FTG 0060 – From Shenango to the C-Suite with Chief Legal Officer Bob Perna ’85

Episode 2 January 23, 2024 00:51:26
FTG 0060 – From Shenango to the C-Suite with Chief Legal Officer Bob Perna ’85
Following the Gong, a Podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
FTG 0060 – From Shenango to the C-Suite with Chief Legal Officer Bob Perna ’85

Jan 23 2024 | 00:51:26

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Hosted By

Sean Goheen

Show Notes

Overview:

Bob Perna ’85 Bus serves as the senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Knowles Corporation in Itasca, Illinois. Bob joined Following the Gong to share his experiences as an early University Scholar at both Penn State Shenango and University Park. Bob provided insights on success in law school as a business student and the work of in-house attorneys in a business setting. He also shared perspectives on working for a primarily business to business, or b2b, company as a major supplier for household name products. This episode will be helpful for any Scholar, and particularly those starting at a smaller Commonwealth Campus, majoring in business disciplines, and those looking into legal or business careers, particularly in supply focused or leadership roles. Bob’s full bio and a detailed breakdown of the topics discussed are available in the show notes below.

Guest Bio:

Robert (Bob) Perna ’85 Bus is senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Knowles Corporation in Itasca, Illinois, where he manages the company’s global legal affairs, as well as all corporate governance and compliance functions at Knowles. He advises and counsels the Board of Directors and the leadership team on a broad range of legal, business, governance, compliance, policy and strategic matters, including key operational initiatives, risk assessment and mitigation, major transactions, litigation and corporate citizenship.

Before joining Knowles, Bob served as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Rockwell Collins from 2014 to 2018, where he oversaw global legal support, import/export compliance, and the office of ethics and business conduct for the $8 billion aerospace and defense company. As a member of the senior leadership team, he also provided counsel to the Board of Directors on securities law, corporate governance and other legal matters.

Previously, Bob was vice president, general counsel and secretary at A.M. Castle & Co., a specialty metals and plastics distributor and value-added processor. He also held various in-house counsel positions of increasing responsibility at CNH Global, Navistar International and GE Capital Rail Services. Bob started his law practice as an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson in Washington, D.C., providing legal advice to private and publicly held corporations and financial institutions.

A Pennsylvania native, Bob earned his bachelor of science in finance with High Distinction and with Honors from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and his JD degree with High Honors from George Washington University.

Episode Topics:

  • Choosing to start the Penn State experience close to home at Penn State Shenango
  • The value of the honors thesis for a career in law no matter the topic
  • Deciding on a career in law as a business student
  • Adjusting to a major metro area coming from small town PA
  • Strategies for succeeding in law school including study habits and preprofessional opportunities
  • Law firm work vs. in-house work
  • How chief legal officers fit into the c-suite and business decisions and business ethics
  • The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace and world of business
  • Working for a major B2B – business to business – company
  • Living in the Chicago area
  • General tips for career success in law, business, and any other discipline or industry

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Credits & Notes:

This show is hosted, produced, and edited by Sean Goheen '11 Lib (Schreyer), '23g Bus.

The artwork was created by Tom Harrington, the College’s Web Developer. 

The sound effect is “Chinese Gong,” accessed via SoundBible used under Creative Commons License. 

