The Harbus sat down with Harvard Business School alumnus John Bayne (MBA ’94), Vice President & General Manager at Corning Incorporated, and asked him to share his thoughts on the recruiting process, advice for students interested in a manufacturing career, what Corning does to stand out in its industry, and what helps define a successful applicant.
Natasha Larsen: Tell us one thing about your experience at HBS.
John Bayne: One of the things I remember most about my time at HBS is the focus on management and leadership. Management is setting your budget and objectives and leadership is about inspiring people and painting a vision for the organization. At Corning, every function requires strong leadership because one day you will be running a business unit or the entire company and strong leadership is very important.
NL: What advice do you have for current students about pursuing a career in manufacturing?
JB: Intellectual and technical curiosity are essential. In manufacturing, most organizations have the classically aligned functions of development, engineering, marketing and strategy. They actually make and develop the product. There are also the staff functions of finance, HR, etc. Each of these divisions require strong leadership. We don’t hire students from Harvard for middle management jobs, we hire them to be future leaders of the company and by definition, if they are going to be leaders of our company, then they have to be able to lead. We are looking for people who can lead multi million and billion dollar businesses at Corning and possibly be one of the handful of people running the top of the company.
NL: What makes your company unique in the industry?
JB: Corning’s earliest roots are in innovation and materials; we have enabled and supported a number of industries. We created the first low loss optical fiber in the 1970s that enabled the communications industry, and we currently make the core component in catalytic converters, which keeps the environment clean. We also make the glass at the heart of liquid crystal displays for televisions, computers and phones and most recently we developed gorilla glass which covers 1.5 billion devices in the world. We’ve created different products, but you’ll find that there are key themes. All of our products are materials based and they all impact society in a positive way. Further, they are very difficult to develop and make, and that is kind of Corning’s niche. We have long standing reputation as a materials company that focuses on materials and innovation. An MBA student may hear that we’re a 160 year old company, but it is actually unique for a company to be around as long as we have and many ask how we have been able to do it. We’ve accomplished this by focusing on the technology, innovation and product leadership in the material space and continuing to reinvent industries and products. We do all of this while having a global focus, because 77% of our products are sold outside the US.
People who take the time to learn about Corning are really impressed by our market performance, our history, our technology, our market presence and the fact that a company located in a small town in western New York can play on the global stage with leadership positions in high technology markets throughout the world. At Corning, we have a combination of a tangible product that is equal parts strategy, operations and leadership of organizations. This gives Corning a heavy advantage. In investment banking, you have strategy, you’re possibly managing people and there is some analysis, but at the end of the day, you don’t have that tangible product in your hands. I think that is what sets working in manufacturing apart.
NL: What do you enjoy most about working at your company?
JB: What is exciting about Corning is that the pace of innovation is so fast and there is a heavy technology component. Further, I love the culture, and I believe before taking on a role, it is very important to understand the culture of a company and make sure what is important to you and motivates you are consistent with the company’s priorities. The classmates of mine that are happiest and most successful are the ones who aren’t making the most money but their jobs are consistent with who they are as individuals, and everyone does make money when you’re coming out of HBS. The culture and environment at Corning aligns well with who I am as an individual.
NL: What defines a successful applicant/candidate to your company?
JB: The first thing we are looking for at Corning is intelligence. If an MBA candidate comes from banking or PE, both careers pretty unrelated to manufacturing, but find themselves interested and curious about our industry, we would be interested. I’d also say we are also looking for people who can lead organizations. Also, there is no exact prerequisite. We don’t require that candidates have a technical background, though, Corning is in a high tech industry that creates commodity products and consumer products and weight goods, so an interest is definitely helpful. The key thing that sets Corning apart is, at the end of the day, you have a tangible product that you can touch and see and feel. That makes us a bit different from investment banking and consulting or social media, etc. Manufacturing is all about making something, so if you possess that technical curiosity, or the desire to have a product in your hand, you possess the skills to be a successful applicant. Our CEO is a graduate from HBS and he came from an accounting background at LeHigh University. He has managed to learn as much as there is to know about technology in the company because he has that curiosity.
NL: Where should students go for further info about your company and available positions?
JB: Please have students visit www.corning.com/careers