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Alumnus Peter Charron, one of the founders and executives of Navis, has been designing and building cargo terminal operating systems for more than 25 years. He is recognized in the industry as a thought leader in enterprise software design and an expert in marine terminal operations. Peter hopes others can learn from his approach to design and problem analysis, so they too can excel in their own future.
Why did you choose to study mathematics at Arizona State University?
The honest answer has a few parts. First, I had a great high school teacher. Second, one summer as an undergraduate in math at Syracuse University, I rode my motorcycle to Los Angeles, California. Being from northern Maine, a land of endless trees and no vistas, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Southwest, and I vowed I would go to graduate school somewhere in the desert.
How do you feel your degree program prepared you for your career?
I learned how to reason and how to learn whatever I needed to reason further. Math instills this idea that there is one correct answer, but knowing that answer is not the point. More to the point, one must demonstrate why that answer is correct. Even more, there is a correct or best demonstration, and the burden is on the student mathematician to clearly communicate this explanation.
For more than 10 years, starting in high school math through graduate school at ASU, my teachers have imparted me with a power to reason. Ironically, in the complications of one’s life and career, even with a vast amount of training, it doesn't mean one will often have the right answer. Instead, it makes one acutely aware that most proposed solutions are suspect and probably not the right answer. It’s this wariness that helps me in my current position, guiding an engineering team through the design process towards a best approach.
Can you give a brief overview of what you’re doing now?
After more than 25 years in my current field – and, supposedly at my retirement age – I am still completely involved. I try to remain technically current and have climbed the technology mountain many times since graduating. Recently I assumed the position of vice president of sustaining engineering at Navis, where I work with our installed base around the globe. It gives me the opportunity to ensure implementations and maintenance of our products remain true to our original design vision and to discover where we need to take that vision next.
What do you believe contributed the most to your career success?
At ASU, I was given great teaching responsibilities. While in front of a classroom teaching complicated subjects to very capable students, I was forced to distill this complexity into straight-forward concepts and articulate them clearly through both words and diagrams, all the while sensing and soliciting student feedback to dynamically refine my approach as I went. Now, I do exactly that in my career with customers, staff and my own superiors.
What inspires you to succeed?
I get great pleasure out of seeing a concept converge from a muddled idea to clarity and then reality. In my business, the results are glaringly obvious. There's a great sense of pride watching the optimized ballet of movement in a mega-port, like Hong Kong. Dozens of 180' high cranes working several huge ships, while hundreds of computer-directed vehicles swarm along the dock and rail tracks move thousands of containers a day.
Did you receive any awards or scholarships at ASU that helped you along the way?
Yes, I received a generous salaried teaching assistantship with full tuition. As I said earlier, the teaching responsibilities were a joy, and just as much a part of my education as the courses I took.
What does it mean for you to be an alumni leader and a role model for other ASU students?
I work with people who had a more vocational university education. Every day, I realize the value of my liberal arts education in both work and life. I was exposed to so much beyond mathematics, including history, geography, literature, music, etc. And, today I have a passion for them all.
In the corporate world, successful people are never one dimensional.
Do you have any advice for current students to help them succeed in their respective careers?
Do your best, no matter how mundane the task and never stop leaning forward ... learning, accepting challenges and taking risks. You'll be surprised how far you've come each time you look back.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
The recognition of my contribution to the global industry seems important. But, more than systems and solutions, I hope others will learn from my approach to design and problem analysis, so they too can excel in their own future. I'm confident I've achieved my second legacy. Often, individuals going onto a new challenge have made a point of thanking me for the simple gift of making them thinkers. I like to think of them as honorary ASU math graduates.