The theme music is “Conquest” by Geovane Bruno, accessed via Pixabay and used under Creative Commons License.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Sean Goheen (Host): Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. *GONG SOUND EFFECT* [00:00:12] Sean: Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back. *GONG SOUND EFFECT* [00:00:54] Sean: Bob Perna, class of 1985, serves as the senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Knowles Corporation in Illinois. Bob joined following the gone from the Chicago suburbs to share his experiences as an early university scholar at both Penn State Shenango and University Park. Bob provided insights on success in law school as a business student and the work of in house attorneys in a business setting. He also shared perspectives on working for a primarily business to business or B to B Company as a major supplier for household name products. This episode will be helpful for any scholar, and particularly those starting at a smaller Commonwealth campus majoring in business disciplines, and those looking into legal or business careers, particularly in supply focused or leadership roles. Bob's full bio and a detailed breakdown of the topics discussed are available in the show notes on your podcast app. With that, let's dive into our discussion with Bob following the gong. [00:01:50] Sean: Joining me here today on following the gong is Bob Perna. Bob, thank you so much for joining me today, all the way from the greater Chicago area. [00:02:00] Bob: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. [00:02:01] Sean: So, Bob, I always like to start by asking how our guests first came to Penn State and for you, what was then the university scholars program. [00:02:09] Bob: Sure. I grew up in Sharon, Pennsylvania. We had a branch campus, Shenango Valley campus, in our town. My older brother went to Penn State and it didn't take but one or two campus visits and maybe a football game to convince me that that's where I wanted to go with such a vibrant campus, so much going on, beautiful setting. But I think also the fact that we did have the branch campus in our hometown let me kind of continue working part time, live at home, kind of save some money. And so it was just the combination of the two of those, a great world class institution and a local branch campus where, you know, spend a couple years and before going to the university park that really attracted me to Penn State. [00:02:53] Sean: Well, I think you might be our first guest that attended the Shenango campus. We've had quite a few guests, myself included, who started at a campus that was not University park. But what was it like for you coming from such a small campus like Shenango? And even in the 1980s and 1990s, University park was still really big. So how did you navigate to that, and what advice would you give for students or prospective students who are maybe in a similar part of their path like you were? [00:03:19] Bob Perna: Sure. Well, I thought it was a great way to kind of ease into kind of a big ten college setting, being able to spend a couple of years locally in a smaller setting. When it did come time to move to University Park, I had a group of friends, my roommates were from Shenango campus, so we knew people already, and that really helped with the transition. We knew folks that had transferred up the year before and had visited them on occasion. And so it really allowed us to kind of ease into, I'd say, more the social scene. I think the academic rigor was the same at the branch campus, so prepared you well for that, but sort of the social scene, kind of how you get around. Where's this building? Where's that building? I was able to make a few visits beforehand just through different events and classes and visits, so I felt comfortable with the campus. And then knowing people there kind of made life a little easier to move into. Kind of a big ten school, definitely. [00:04:17] Sean: I think any chance you get to come to University park before being a student, whether it's for a football game or THON or anything like that, always great to check it out. So, Bob, were there any other kind of activities or opportunities that you were able to take advantage of once you got to University park that helped you settle in again? Coming from a very small campus to, like you said, the social scene and kind of the outside of the classroom part, that, honestly is most of your time in reality. [00:04:42] Bob: Yeah, it really is. And I guess I didn't answer your first question about the university scholar program, but that was a big part of that transition as well. So like you said at the time, it was university scholars program. So forgive me if I kind of keep referring to it as that. This was in the early years, it had only been kind of up and running for a few years, and I was invited to join my junior year when I was moving to campus. So kind of right off the bat that gave me a group kind of outside of the normal classroom of folks to kind of get to know. And so that helped in the transition as well. I also got involved in student government, the USG at the time, undergraduate student government, and had represented the off campus group. I was living in an apartment at the, again, you know, just tried to get involved with a lot of the extracurriculars, the groups and the activities that were know. That's, again, the great thing about a school like Penn State, there's just so much to offer, and so was easy to kind of get involved in some of those things. [00:05:41] Sean: So you've mentioned the academics quite a few times, and obviously it's a key part of not only the Schreyer experience, but overall being a Penn State student. This is a world class institution, as you said. And I want to know, how did you come to pick your major? There's so many options. There's very few things Penn State doesn't offer at the undergraduate level. How did you pick what you wanted to study? Walk us through your thought process. [00:06:02] Bob: Yeah, yeah. It might have been a little process of elimination. Frankly, I did not want to get into sort of the science and engineering kind of math aspect of things. I wasn't sort of liberal arts kind of bent, but I kind of had an interest in business. And this was, the stock market was really booming, a lot of finance related topics in the news, the SNL crisis, and just a lot was going on, inflation and so forth. And so it was an area that interests me. And one of my early classes was an accounting class and had a professor in Shenango campus that really kind of turned me on to finance and business and accounting from there. Then it was, I think it was my first year that really, you know, I enjoyed this. And looking at the curriculum then I kind of narrowed in on that area, finance. [00:06:55] Sean: And I imagine this was right before the movie Wall street came out. [00:06:59] Bob: Exactly, yeah. Right. It was a sexy time for in finance. A lot going on. Right. [00:07:05] Sean: I'm sure you still were able to find a really cool topic on your thesis. Tell us what you researched, Bob. But more importantly, I also want to hear how that influenced your career, especially going into law. [00:07:17] Bob: Yeah. So my thesis was, I think it was entitled money market mutual funds. Their reaction to the money market deposit account, not as sexy as it sounds, or maybe it is, but again, it's a little different era. What came about in the time of kind of rising interest rates. We were at a period in the early 80s where banks were capped in terms of what they could offer in terms of interest on savings and checking accounts. And so this is in the day where they