Speak From the Heart
Alumnus, corporate vice president and donor Dave Ruth shows students how to connect as leaders
Unlike the job-hoppers of today, Dave Ruth (B.S. ’90, Business Administration; MBA ’92) has spent the last three decades growing his career with the same company — Associated Lighting Representatives, Inc. (ALR), a sales agency headquartered in Oakland. Over the years, the first-generation college graduate has spent time in a number of the company’s departments, including IT; accounting; human resources; and now he is both vice president of ALR and an executive board member. While Ruth is passionate about learning (he’s a lecturer in Cal State East Bay’s MBA program), it’s safe to say he could finish up his career without resolving the single fear that’s haunted him since he was a teenager.
“The embarrassing moment goes back to high school,” Ruth says. “I walked up to read my first speech and was completely unaware that my body would sabotage me. That it would turn into nerves to the point that I couldn’t speak. It was a moment of terror — I never got past it and it never went away.”
Fast-forward 30 years.
After completing his MBA, Ruth first reconnected with Cal State East Bay as a manager looking to recruit talent. “This school was an incredible gem that changed my life,” he says. “The things I learned here I took the next day and used at work — it’s practical knowledge, it’s not a waste of time.”
His involvement with the university has since grown to include several student interns; a few new employees; the investiture of the Ruth Family Foundation, a fund devoted to the College of Business and Economics; a role as a board member on the CBE Dean’s Advisory Board; and two children — one an alumna, and the other set to graduate in May.
But it had been awhile since the accomplished executive had an “a-ha” moment of his own — until he got a call from CBE’s Dean Jagdish Agrawal, who invited him to attend an executive leadership communications workshop called Jumpstart.
“CBE’s Jumpstart workshop is designed to develop the ability to listen, communicate and connect with others,” Agrawal says. “These skills are necessary to be successful no matter what career anyone chooses to pursue.”
Though Ruth thought he’d just swing by campus quickly, he not only ended up staying to participate in Jumpstart — which combines personal storytelling, martial arts, and theater exercises — but he came back to the workshop the next day, too.
And something unexpected happened: “It solved my problem. I’ve always been able to tell stories one-on-one, but it was getting it to the larger audience (that I couldn’t do). Just like that moment in high school that trailed me all these years, once I had a positive moment, I thought ‘Now, I can hang something on that.’”
“The power of Jumpstart is that it makes you realize the person looking back at you in the mirror every morning can be better,” says Travis Nelson, career development manager for CBE and one of the organizers of the event. “The best way that I have ever heard it put into words was from a student who said, ‘I never spoke up in my classes because I've never felt as if I had something to say that people wanted to hear. I learned this weekend that I have a voice, and that people actually want to hear what I have to say. I will never let that fear get in the way again.’”
Ruth has since made an additional gift to the university dedicated to ensuring Jumpstart continues.
Yet it isn’t just the public speaking piece that’s made him a believer.
“I came here as a junior college student from Ohlone College. There are a lot of commuter students here who never build that college community. You’d be surprised how many students hear someone else’s story and say, ‘I’ve had three classes with you and never knew you were that person.’
“Most people think you have to be guarded as a leader — hold your cards close,” he adds. “But in all my years of experience, I’ve learned that I’m the most productive when we build a culture of trust, where I trust people and people trust me. That’s what this style of communication is about, and that’s the foundation of real leadership — connecting with others.”