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Tom Raffio

President & CEO, Northeast Delta Dental

High School Name: Weston High School (Weston, MA)

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA – BA in English, 1978

Babson College, Babson Park, MA – MBA, 1988

So much of business is taking information in quickly and analyzing that information efficiently. The degree in English helped me to develop a vocabulary and the ability to write and compose thoughts is critical. With so much of our work happening online and with Web-based tools, people don’t read or write anymore. Writing skills and language skills are lacking today. I tell kids to read, write and practice presentation and interpersonal skills. Classes that personally interested me included Shakespeare, Chaucer. Liberal Arts are still relevant and important. Personally, I don’t believe it matters what undergrad degree you have – a broad education is the best thing.

In the short run, business and economics may have brought more opportunity at graduation, but in the long-run, a strong liberal arts program may serve you better. I have to make lost of presentations to shareholders. I have to respond to hundreds of emails on a weekly basis. Some CEOs have fallen by the wayside because they relied on the secretary to do some of that work. Now you have to take it and run with it.

In fact, it may seem mundane, but the two years of typing classes I took in high school helped. It made preparing term papers in college so much easier.

Growing up, college was an expectation in my family. I am the youngest of five children, with four sisters ahead of me!

There are four people or groups of people I admire: Seniors from the World War II generation, Carl Yaz, my father and mother.

I was challenged academically. I met truly brilliant people. I got great grades, but I had to work to get them. Reading lists were huge and exams after Christmas holiday were tough.

My professors, the literature, meeting classmates from all over the world. In fact, I just had my 25th reunion. Talk about bizarre! I can remember being on campus when alums would visit and thinking, "who are these old folks"? Now I’m one of them.

I attend an annual alumni gathering and donate to various funds.

YMCA camps. In fact, my high school yearbook described me as wanting to be a teacher. I find that in business you have a lot of opportunity to teach.

My advice to students: Do the best you can do in high school. Kids get so nervous about their Grade Point Average (GPA). Take challenging classes in subjects you love. You don’t have to have a perfect GPA to get into college. There is a school for every student. Pursue what you love.

If there is something you want to do, get a broad education as an undergraduate. You can always specialize later.

Go for it. If you want to go to college, then the costs will work themselves out. There are grants, loans and financial aid. Opportunities are out there for kids that want to go to college. And, remember that it doesn’t matter where you go, it is about what you put into it.

You’ll learn how to work in groups, which is how business gets done today. You’ll mature. You’ll learn how to fulfill commitments. You will become more educated and as a result become more valuable to an employer. You will develop social skills. Focus on what you love and do it well.

You have to be super-organized. Working 40 hours and taking two classes, may mean putting other commitments on hold. At Northeast Delta Dental, we celebrate when employees go to school. It is good for them and good for our company – they’re self-actualizing. In fact, when an employee reaches a plateau and finds an opportunity beyond our office, we call it a “promotion outside”. If they become a decision maker at an organization, our support of their efforts may not only be the right thing to do, but also a key business decision. I encourage employees to grow everyday. Whether through tuition reimbursement programs or improving presentation or personal skills, the more you interact with others with the goal of learning, the more leadership skills you will develop.

Many recent grads I have encountered have extraordinary minds, but lack some decorum or understanding about responsibility. Don’t submit a resume with typos. Be on time for interviews. Look professional. Understand the commitment you are making when you accept a position. Develop your leadership skills – formally and informally. Today, work teams transcend the organizational chart. New employees that develop interpersonal skills will be well positioned to take advantage of opportunities to succeed.

For graduates in this generation, their perception of business may be tainted by the “Enrons” of the world. I can understand why there would be some initial skepticism. But getting experience in great companies will offer graduates a whole different outlook on business. Business can be so good. It can offer imaginative solutions and can be good for society. Give business a chance.