couldn't give you interest, but they could give you a free toaster if you open an account or gifts and things like that. Well, rates were going up and people were looking for places to put their money. And money market mutual funds, which are still around today, were a popular option for folks. They gave people an opportunity to get some yield, fairly safe investments. And banks were losing a lot of deposits because of that, because they couldn't compete with their interest rates. And so in the early 80s, Congress, through deregulation, kind of opened up the banks from being able to offer more interest and offered these money market deposit accounts. So sort of the advent of that account in the early eighty s, and banks were able to pay more market interest rates. Well, that phenomenon is what I kind of looked at from in my thesis and saying, how did the money market mutual funds react to this now? So they have a little competition from the banks and being able to offer this. And what I found was their portfolio became a little more risky, so they tried to offer more yield. And of course, that means more risk. And for the money market mutual funds, although very safe investments, their duration of their investments sort of expanded more longer term duration, trying to get more yield. The government bonds and what they invested in tend to be a little more riskier, not much. I mean, again, they were still rock solid, but their risk was expanding because they were now competing with these money market deposit accounts. So that was a basis for my thesis and really kind of enjoyed the process, very rigorous. And I think that's a good crossover into law school and my career in law. It really did emphasize to me the rigor that you need when you do a thesis. It was my first real in depth research project. Frankly, at that level, the precision, how you use your words, how you support your sentences, your observations, and being able to defend those. So it was very enlightening for me to kind of go through at that depth where it was a year and a half process, the organization, this is not something you do the week before getting the resources meeting with my advisor. So really that I think helped me in law school and how I approach sort of my studies there as well. [00:09:56] Sean: Well, that is awesome to hear. A common thing we hear from students is, oh, I'm not going to grad school, I'm not going to be a professor, maybe this isn't something I need to do, but common thing I hear from our guests on the show is no matter what you do, the thesis experience, no matter what your topic, can be useful. So I'm glad to hear that. Bob, going back to what we were talking about with, it was a sexy time with Wall street, both the actual street and the film in the 80s, but you didn't take that path. How did you decide that you wanted to go to law school? You said you didn't have a liberal arts bent, and that's obviously, there's a bit of a tradition for a lot of liberal arts majors to pursue law school, but you came at it from a business angle. [00:10:32] Bob: Yeah. Well, another common theme again, I had a business law class at Penn State. I think it was my junior year, and really saw the intersection between law and business. I mean, they are so related, kind of interested in the law, but really wanted to pursue business. And with that class, came to the realization of I can go into law as a transactional, as a corporate lawyer and still stay very much involved in business. A lot of ceos or lawyers doesn't close a door by going to law school if you want to stay involved and engaged in business and knew there was a path to do that. And so kind of pivoted to law school and pursued a track of corporate transactional securities work where I can work with companies and work with businesses and help them achieve their goals and solve their problems. And that's what really energized me and kind of my work in law school. [00:11:27] Sean: So, Bob, what would you say to especially a student in smeel who's interested in law school, but really any Schreyer scholar or any Penn state student, what kind of advice would you give them as they consider if that's something they want to invest? [00:11:41] Bob: Think, you know, scholars programs in? Know, I think, again, the rigor of the thesis, obviously the opportunity it gave me, and I think I would encourage all the current scholars to take advantage of the broad curriculum. I mean, it let me go outside of my kind of business college of business programs. I took a great political science course that really just opened my eyes to sort of the world of politics and the history of politics. And I find it so important to kind of understand those other disciplines. But I think, hey, you got to do the work right. And that's always particularly in law school. But I think the habits you develop at Penn State and in the scholar program are going to pay off for you. You develop good habits. You have to do the work, think critically, think globally. Don't just kind of put your blinders on and, hey, I'm this major. That's all I'm going to focus on. But be open to other subject matters, other disciplines take some other courses because that perspective, particularly in business and I think particularly in law, is very helpful. So that'd be my advice. [00:12:43] Sean: Excellent. I think that is really sound. Now, Bob, you, like many of our students who go on to law school, decide, know, try out a different university. And especially our scholars go on to a lot of great law schools across the. You, you grew up in Sherrin, you said come to University park, but then you go to a major metro area like Washington, dC. So how did you adjust? Because I know we've got plenty of scholars who come from rural areas, small towns, and they could probably relate to that experience as they contemplate whether it's for law school or just a job in their next steps after college. [00:13:15] Bob: Yeah, much different campus, an urban campus for sure. At George Washington University, I think at the graduate level, particularly in law school, at least what I can speak to, it's less of a social scene. So I think that the sort of dynamic it is, particularly in your first year, you are in the library a lot, you're studying a lot. Those distractions just aren't there on the social side. You tend to focus on your studies more. I worked after my first year in law school and worked during my second year. So you start to have a more professional life other than just going to school. And so DC offered a lot of opportunities for that, obviously, a lot of law firms, a lot of the government and so forth. So it did provide a lot of opportunities, but it was more college life was over, and now it's kind of just your studies, your work. And so it was a little different, I guess, vibe than sort of undergraduate experience. So, yes, very different. But university park, like we said, is a big campus. You kind of got to use your street smarts and all that other stuff. I mean, DC was no different. And so it was an easy transition. We had a metro there in DC, didn't have that in University park, but otherwise you kind of stuck to your studies, you did your work, and it was an easy transition for me. [00:14:29] Sean: Now, you've talked about like when you go to law school, you really need to buckle down. You got to put in the work. But specifically the how of that, what strategies did you use that might be helpful for a scholar who's headed to law school to get through, especially that one l gear. [00:14:44] Bob: Yeah. Try not to be distracted. Obviously, you kind of know what you're there for. You got to do outlines. You got to kind of plan