Thirty-five years ago, “at the snap of a finger,” a young man’s life changed at Palm Beach Atlantic, putting him on such a path of success that today he’s a PBA trustee and major benefactor.
Karl Watson Jr. of Houston, Texas, shared his story with students in chapel last week. A 1987 PBA grad, he is now chief executive officer of Forterra, Inc., the largest manufacturer of concrete and ductile iron pipe in the United States. But his story opened with him floundering at the University of Florida and left school after two years.
“My confidence was at an all-time low,” said Watson. “My father said, ‘Let’s try PBA,’ so we came here and begged for a chance.”
The “chance” was a one-shot trial, Dr. Joe J. Eassa Jr.’s Small Business Management course. Eassa is now professor emeritus of graduate business studies. Young Watson studied hard, but after the final exam, when Eassa called him for a meeting, he had a gloomy feeling.
To Watson’s surprise, Eassa said: “Karl, this is one of the best papers I’ve ever received.”
Sharing in chapel Friday, Watson paused for a moment at that point in the story, his eyes moist. “Thirty-five years ago and it still affects me,” he said.
Then he snapped his fingers and said, “Like that, my whole life changed. From then on, I studied like crazy.” Mentored by Eassa, Watson graduated with a degree in business administration. He then entered a training program at Rinker Materials, the company founded by Marshall E. “Doc” Rinker, one of PBA’s earliest and most generous supporters.
Progressively given more opportunity, Watson worked his way up in the construction materials business, along the way supervising graduates of Harvard and other prestigious business schools. He told the students in chapel that PBA provides “everything you need to compete in the marketplace. Take advantage of the unique institution that Palm Beach Atlantic is.”
As Watson told his story in chapel, looking on proudly were his parents, Karl Watson Sr. and Faith Watson, as well as other members of the family. Karl Watson Sr. has served as a PBA trustee since 1997, and is the retired president and CEO of Rinker Materials Corporation. Recently the Watsons pledged a $2.5 million gift to the University, which named the newly-opened, 154-room student residence Watson Hall in their honor.
The younger Watson’s career has taken him around the globe. “I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things,” he told the crowd in chapel. Sharing from his wide corporate experience, he offered students advice for their years after college, including these tips:
— “Be professionally persistent” when you apply for jobs. Watson makes a habit of not responding to job seekers until they’ve reached out to him three times. “Why would I want to hire somebody who is going to give up after one shot?”
— Once you land the job, be on time, live up to your commitments, be inquisitive and don’t wait to be asked to do something.
— “You’ll never have job satisfaction” unless you like what you do, like who you do it with and think you can make a difference.
— “Don’t make it about you.” Citing numerous Bible verses, he said, “make it about others.”
— “Give back.” Young college graduates don’t have a lot of money to donate, he said, so “start saving money at a very early age so someday you can bless others with it.”
Photo 1: Karl Watson Jr. shares his story with students in chapel. PBA put him on the path to success.
Photo 2: The Watson family
Photo 3: Karl Watson Jr. speaks to a student after his remarks in the DeSantis Family Chapel.