By Maria Saporta
One of Atlanta’s newest Fortune 500 CEOs spent more than hour with Georgia Tech students Wednesday afternoon in a wide-ranging talk about his views towards business and life.
Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR Corp., attributed much of his success to hard work, mixed in with a bit of luck.
“I grew up in the Bronx, in the projects. I lived in a one bedroom tenement with a very hard-working mom and dad,” Nuti said. “I was the minority.”
Nuti also said he was an over-achiever who was afraid of failure and had a vision for what he wanted out of life.
“Successful people often plan with the future in mind,” Nuti said. “Very successful people are extremely hard workers.” But they also sacrifice a lot in the process.
Nuti started his career selling IBM copiers as a co-op college student when he gave up his dream of becoming a professional football player.
So he focused his energy on sales. “I was the No. 1 copier salesman in the United States, and I was just 19 years old,” Nuti said. “I worked from 6 in the morning to 12:00 at night unless I was in school. I was determined to show up on the radar screen.”
Nuti then got a job working for Cisco Systems as employee No. 71. At the time, Cisco had sales of $60 million, and by the time he left 10 years later, the company’s sales was $40 billion.
It was during that time that Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers became one of Nuti’s mentors. He quickly climbed up the Cisco ladder, eventually running Asia for the company and then Europe.
Going to Asia “was the greatest experience of my life,” Nuti said. Another piece of advice Nuti shared with Georgia Tech’s students was to really learn the history and the culture of different countries.
As he sees it, emerging markets are the future of business. It’s not just Brazil, Russia, India and China, but Indonesia, Egypt, Poland and countries in Africa.
NCR already has penetrated international markets with 80 percent of its revenue coming from outside the United States. It has the largest market share in China and dominant positions in a host of other countries.
“I do think China will become the largest economy in the world,” Nuti told students, adding that they would be smart to learn Mandarin Chinese. He also said it is important to have an open mind when going to different countries.
“I you see poor infrastructure, you create the wrong perception thinking that you are the smartest guy in the room,” Nuti said. “Bury that thought. Be a learner.”
One of the students asked Nuti about the bad press he received when the company decided to move its headquarters from Dayton, Ohio, where it had been for 125 years, to Atlanta. The company announced the move in June, 2009 and completed the move a year later.
“You have to pick and choose your battles,” Nuti said about the company’s relatively passive attitude in responding to the negative press in Ohio. “I can’t even fly over Ohio anymore,” Nuti said jokingly. “ Lebron James really helped I was so pleased he went to Miami.”
The move to Atlanta has been flawless, Nuti said. “The talent in this state is awesome,” he said. “We were able to employ really good, quality people.”
He said Georgia’s universities, such as Georgia Tech, was educating a strong base of future employees.
Calling himself an optimist, Nuti said that he believes technological innovation will continue to escalate and will change our lives dramatically.
“I only hope that those advances will advance mankind,” Nuti said. “That’s the only thing I worry about.”
By the way, Georgia Tech’s College of Management is having an amazing “Impact Speaker Series” this fall. Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus kicked it off on Aug. 26. Other speakers have included Joe Bankoff, president of the Woodruff Arts Center; and Penelope McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Upcoming speakers include: Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores on Oct. 6; Michael Young, president and CEO of Grady Health System on Oct. 13; John Seral, vice president and chief information officer of GE Infrastructure on Oct. 27; among others.