out what you're going to do. You're not being spoon fed. You have a final at the end of the year and that's kind of what your grade is based on. So it is something you have to plan for and you have to digest a lot of information over that semester. And so if you're not kind of staying on top of things, staying ahead of things, you may read 100 pages a night and have to digest some cases. And if you fall behind, even for a few days, it's tough to dig out of that hole. So stay disciplined, do the work, and you have to plan ahead, everyone. When I was there, it was very helpful to me. You got to do an outline, so it's something you can review at the end. It's also, I think, a good way to learn the information is just to reiterate, you're going through it and organizing your thoughts and creating an outline. I think that was vital. And you're going to be surrounded by a lot of other smart people, folks that are at undergraduate school, and so collaborate and talk with them and listen to them and do study groups. And there's all different kind of perspectives out there and we tend to kind of be a little insular. But as you move on, I think collaboration is so important. So get it with a study group. And particularly, I know in law school, kind of the debates you have on things, things aren't always black and white. There's a lot of gray. And so just talking through things with people is very helpful. [00:16:11] Sean: Yeah, you hear that phrase team of lawyers, right? Both in the news and in works of fiction. So makes a lot of sense. Form a good study group and obviously do that for your undergrad classes as you're listening now. [00:16:23] Bob: Absolutely. [00:16:24] Sean: Now, you also mentioned in DC, of all places, there are so many professional opportunities, so many law firms are based there, have offices there, not to mention from lobbying firms to the government and all the different legal needs there. How did you approach all the professional opportunities that come up, whether it's internships, clerkships, and then ultimately how did you pursue your first role coming out of law school? [00:16:47] Bob: GW, like Penn State, had a good career development group that put students onto a lot of opportunities. So really leveraged that starting in my first year and what I try to do, I did a summer internship at a smaller law firm in DC after my first year, and then my second year worked at a larger firm in DC, which ultimately has led to my first job out of GW. But I tried to approach it, sort of try a variety of different settings, if you will. I tried small practice, learned a lot there at a small firm, went to a larger firm, wanted to experience that like that setting. So leverage the resources you have at the school. And again, this was before the job search boards and everything we have on the Internet today, but it was a lot of postings and interviews on campus and things like that. And you'd be surprised, of course, the alumni opened doors. Right. And again, just like PSU alumni's are different companies or law firms or what have you one regret? I have, I didn't really try a government position, and being in DC, that would have been a natural and good opportunity, but I never did any government service. But I would encourage folks, that's your opportunity to try different things, so take advantage of it. [00:17:58] Sean: That is really helpful advice there. Now, ultimately, you said you went to a law firm to start off, but obviously, if you're reading the show notes, Bob, you've seen that you are in pretty much most of your career. You've been in the general counsel side of things, on the company side. So how did you get back into that? You said you always liked business. That was kind of what you found at Penn State. How did you get back into that? How did you know it was the right time to make that switch? [00:18:25] Bob: Yeah, so I had practiced at a law firm for about six, seven years where you work for a variety of companies, sort know any small businesses, large businesses, kind of whatever comes in the door. And I was doing general corporate and real estate and transactional work. But I got to the point in my law practice where I kind of wanted the opportunity to really get involved into a business and get to know a business and kind of focus on it. And so through kind of headhunters in that, that call, on occasion took an opportunity here in Chicago. And that's what really caused me to move out to the midwest here for an in house role, a corporate counsel role, and doing a lot of what I did in private practice. But again, just for one company and being able to kind of focus on it, be vested in sort of the success or failures of that company. And again, this is kind of where my business kind of bent is, never went away. And so I really wanted to get back into kind of corporate life. And from that point on, I think that was in 95. I've been in house ever since. And just like the dynamics of the in house practice and working with business professionals and legal professionals, and I've been fortunate in my career to work at some large companies with very sophisticated law departments and smaller groups. And I just continue to learn a lot from all the great business folks that I work with all the time. [00:19:47] Sean: Fantastic. Now, Bob, I've had quite a few lawyers on this show and something that I've picked up from our conversations is know if you are on the law firm side, the business is only going to call you up and they're only going to really bring you in when they need you for mergers and acquisitions or a lawsuit, defense of IP, something like that. But being in house, you're around all the time you're on call and you are often called on to be a subject matter expert on a whole bunch of things. So first of all, what kind of things have you overseen? Like what are the different job functions, responsibilities that you're responsible for and then the ones that you didn't know anything about, maybe something technical, something new like ESG. How do you learn and keep your skills and knowledge fresh on those? [00:20:36] Bob: Yeah, it's law is never boring and business changes all the time. Competitive pressures, geopolitical pressures. It's a very fast moving environment. And frankly, that's what I like about it. It's never boring, it's never the same thing. And as I moved up the ladder in my career and had taken more broader responsibility for a legal department or import export compliance or kind of ESG, like you mentioned, environmental, social governance, which is really becoming a hot topic, one I come to rely on a lot of subject matter experts. I mean, I've again been fortunate to work with a lot of great professionals who know patents and know IP and know import export know to very great degree. And when we need to pick up the firm, call to call the law firms, pick up the phone and call the law firms who have very deep expertise, in particular litigation, USM, antitrust litigation or something. You really need some specialists to help you. And knowing who to call and working with them is a big part of my job and helping the company manage those outside firms. Obviously we try to do as much as we can in house with our teams and I think a big part of an in house lawyer's role is issue spotting. So may not have all the answers, may not know the regulation, but know enough to say, wait a minute, this could be a problem or we need to look at that and then bringing in the subject matter experts as you need them. But 80% of the stuff you tend to triage and make a call on based on the risk and that type of thing, or you go research it in that. But really it's issue spotting, knowing kind of