I grew up in Cayuga, Indiana, a small town of about 800 people, not far from the Illinois border. My grandfather James and my father, Russell, owned and ran a farm and vegetable canning business called Morgan & Sons Canning. Our lives revolved around the cannery operations, which in turn revolved around the seasons of agriculture: spring planting, summer growth, and harvest, summer and fall canning, and the winter period of rest, repair, and preparation before it all began again.
Later I gained an excellent education in engineering and an MBA from Cornell University; a very meaningful two years in the U.S. Army as an officer in the Army Materiel Command Board; and several years in high-tech business and investing. Eventually, I ran a company, Applied Materials, which when I retired employed over 15,000 people in 18 countries.
Throughout my career, I often realized how my experiences in the cannery connected to other challenges and opportunities in business; many of those experiences became the basis of homilies and ideas I would talk about on the job. At some point, members of my Applied Materials team started calling them “Morganisms.” I realized that I could help fill a management void by passing these along. I’ve since discovered that they are just as valuable at nonprofits as they were in the for-profit companies where I worked.
I have always encouraged people to develop their own sets of guiding principles; perhaps mine can help shape yours. For many years I collected articles, lists, notes, and ideas I picked up reading, listening to speakers, or just talking with people. I urge everyone to do that as a habit that serves as a constant reminder that we evolve over our lifetime as managers, and there are always new ideas that can be helpful—or old ideas that suddenly apply to a situation in which we find ourselves.