa Hawkeye stadium -- as an NCAA Division I All-American, the first ever from UD. The blood, sweat and tears of 16 years of hard work, perseverance, dedication and determination had paid off.
You have to take a leap if you want to attain your goals. I had achieved one of my goals. And there, up in the third deck, were my parents. Always there, always supportive.
To this day, I will fly from wherever I am in the world to see my kids perform. Whatever it is they do, I will be there like my parents were for me, and many of your families are here today for you, our graduates.
Love, live and remember humility is everything. Remember where you are from and don’t ever forget what your loved ones have done for you.
Be present. Always alive. Always live on the edge of tears. Always push yourself to be better.
Words to live by.
Once I graduated college with a computer science degree in hand, I decided to pack up my bags and move to California to continue my goals and my dreams.
My dad thought I was crazy and thought I would be home soon. “California,” he would say. "What’s out there?” And I would say, "Opportunity, Dad. You wait and see."
So I drove my little blue Pontiac T-1000 car across the country and decided to stay in the heartland of opportunity --Silicon Valley, California! There I was, no job, no friends, 3,000 miles away, when I began my high-tech career.
Which brings me to my second number.
I ended up interviewing with a now famous man named Tom Siebel at a company called Oracle. He ran a division called DMD that did direct marketing and telesales.
During the interview process, I told him all about my first number, 177, and how I would overcome all odds to accomplish my goals. "Just hire me; I will prove it," I told him. I remember clearly when he told me that only one out of 10 people with engineering backgrounds makes it in sales and that they don't have what it takes.
He told me of a new number, the number 500. This was the number of calls he expected me to make every week: 100 a day, five days a week. He said if I didn’t make this number every week then he would fire me. If I did make this number, I could make lots of money!
Again, my dad thought I was crazy: "A telemarketing job? You spent four years getting a computer science degree, and you get a telemarketing job? Hmmm." Perfect.
I spent the next years, arriving first in the parking lot. Sometimes having to arrive in the early morning hours to get that coveted first parking spot. I made the calls, every day. Cold calls: Any of you out there ever had to do any cold calling? Nothing more painful and challenging than trying to sell something to somebody who doesn’t want to hear from you.
But I made those numbers, I made those goals, and three years in a row, I became one of Oracle's top salespeople. I ended up getting promoted five times during my career there and learning, once again, valuable lessons: Hardwork and humility. Lessons of life.
Always alive! Always living life on the edge of tears.
The last story and the last number I will tell you was one of my greatest failures, but as a result of the failure, became one of my greatest successes.
That number is 5958.
The day was April 21, 2010. I was CEO of computer security company McAfee. On this day, I received an urgent call at 6 a.m. to quickly come into the office. As I gathered together with my management team to hear the bad news, I had learned that we accidentally sent out a faulty release -- number 5958 -- of our anti-virus software, that we had wiped out every computer in 1,672 companies in 16 minutes.
When I say wiped out, this is understatement. Entire companies were unable to boot any computers. Entire companies were unable to operate their businesses. In an effort to stop a particularly nasty threat from a government nation state source, we had accidentally shutdown all the computers that updated with our software that morning.
Fortunately for us, one of our engineers realized the mistake and rolled the release back, and in the process kept tens of thousands of more companies from updating the faulty release as well.
Subsequently, I made an incredibly important decision that day. As the news leaked out and McAfee and my face were being prominently displayed on nearly every TV in the world, as our stock dropped 40 percent, decisions needed to be made. Not a good day if you are a CEO. But, in adversity there are always true tests of leadership, and this day was one of those for me.
As swarms of media gathered in my lobby for a statement, I made an important corporate video. Against the advice of every lawyer that could reach me, I decided to quickly publicly air what had happened. I took full responsibility for my actions and apologized to everyone for harming them. I explained we had worked all night to fix a virus but instead we had made a mistake.
This video spread virally everywhere. But a funny thing happened. Instead of making things worse and getting sued, customers and partners became empathetic. The more the media tried to sensationalize it, the more empathy we received.
I ended up speaking to nearly every customer over the next few days. My office was flooded with calls from the White House, from state governors, from CEOs of many, many important companies. We dispatched nearly 4,000 employees, and everyone worked together to fix the issue. Competitors piled on, but it only made things worse for them and not for us. "Why hadn’t they fixed the virus themselves? Why hadn’t they worked as hard as McAfee did?" everyone was asking.
Well, on that day, one of those companies was Intel Corp.: 70,000 computers wiped out. Employees had to stand in line in the cafeteria for days to get their computers fixed. Three days of being down. Well, Intel is an amazing company. Instead of being a victim, they took action, working with McAfee to design a semiconductor-based architecture to never let that happen again.
Three months later, no customer had sued us. In fact, customers spent more money with us. Our stock recovered, and a mere two months later, Intel acquired McAfee for a record $7.7 billion, the largest all-cash transaction in the history of high tech.
You see, I learned a valuable lesson of honesty that day. Honesty -- it's a powerful attribute in a crisis.
Hardwork, humility and honesty. The 3Hs, MY 3 numbers!
Leadership lessons of life. Be present. Always alive. Live life on the edge of tears.
Fast forward to today. After 17 years of being a CEO, I have a new chapter of my life! I am blessed to have a wonderful family and to run an amazing cybersecurity company called FireEye. I am blessed to work with some of the best professionals anywhere in the world. Surround yourself with people smarter than you are, and you will go far in life.
Our company has grown exponentially in less than three years, and now we're approaching $1 billion in sales. We IPO’d our company seven quarters ago, and it's now worth more than I sold McAfee for.
But I am not done. I have many more numbers to achieve. I hope you do, too.
I also hope you remember this day of graduation, to live and to love. Remember what is important in life and who is important in life. Give them a big hug and follow your dreams.
I am going to leave you with my final quote – my favorite quote.
The quote is by Martin Luther King, from his “I Have a Dream” speech. He, at one point, simply states:
“If you can see it, you can be it; if you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
Can you see it? Can you be it? Always alive. Always live life on the edge of tears.
Good luck with your futures, and I hope all your dreams come true!
Cheers and thank you!
Related stories and resources
• UD held its 166th Commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.
• Follow the conversation on social media by checking out the Storify site.
• For videos about Commencement, see the University’s YouTube channel.
• Honorary degrees were presented to five outstanding individuals.
• Outstanding seniors and alumni were an important part of the Commencement processional.
• Eight high index seniors were honored.
• The Commencement view from graduates and faculty members.
• A doctoral hooding ceremony was held on Friday morning.
• The UD Honors Program held a celebratory breakfast on Friday morning.
Photos by Evan Krape