when to ask the right questions, when to pursue something with an outside firm or maybe do a little more work on, and obviously staying up to date on what's happening again in a global economy, with global companies, you have to cover a lot of jurisdictions. So that's a big part of my day as well, is kind of staying on top of some of the changes that are going on in the legal world and geopolitical environment. [00:22:41] Sean: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like the general and general counsel is like kind of a jack of all trades. You need to have a general understanding of just about anything. Right? [00:22:50] Bob: Yeah. And I think being able to apply that in a business setting where nothing is risk free. And while I represent the company, the company is my client. There are business goals we're trying to achieve, and we always have to balance the risk with the benefits of how we achieve a business goal. So we try not to tell our business clients, no, you can't do that. But rather, we'd like to say, well, can we do it this way and maybe mitigate some of our risk? And the earlier we can get involved in those conversations, more value we can add as an internal team, because we do understand the business so well. We live it every day, and being able to engage with them early and help them shape a transaction, or instead of going down one path, you choose a different path that can reduce risk or provide an easier, maybe more economical way to do something. It's really fruitful for me to be able to do something like, know, Bob. [00:23:45] Sean: It'S almost like I think you were in my head, because the next thing I really wanted to ask was about that kind of duality being the general counsel. So you're leading the legal side of the company, but you're also on the executive team, and you have to balance those business functions and the legal functions. And sometimes they may be lined up and sometimes they may be at odds. So can you talk a little bit more about how you balance that, if they are, and how you fit into that c suite? [00:24:10] Bob: Yeah, no, that. Very good question. And this whole notion of business ethics was really starting to develop in the, as a real discipline. And I've been fortunate in that the executive teams and the business folks I work with have always been very high integrity, and you never have to have the conversation where you say, I'll have to quit if we do that. I've always worked with folks of high integrity and would find it difficult to be in a different situation. But nevertheless, you still have to make that balance. And as an in house lawyer, we can always go to our board of directors. Again, the corporation is our client, but we deal every day with the executives, like you say. So I think educating, when issues do come up, I think educating our clients on the risks and potential pitfalls and that of a certain path, for me, has always been the way to approach those kind of thorny issues. Great. I understand we're trying to do, there's some significant risk here or something we may need to discuss with the board to make sure they appreciate it, or maybe discuss with our CEO or kind of escalating that up the ladder, if you will, to make sure that we're being very transparent about what we're doing. The right decision maker at the right level has made that call. Again, I've never been in the situation where we've crossed the line, but typically you get up to the right decision maker. We all appreciate that our reputation and good name is not worth a particular sale or a transaction or something. It's just too risky and our reputation is worth too much than to try to cut a, you know, sometimes things come up, but like I said, you always find you escalate it, you explain the risk, and rational heads always tend to prevail when you're working with good people. [00:25:55] Sean: Well, I would expect nothing less from a scholar alum. [00:25:58] Bob: Bob. Thank you. [00:26:01] Sean: So we talked about working on the C suite team, but you also obviously oversee a large team in your function as the general counsel. What are the things that you wish your employees, like your new staff, were coming with that scholars could begin to work on now to set themselves apart as they start job searching, whether it's straight out of undergrad or perhaps they have a pit stop at grad school, law school, med school along the way. [00:26:26] Bob: I think it's so important for anyone on a team in business. We've talked about collaboration skills. Again, that's something you start to hone, whether you're a member on an athletic team or an academic team or a study group or just being able to work with people and collaborate is so important in business and law and I think in life. So those collaboration skills to translate what you know, you may be an expert in the technical field, you may have a PhD, but you have to be able to communicate that to maybe an accountant or a lawyer who doesn't have that technical, but you need to be able to communicate well and kind of break down complex issues so they can be understood and working with your team. So I think that's so important. Solution orientation. Again, particularly in a business setting, you can't just say, here's the problem, here's the problem. Here's the problem. But how can you help solve the problem? And so you have to have that kind of mindset. And a lot of folks that I see and kind of coming into the corporate world, I find sometimes they don't have the sort of the emotional intelligence that's needed in a company. And that's really how you read people. And there's probably not a class, maybe there is now these days on emotional intelligence in business school or smeel, but that's just so important to how you read a room. What drives people having empathy? We deal with people and you have to motivate people. You have to read people. If you're in a negotiation, you deal with a lot of different disciplines, and people come from a lot of different backgrounds. And so that's so important for me. When I kind of look at people coming into the organization, do they have that emotional intelligence, which is to me so much important than IQ necessarily if you don't have those skills. And I think lastly, and I know the world has changed a lot since I was at Penn State and scholar program, but thinking globally, obviously that's so important in the world we live in. You have to be able to understand cultures and ways business are done and just how the world works and business for that matter. I remember one of my early professors when I was a sophomore had said, go get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Now we have all kinds of alternatives online, but kind of start to learn how business works and finance works and frankly, how the world transacts. And we hear a lot about the fed. And what does that mean? It's good to have kind of appreciation for a lot of that stuff, particularly as you go into the business world. [00:28:54] Sean: It was funny tying back to your comments about your thesis. You were talking about how interest rates were in the news, and it's like, was that 1983 or 2023? [00:29:02] Bob: Yeah, right. It all comes around, always comes back. That's right. [00:29:06] Sean: Fairly cyclical. And I think you make a great point about EQ, Bob. Businesses don't function without people. People are employees, people are customers. And knowing how to manage up, down and across is how you get things done. You obviously need your technical acumen, but. [00:29:23] Bob: The people, for sure, for sure how. [00:29:25] Sean: You get it done. So I have a couple of questions here. I'm going to set up with this phrase. Your