Indiana State University Newsroom

Volkswagen executive offers career advice to ISU graduates

December 18, 2010

Mark Barnes, chief operating officer for Volkswagen of America, offered advice to graduating students about what he has learned since earning his degree in music business and a minor in marketing from Indiana State University.

"You are leaving this great institution and will all go into different directions, different paths in your life," Barnes said during his commencement address. "ISU was a great foundation for the future and provided a great experience for me."

Barnes, a 1981 ISU graduate, and Natasha Wills, a senior graduating with a degree in communication, served as commencement speakers for the winter graduation ceremony at Hulman Center Saturday (Dec. 18). Almost 800 Indiana State students graduated with their doctorate, master's or bachelor's degrees.

"Graduates, today is the beginning of a new phase in your lives," ISU President Daniel Bradley told the students. "I know it will be with enthusiasm that you will apply what you've learned to advance your careers and help your communities."

Barnes' first job led him to Phoenix as parts analyst for Ford. Since then he has worked for four automotive companies and moved to 14 different cities. But what he learned in that first position has followed him.

"Adopt the best traits of every person you work with and make them into you. Stay yourself, but add these traits to really blossom," Barnes said. A mentor gave him that advice when he started out working for Ford. "This is something that I have never forgotten and use today."

From a boss at Nissan, he learned humor. From a boss at Hyundai, he took the work ethic. A colleague in Dallas taught him sales techniques and interpersonal skills. Barnes said he even learned from his bad bosses.

"Yes, even these types of bosses have traits that I have learned from - learned what not to do," he said.

For those who find themselves in positions that they don't enjoy, Barnes offered additional advice.

"Perform at the highest level that you can in these positions. Make it yours," he said. "The reasons are two- fold. First you will make a good name for yourself, and second, a person with a good name and performance will move through the system - meaning you can get the heck out of the job that you don't like much faster. Trust me, it works."

For a final bit of advice, he made a plug for his company.

"As you get your new jobs and move into the workplace, as you go out and prosper, as you start your families and grow your careers, always, always, always drive a Volkswagen," he said, as the audience laughed."It will never let you down."

Wills, who minored in creative writing, centered her remarks on a poem that she wrote while at ISU.

"Individualistic expression, acceptance, and positivity exist in my dream and live on in a new reality. World freedom and relief uplift my spirit. Success' sweet music is so loud I can hear it," she read from her poem. "My opportunities become limitless, and the possibilities become boundless."

The Jasonville native said she wanted the graduates to take away three ideas from the poem and their time at Indiana State: one, seek out their inner beauty and be the best person they can be; two, be true to themselves without bowing to societal pressure; and three, realize their individual worth and be successful.

"These ideas have inspired me as a writer, a student and as a person," said the daughter of Alex Wills of Portland, Ore., and Carl and Cindy Fulk of Jasonville.

Wills had dropped out of school when she decided she wanted a different life than she was living. She returned to Indiana, attended Ivy Tech and then Indiana State.

"If you want to be the change you wish to see in the world, seek out your inner beauty and your best self will help you accomplish that," she said. "We all have a right to shine and ISU has helped me do that. I have changed into a responsible, knowledgeable and confident woman."

She encouraged others to remember what they learned during their time at Indiana State.

"Remember that today we leave this university with the knowledge, experience and tenacity to embrace our individual beauty and worth," she said.

Graduating students from Indiana State University. ISU Photo

Mark Barnes, 1981 ISU alumnus, speaks to 2010 graduating students. ISU Photo

Natasha Wills, 2010 graduate from Jasonville, speaks to her fellow graduates. ISU Photo

Contact/Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237 7972 or