John Burke '69 - M.S. in Management
A native of Australia, John attended a two-room primary school in New South Wales, a boarding secondary school in Sydney, and earned a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree from the University of Sydney. Shortly after, he went to work for the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where for the first time, he heard about the MBA courses that were becoming popular in the U.S.
At the time, there were some universities such as Rensselaer, MIT, and Purdue who offered such a degree, but in one year, to graduates in engineering. After leaving Kalamazoo, John worked in Toronto for a U.S. construction company where the manager there had gone to Rensselaer and spoke very highly of it. So, in 1968, he applied and was accepted.
"I had a great time at RPI - I liked the courses, the lecturers, and the other students," said Burke. "While I had made my way through civil engineering, I was fascinated by the business courses and keen to learn."
At Rensselaer, John had access to an IBM 360/50 and learned the frustrations of punch cards. He was, however, introduced to one of the first remote terminals where students programmed by typing – the prototype of modern computers that presaged the end of punch cards.
Back home in Australia, equipped with his M.S. in Management degree from Rensselaer, John was able to move from engineering into management.
"Being able to talk accounting with the accountants, marketing with the marketers, computers with the computer science professionals, and engineering with the engineers was very powerful," expained Burke. "So at 29, I became managing director of a small firm and we built it up over 33 years to be the largest of its type in Australia."
John's hard work and leadership helped him achieve this accomplishment, but that was not without its difficulties. The secret to the success he had was persistence day after day, week after week, and year after year. It also helped that John and his team were unaware that at times that they had suffered defeat and should give up....but they did not.
John's year at Rensselaer was crucial in equipping him with the skills to have a satisfying career. He captured much of his career journey, goals, and success in the book, "Against The Odds: The Rescrete Story 1968-2005." A true story of corporate survival of almost 40 years and success in the adversarial Australian manufacturing and construction milieu.