BU Today

In the World

In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week, our featured alum is Ralph H. Groce III (Questrom’82, MET’84), chief information officer and senior vice president at financial services firm Everest Reinsurance. He and his team oversee global technology, including deploying computers and software so employees can work anywhere in the world, designing and maintaining the company’s business applications, managing data, and securing its information. Previously, he was senior vice president and chief technology officer at Wells Fargo, managing director and divisional information officer at Wachovia (acquired by Wells Fargo in 2008), and a vice president at both MetLife and JP Morgan Chase.

This past May, Groce was Metropolitan College’s Convocation speaker and received the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award. He also sits on MET’s Dean’s Advisory Board and has endowed an undergraduate scholarship at the school.

  1. BU Today: When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in technology?

    Groce: Ever since I got into financial services, I have been fascinated by the nexus of technology and business. I left my investment banking operations job to start my own company, and that’s when I fully embraced a career in technology. I came back to the corporate world and was offered a job at JP Morgan Chase, in their investment bank technology group. I have been in technology ever since.


  2. How competitive is the field for new college graduates?

    It is both highly competitive and wide open. If there is such a thing as a “war for talent,” it is taking place in the technology sector. Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in technology. I feel strongly that companies are not doing enough to find, develop, and retain talent from those groups. It is a matter of creating inclusive cultures and looking for talent in new and different places. I strongly encourage students to take some computer science classes. Anything that you are passionate about probably is being impacted by technology. You don’t have to be a technologist to understand, manage, or effectively leverage technology.

  3.  

    What are the qualities you look for in people you hire? What are the deal breakers?

    I look for people that are hungry, passionate, intelligent. I look for people who are confident but not arrogant. I look for people who are excited about winning and don’t fear failure. Most of all, I look for people who are curious. As for deal breakers, it is the opposite of the things I mentioned. It is almost impossible to work, much less excel, in our space if you don’t bring a sense of passion and purpose every day.

  4. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    We ask questions that test a candidate’s technological acumen. We also ask questions that evaluate a candidate’s sense of passion, curiosity, ability to think creatively, and communicate in a compelling fashion. Who are they and what do they stand for? What do people think and say about them, and what do they think and say about themselves? What makes them special and unique? Why should we hire them? Why are they looking to work with us?

  5. What are some common mistakes that young job candidates make?

    The biggest is a lack of preparation. It is important to have some information about the company and the job you’re interviewing for. However, it goes beyond that. A candidate should be prepared to share stories about themselves. What have they done that is unique? What about them makes them the best candidate for the job? How can they illustrate the ability to create value from past experiences?

    The other thing candidates don’t often appreciate is that interviewing is a two-way process, a dialogue, not an interrogation. They should be using the session to determine if, and how, they fit with the company and the team. They should be somewhat selective or at least intentional regarding whom they choose to work for. Lastly, they should get comfortable with the interviewing process by practicing. Role-play with friends; leverage professors and trusted advisors to work through sharing your story in a comprehensive yet concise and compelling manner.

  6. What advice would you give an employee for the first day on the job, and for the first six months?

    Arrive early, stay later. Write things down. There is scientific evidence that says we learn things faster and retain the information better when we write things down. Be confident but humble. No one is expecting you to solve world hunger in your first week or first six months on the job. Don’t overcommit. Some people attempt to take on everything. Push yourself, but always remember to keep yourself in a place where you can deliver what you promised. Lastly, even if you’re in a business casual environment, look professional. You can always scale down (e.g., remove a jacket or tie) but once you are in the office, you can’t scale up.

  7. Are there mistakes you’ve made during your career, and if so, what lessons have you learned from them?

    One example would be the business I attempted to build. Please note the words that I am using: I had a formal plan, gave a herculean effort in the pursuit of my dream. In all probability, I did not succeed due to things that some people would call mistakes. I choose not to think of those things as mistakes, but as part of “the process.” All my life, I have managed to do some interesting things because I dreamed big, planned well, and worked really hard. I would fall, but I would embrace those moments as the process.

    I remember playing basketball for [former BU] Coach [Rick] Pitino and how angry he would get if you did not go for winners. He hated to see us fail to take mindful chances or seize opportunities. You can’t win big in life if you don’t take chances. Successfully capitalizing on opportunities will always involve risk and a certain amount of failure. The only mistake is failure to try.

  8. Who had the greatest influence on your career—teacher, colleague, boss, family member—and what did you learn from that person?

    My relationship with my father was one of iron forging iron. I learned tenacity and perseverance. I learned what it meant to get up after I had fallen and to do so over and over and over. And fortunately for me, I also developed some very tough skin from my father and Coach Pitino. Lastly, I have a small circle of friends that are like family to me. We care deeply for one another and trust each other implicitly. These are individuals who are deeply supportive of me, but won’t hesitate to share with me the good, the bad, and the occasional ugly.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

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