BGSU Firelands helped build confidence

D. Craig Rathbun ’83 shares ‘life lessons’ with graduates

By Bob Cunningham

D. Craig Rathbun has had success on multiple levels since graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1983.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he joined the Ernst & Whinney’s (Ernst & Young) Management Consulting Group, specializing in production and operations. He later joined his family’s business, Venture Packaging in Monroeville, Ohio, as operations manager. 

But it all started at BGSU Firelands. 

“We have something in common,” he told the Class of 2016 on May 7 during a commencement ceremony at the Huron, Ohio, campus. “In 1979, I took classes at Firelands for two years. I then graduated in 1983 with my bachelor’s. I few months after I graduated, I was working for one of the largest accounting firms in the nation. 

“Firelands gave me the opportunity to mature without the outside influences that often distract young students. It helped me build my confidence and made me feel like I belonged to something greater than myself.”

The lessons learned at a closely held corporation served as a sound basis for two other future companies. In 1999, as a partner in Encore Plastics, together with his siblings Tim and Jodi and friend John Wilson, he grew a start-up company from seven employees to more than 300 within three manufacturing facilities. 

Encore manufactures paint sundry products for national retailers such as Lowe’s, Menards, Sherwin Williams and Walmart. In 2009, the partners financed a renewable energy company called SUREnergy. The goal was to find alternative ways to reduce Encore Plastics’ carbon footprint. 

Today, SUREnergy has evolved into providing grant writing, sourcing, installation, maintenance and consulting services to several national and international companies. 

“When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University, I had a solid foundation in which to build my career, and for that I am thankful,” said Rathbun, a member of the Firelands College Alumni Board. “I remember my graduation in 1983 as if it were yesterday. However, I don’t recall a single word from the commencement address that was given that day. I hope for this commencement address I am able to inspire you by sharing some of my life experiences since leaving college.”

Rathbun shared five ‘life lessons’ with the 123 graduates of BGSU Firelands: Be a good listener; love what you do; find your passion; find a mentor; and stop dreaming and start doing. 

Examples of some of the wisdom Rathbun has picked up in his 33 years since graduating from BGSU:

  • “Some of the biggest mistakes in my life I made because I was talking when I should have been listening. The ability to be a good listener is one of the best talents that anyone can develop.”
  • “Love what you do. Some people like to tell you do what you love. I prefer to say love what you do. There is a difference.”
  • “Working hard at something you are passionate about will make your life much more enjoyable.”
  • "The difference between knowledge and wisdom is experience. You can’t rush wisdom, but you can position yourself to obtain it by finding a mentor.”
  • “Wake up, get out of bed and ditch the cellphone. Dreams don’t come true unless you get out of bed.”
  • Success does not require you to look out the window, it only requires you to look in the mirror.

Rathbun also reminded the Class of 2016 that graduation isn’t the end of its journey; rather, it’s just the beginning.  

“Today is not the best day of your life,” he said. “However, tomorrow will be. And the day after that even better. Trust me, from this day forward, tomorrow is a better day than the previous one. What is great about tomorrow is your ability to decide how you want to live your life, who will become your new friends and what opportunities will present themselves to you and how will you plan to seize them.”