company is a supplier for Apple, but unlike Apple, is not necessarily a household name. So I have a couple of questions. So iPhone does not happen without your right. So first, what is it like working for a really successful company that doesn't have that brand recognition for the average person or a student walking around the career fair at the Jordan center? [00:29:52] Bob: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it takes a lot of explaining who we are, what we do. So I'll always have to kind of have my elevator speech ready for when I tell my work at Knowles and kind of what we do. Fortunately, well before my time, the company has developed a reputation in our field of being a leader. We started in the 1940s, and hearing aids and putting receivers, any kind of small microphone or receiver, is where we get involved. So I'm sure we're both talking on microphones, more than likely from Knowles. We were in smartphones and the smart speakers and the wireless earbuds and all that. It's some wonderful technology, and it's an area where we are known as a leader. So in our field, as a business to business as opposed to business to consumer type company, we're very well known. And so it's easy in the technical industry to say we're from Knowles and kind of doors open and we don't need to explain that. For the engineers who are looking for a job in acoustics or electrical engineers, I think our reputation will precede us in those areas in terms of our fellows and research and all that. So feel very good about that. But it is, we're not a brand name, and we work with all the big global brands in this industry and does take a little explaining each time to tell them a little bit about what we do and that they probably have a couple of dozen of our microphones throughout their house and don't know it. [00:31:19] Sean: Yeah, I bet there's a good chance you've got a headset on. I've got the same mic I've been using since started this, so there's a good chance there's probably some parts that you've developed for sure. So your company is b to b, as you said, business to business. And so how does that impact your recruiting for employees, and particularly for scholars who are maybe juniors, seniors? They're kind of in the tail end of their experience, 4th, 5th year, and regardless of what their major is, because there's so many. You might be an engineering firm, but there's obviously HR, there's legal, there's supply chain folks. Every company has different needs, even despite what their expertise is. So how can they find opportunities at firms like yours that are that b to b famous, but are not b to c famous? [00:32:03] Bob: Happy to say we do recruit at Penn State we have a number of Penn State alumni at Knowles and a lot of different fields. We also sponsor some scholarships in the College of Engineering there as well. But we are in, so I would say campus recruiting for sure. Look, for us, we're on the job boards. We tend to post things on LinkedIn as well. Take advantage of that. And again, don't underestimate alumni connections through LinkedIn and all the social stuff. Now, it's easy to identify folks and companies, and I would encourage folks in the program or undergrads, graduate students to reach out to alumni at Knowles. And happy to help. We do have an internship program that's a great opportunity for people to experience Knowles. We had a couple of Penn State grads in the past. I think they were in the graduate know, been through our internship program in the summer. So we have a pretty robust program there, would encourage folks again through on campus programs to get in touch with us. Awesome. [00:33:03] Sean: And if you're a current scholar, obviously make sure you're taking advantage of career services. You mentioned use that in law school at GW while you're here at Penn State, obviously you've got the honors college. If you're a scholar, you've got the bank of America career services centrally for all Penn State students. And then whatever your home, college or campus is. So whether you're at Penn State, Abington, if you're in the smale college business, you have career services, opportunities that you can leverage. And I think your point about LinkedIn is great because that's where you're going to find these companies that maybe the names just don't jump out at you, but are great opportunities for you to look at. [00:33:34] Bob: Absolutely. And of course, I'm on LinkedIn Knowles, we have a pretty robust website and tells you a lot about what we do and the type of things we do and would encourage anyone kind of take a look at that. And if I can kind of help with any information in that, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Be happy to talk to folks. [00:33:53] Sean: Perfect. I don't have to ask that question. [00:33:55] Bob: At the end now. There you go. All right, good. [00:33:58] Sean: Well, we still have a few more questions here and one more about kind of the actual work that you do and the teams you lead. What is it like for you and your employees dealing with a company like Apple? And obviously you also probably work with the government and plenty of other companies that you supply. But knowing that those companies have like trillion dollar market caps or close to at this point, what is that like for your company and your employees dealing with that. [00:34:22] Bob: Yeah. And outside of kind of consumer electronics, we're very big into medtech and aerospace and defense and like you say, work with a lot of Fortune 100 companies, the big behemoths in all of those industries. And in my career, when I was in the automotive area, again, you kind of deal with all the big automakers and that. And one thing I found in common in all those situations is that these companies really push their suppliers to do more, do better. They are always looking for an edge in the marketplace, so they're really pushing you for better technology. How can we make this widget have more features cheaper? How can we make it something that is really a big advantage to them? So they really challenge you to come up with better products. They force you to have better processes because they are looking for cost savings and efficiency in that. So it makes your operations organization so vital. To make sure you have a lean operation, your quality has to be world class. Your maybe ten cent component that's going into one of their products can really harm their reputation if it doesn't work. And they have to get their product returned or in some of our applications, they're going in pacemakers, they're going in life critical type devices. When you're dealing with some of the big companies, their quality, their name is on the line. Like you say, they may not know knowles in the consumer world, but they know some of these big brands. And if something doesn't work, it's the brand that takes a hit. So they push us to be world class in quality process, the best technology, so it makes us a better company. We complain sometimes that they're being tough on us, but it really pushes us to be a world class supplier. And then that opens doors to other customers when we can tell them that we're supplying X, Y and Z, big companies like that for a smaller company or someone trying to get into the field, it really opens some doors for us because we do have the quality certifications. We have the lean processes, we have the quality controls. It's a plus when you get involved at that level. [00:36:31] Sean: That's really cool. Thank you for that. So, pivoting a little bit to you now from all of our talk about microphones, business processes and being lean. So you grew up in Pennsylvania, as we've talked about, but