United States Steel Corp. Vice President Tony Bridge has three degrees – a bachelor’s in industrial management and in electrical engineering from Purdue – and an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, but he recently confessed that despite those milestones, he never attended a graduation ceremony.
He regrets those missed opportunities.
Bridge, who is in his late-fifties, now realizes how inspiring graduation ceremonies can be and how important it is to acknowledge accomplishments in a career woven throughout by the “continuous process” of education.
Speaking at the evening commencement of Purdue University Calumet at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville on May 20 to students graduating from the schools of education, engineering, nursing and technology, Bridge focused on the critical leaps he made that were directly linked to higher learning.
Not only was the graduation the first he ever attended---as a graduate, and his first keynote address to a graduating class, it was the first time, his alma mater (Purdue Calumet) had a graduate as a commencement speaker.
Bridge, a Gary native, who was named the alumnus of the year in 2007, is currently vice president of engineering and technology based at U.S. Steel headquarters in Pittsburgh. He and his team are responsible for research and development and engineering in steelmaking operations, including blast furnace technology for domestic and international operations.
Learning was crucial to his success, he said in his address, but there was luck involved too. Bridge’s first big break was getting a chance to be part of a management training program at his first job at Inland Steel in East Chicago, even though he was the only non-engineer selected. It was quickly apparent to him he needed to study engineering. He started night school at Purdue Calumet when he was in his late 20s, earning a second bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1990.
“For me, there are several subtle points of my short story (at the commencement). The first point is directly to you but indirectly to the next generation – your children. The impact you will have on their development of work ethic and their overall approach to life can be considerable. Einstein wrote that 'setting an example is not the main means of influencing others--it is the only means.' "
“Remember that if you feel that you are 'average' at anything, it is because you have not worked hard enough – you may not be the smartest but please, don’t let your competition beat you on effort. You will for certain be confronted by challenges in your careers that will cause your confidence to wane, I think it is part of the growth process – these challenges may seem difficult to impossible to achieve or overcome, (but as) Steve R. Covey in his book '7 Habit of Highly Effective People' said, 'what is hard (or difficult) is moving up another level of initiative'.
My lack of confience was always corrected by being persistent and increasing my knowledge---I'm confident it will work that way for you, too. The ultimate compliment in business is that your subordinates, peers and/or superiors regard you as a leader in your field of work."
Bridge worked in the iron making division at Inland Steel in East Chicago and at Rouge Steel in Dearborn, Mich., for 19 years before he was hired to manage U.S. Steel's largest iron making operations in 1998. (Tony's father worked at Gary Works for 35 years.) He was later promoted to plant manager for all of primary operations. Bridge’s next assignment was at their Pittsburgh headquarters as managing director of blast furnace engineering and technology.
Bridge and his wife Brenda grew up in Northwest Indiana and raised their two children in Valparaiso. The Bridge's daughter, Shayla, graduated from Purdue North Central and their son Jarret became an engineer at the University of Pittsburgh.
College education, as Bridge told interviewer Kris Falzone when he won the alumni of the year award, is a shared family value. In addition to his steel job, Tony's father was skilled at carpentry, auto mechanics, and owned and operated several businesses. His mother also worked to support the family and the high cost of he and his sibling's college education.
Tony Bridge is a past-president of the American Iron and Steel Institute and has been active with the Pittsburgh Technology Council, where he works with area high school students. He also is a board member on the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. His hobbies include golf and hunting and fishing with his father.
“I have had a lot of success in my career. I have advanced to a position that I had never expected,” he told the PUC graduates in conclusion. Noting that his mother was in the audience, he added, “But I would trade all my success to be sitting where you are today to have the opportunity to begin again. Because I believe the challenges you face will be greater, the opportunities will be greater and your achievements will far exceed anything I could dream of then or you can dream of today.”