you've now made your home and your career elsewhere, first in DC, but primarily out in Illinois. So what advice would you give to scholars whose path takes them in a similar route, whether it's Illinois or North Carolina or Nevada, California or anywhere around. [00:36:59] Bob: The know, I would say be flexible, be open to opportunities. If I would think back to when I was maybe junior senior at Penn State and thinking about where my kind of career path would take me both personally and professionally, sort of what my life, I would have never guessed, kind of where I am and what I'm doing. So you have to be open to opportunities. I've been on the east coast and kind of moved out to the midwest, so be open to that. You won't be there forever. If it's something you try something, there's other opportunities around. You. Gain experience. I think with every move, for me, like Sharon, for example, it was smaller, community, didn't have as many opportunities. So it was one of the reasons my first jobs were kind of away from the, you know, I'd make my plug for Chicago. I think the Midwest is a great place to practice law, to live. It's a very livable city. But I would just say be open to opportunities. Don't foreclose, particularly if you're younger, newer in your career, you're really going to get some different experiences, and that does help you professionally and kind of you build your resume and take some different opportunities. [00:38:02] Sean: That is really good advice, Bob. And another piece of advice I'd like to ask you on behalf of our students, and many of them are very much traditional age, between 18 and 23. So what is the one thing you would suggest to a current scholar to set themselves up for a successful career that they could be doing now as a scholar? That if you could just pick one, whether it's in life, law, or business, what would you tell them? [00:38:26] Bob: It's a be humble. Maybe I'm being a little coy, but I think that means listening instead of talking a lot kind of learning. Be open, learn, be curious. Think broadly and critically about things, but be humble. I mean, there's a lot you can learn from people, from experiences, from different classes, and take that in approach the world and your career that way, and you'll learn a lot and you will contribute in that way. [00:38:53] Sean: I will wholeheartedly echo that there, Bob. [00:38:56] Bob: Wonderful. Good. [00:38:57] Sean: So something I've learned to start asking is in the same way of being humble, because I don't know everything. I've had to be a generalist as the host of this show. What is something I didn't think to ask you about that would have been helpful in our conversation here, or thinking of it another way? What's a really common question that you get from student mentees or interns that you want to share here? [00:39:19] Bob: Yeah. Well, we've covered a lot of ground here, and I think the one I get the most, I think you've asked in so many words, is like, I get, what do you do exactly? They've heard general counsel and, okay, I'm a lawyer, but what do you do in a company? How does that work? And you go to court, and typically do not go to court, you have to be licensed in the jurisdiction where you actually have to litigate a matter. So unless the matter is here in Illinois, in my district, and that I'm not going to go to court, I don't have that experience. So we hire people, but it's kind of like, what do you do exactly? And so I'm glad you gave me a little bit of opportunity to talk about the role of a general counsel. And I like to think we wear a lot of different hats and compliance and business person and legal advisor and all that. And so always end up explaining that to our people, to folks that ask me. And some of our, in our internship programs, we have an opportunity to meet with our interns, and I always kind of walk through what we do and the different hats that we wear and why legal and compliance is a big part of business. Awesome. [00:40:20] Sean: Well, I'm glad I thought to ask. Just pat myself on the back. [00:40:24] Bob: You're right. [00:40:24] Sean: So, Bob, I'm going to move into our kind of last set of questions here. And these are the ones I asked everybody, and this is your chance to brag here. What would you say is your biggest success to date? [00:40:35] Bob: Well, obviously, personally, it's being married to my beautiful wife of 35 years now, also a Penn state alum, I'll add. I met her on campus and raising our three wonderful children. So it doesn't get much better than that professionally. I don't know if there's any one thing I'd point to, but being able to, I think, lead a high functioning group of legal professionals, getting the respect of your colleagues, I can't think of any greater compliment than that. So I think having hopefully achieving that, being viewed as a trusted business partner by my business colleagues, again, from an in house lawyer, I can't think of a greater compliment, is when one of your business colleagues comes and asks you a question, it's not purely legal. It just kind of wants to throw something by you and get your advice and you're able to provide some help there on maybe somewhat of a business level. So being a trusted advisor, I think, and particularly the GC role public company, that's global. It's a lot of issues. And work with a lot of smart people and gaining their trust is, I think, a big success for me. [00:41:43] Sean: I think those are both great, and I love that you picked both personal and professional. [00:41:47] Bob: Kudos. [00:41:48] Sean: On the flip side, though, Bob, I always like to know what was the biggest mistake that you've made or a transformational learning moment, something. And most importantly, what you took from that experience that would be helpful for scholars. [00:41:59] Bob: Again, probably. I don't know about one moment, but I'd kind of go back to this emotional intelligence. I think coming out of law school, I was kind of like, hey, I know everything. Hey, let me tell you. And diving in to confront people in negotiations or in a deal or some litigation or something that I was involved in and then finding out that, you know what? That can backfire. And I'm not sure I'm serving my clients interests by raising my voice and trying to pursue something. And one of the reasons I like transactional work, particularly m a type work, is both sides want to get to a deal, and you have to kind of tease out what's important for both sides. Sometimes it's not mutually exclusive. There can be the classic win win situation, but how you get there, how you tease that out in the context of a negotiation, sometimes a very tough negotiation. So for me, the biggest learning moment, again, was just kind of, you have to understand people, what motivates them, and sometimes you got to step back a bit and maybe put a couple of cards on the table or kind of listen to what's important to them. It's not I win, you lose, always. And so going with that kind of mindset, I think has kind of helped me in my career and has been a big learning ha ha moment for me. [00:43:12] Sean: Absolutely. And that probably applies to just about every profession. [00:43:15] Bob: Yeah, that's really right. [00:43:17] Sean: So the main point of this entire podcast, Bob, is that it's essentially mentorship on demand. And we actually haven't really talked about mentorship in our conversation. So I want to ask, how do you suggest that students be a quality mentee and a quality, you know, that's. [00:43:34] Bob: A tough question, I think, because it kind of depends on the mentor and the mentee. I've always found the kind of best match there just kind of comes kind of naturally, if you will. I've been in programs where it's very structured and you're kind of assigned mentors, mentees and that. But the best experience I've had is both as a mentee and a mentor has kind of developed naturally, working with someone, and you kind of relate and feel you can help the person or you can gain something from the experience, but it's not a forced kind of structured arrangement. So look for opportunities. You may talk with someone outside your discipline or you meet someone, and if you kind of have that rapport, ask them, say, hey, would you mind? Can we get together, buy some coffee, or can we just get together for lunch? I'd like to just talk to you about kind of career path and that. And I find in most cases, people love to talk about what they do, and we'll be very open to that. So it doesn't have to be a real formal type of relationship. And let's put them on the calendar five months out. It may be more natural and not too forced, but I think it is good to have someone kind of outside of your chain of command or your discipline kind of gives you a different perspective. Someone within your company, though, I think is important because there are sort of those unwritten norms or the political side of things that you're not going to find in the employee handbook or in some process, written process. But that's the type of thing, I think, you want to find the mentor to help you understand kind of how that works in your company and your organization. And then in terms of professional development, I think it's always good to find someone who has done the things that you'd like to be able to do and kind of learn, pick their brain about, how'd you get here? Some of the things we're talking about. Right. How'd you get here? What was important? And that stuff's just invaluable. Absolutely. [00:45:21] Sean: And I love your point there about kind of the in company mentor, the person who can tell you, okay, this is what the handbook says, but this is how actually things. This person will not pick up a phone. This person doesn't respond to teams or slack messages. This is how the coffee maker does not function correctly. [00:45:41] Bob: Yeah, don't be late for a meeting. This guy does this person like that. And so every company has those. Every organization has those. Yeah. [00:45:50] Sean: This person's always late for a meeting. [00:45:52] Bob: This person's always. [00:45:54] Sean: So find those people. Even in your internship, find that. And even in your student organization. I think that'll be helpful, too, because those are their own flavor. Now, Bob, you've referenced a couple of faculty that you've had. Is there any professors or your friends, especially your friend group from Shenango that you wanted to give a shout out to? [00:46:10] Bob: Oh, yeah, for sure. My advisor for my thesis and my finance mentor was Woolridge and just a young professor at the time. And I know he's still very involved in spiel college. And really, again, kind of what he helped me with in my thesis is someone never had done that before. And the professionalism and the academic kind of challenges that he posed in finance really impressed me and kept me engaged in the corporate world. And, you know, big shout out to him. And the other professor I'd mention is Frank Evans. He was my accounting professor at Shenango Valley campus when I was there. And I think he's the one that gave me advice to read the Wall Street Journal, but also helped me with an internship when I was there and got me engaged in the business side of things. So just a great practitioner and professor. I think he was a part time professor, an adjunct there at the time, but really cared about students and helped me a lot. [00:47:10] Sean: That's awesome. And I think Dr. Woolridge is still in faculty or may have just retired, but we'll make sure that he gets to hear this. And to your point about the Wall Street Journal, I know we as Penn State students, you have access to so many things like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other publications, so make sure you're taking advantage of those because somebody listened to your professor, Dr. Evans, and made that available for all students at some point along the way. Now, is there any final pieces of advice that you wanted to share? You've shared a lot of really helpful things from your career, but is there one last thing that you were itching to share that maybe just didn't come up? [00:47:42] Bob: No. I mean, I would reiterate for folks, this is the opportunity to develop good habits, take advantage of the opportunities the scholars program offered. I feel that I did at the time and really kind of broaden my horizons about what's out there in the world and opportunities that I could pursue. Just think broadly and critically. Think any discipline, law, business, whatever you end up, have some critical analytical skills and do the work and develop good habits. This is the time to kind of do that. [00:48:10] Sean: I will certainly echo that. Now, you've already mentioned that scholars can connect with you on LinkedIn. They can also find your company on LinkedIn, and you should give them a follow if that's something of interest to you. So we'll skip that question that I always ask, and we'll jump right to the final one, which is a really fun one here, and hopefully you got a chance to look at the menu. Bob, if you were a flavor of Berkeley creamery ice cream. Which would you be? And as a scholar alum, why would you be that flavor? [00:48:37] Bob: I didn't have to look at the menu. I know the flavors. Believe me. One of my favorite, I think I'd be Peachy Paterno. And a couple of reasons. First, reminds me of summer peaches and one of my favorite seasons. So that was a natural. I think it's nothing fancy, kind of a classic flavor. I think it's been around for, I don't know, since I've been there, at least till the remember. And so just a classic flavor gets the job done. Nothing fancy, but it's good ice cream. And lastly, if there had to be a nationality for ice cream, I assume it's Italian American. I'm Italian American, so I can relate to Peachy Paterno. So that would be the other reason I'd pick it. [00:49:15] Sean: That is a great reason. And we have another entry in team menu on this question. And I agree with you, Bob. I think it's such a classic summer flavor. It's not what I want in winter, but in like July and August, it's perfect. [00:49:29] Bob: Yeah, perfect. I don't know if it's one of their favorite flavors, probably vanilla is, but it's been around a gong time and it's my favorite. [00:49:39] Sean: I think it's one of the staples. I think that is a year round flavor. There are many that are seasonal and they rotate through. I think peachy Paterno is all year. [00:49:47] Bob: Gong. [00:49:50] Sean: Definitely fits the bill in the hot months of summer more than some other flavors. Well, Bob Perna, thank you so much for joining us all the way from the Chicagoland area. Really appreciate all of your insights on just having a successful career overall and then particularly on what exactly a general counsel is and the different paths and opportunities to get into that and even other careers in law. So thank you so much for all of your time and wisdom today. [00:50:16] Bob: Yeah, my pleasure, Sean. Thank you. You made this very easy and this is a great way to reach scholars. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little bit about kind of what worked for me and hope it helps folks. *GONG SOUND EFFECT* [00:50:35] Sean: Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]. Until next time, please stay well and We Are!

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