Alumni Profiles is an ongoing series highlighting successful graduates who, with a SUNY education, achieved interesting and influential careers.
Peter L. Bocko is a chemist, businessman, visionary, and leader. Bocko is Chief Technology Officer at Corning Glass Technologies, a business within Corning, Inc. Corning Glass Technologies leads the world in glass innovation and application and supplies different lines of glass, such as Gorilla Glass, for many consumer electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and televisions. Bocko has spent the majority of his career in the research, development, and marketing of glass for a wide range of applications.
** Update: On Tuesday 1/8/13, Corning Glass Technologies announced its latest consumer electronic glass, Gorilla Glass 3, at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013. Gorilla Glass 3 is set to begin appearing in devices Q2 2013.
1. What helped you make the transition from chemist to businessman?
My transition from a pure technologist to a businessman was not a plan but rather a result of happenstance. I had the privilege of being one of the principals in the creation of a new business of glass for LCD that started in the late 80’s. At that time there we just a few of us working on this project at Corning and by necessity we had broad roles. We had no idea that this little glass development would turn into the multi-billion business of today. Our Asian customers in this area were very technology centric and I had the opportunity to attend high level meetings to explain glass technology to customer leaders. Over time I spent more time on building customer technology relationships and setting business technology strategy, which led to more responsibility on the commercial side. This wasn’t a plan! What helped me in this area is the same curiosity that brought me to science…however more about relationships between people and companies and less about atoms and molecules.
2. What are the two most important practices you have learned in regards to fostering international business relationships?
Rule number 1, 2 and 3, always do what your say. Scientists tend to be creative, and get excited by new ideas and then abandoning them when they become less interesting. When you are developing a technological partnership with a customer, he is investing time in you and your ideas. Lack of follow-through is the single most important mode of failure in customer technology collaborations. Other than that, I also think that listening skills are so important. You need to sit back once and a while and really listen to what the customer is communicating and make every effort to understand the situation through their eyes. I call this Innovation Empathy.
3. Your passion for the advancement of glass and its applications is clear. What introduced you to it?
Just wanting a job! I got out of school at one of the most pessimistic times in US R&D. I did get a few job offers but I was attracted to Corning not because of the fascination with glass but because the people there just seemed to be, well…normal. I could see a cultural fit to my values. And I felt a sense of excitement and thought that i would ally like collaborating with these folks. The leadership that i met were humble, seeing themselves as servants to the Creative process rather than controllers. It was only after I came to Corning that I saw the Hughes breadth and depth of technology and science of glass.
4. Where do you see the application of your product in ten years? Twenty years? Fifty?
I have difficulty in predicting next year let alone 10 or more! I encourage people who have a little interest in glass to check out Corning’s Day Made of Glass videos on the web. I was technical adviser for the series and that captures the general direction of glass being imbued with and facilitating increasingly sophisticated functionality to create an environment of total connectivity. Where the boundaries between real and virtual becomes increasingly intertwined and blurry. Glass is just the component as a part of chain of value, but its capability for transparency, strength, pristine surface are extrapolated to the challenges of the Day Made of Glass future. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done, and it is equal parts of fundamental science and its application.
5. Overall, how did your college education help prepare you for life and your career?
Most importantly, I see coming from a relatively small Chemistry Department at Oswego State where there were close relationships between my classmates and access to our professors was so important in learning how to work in teams. Of course, a grounding in fundamentals was important. Technology has become so specialized that it is unlikely that a college education can prepare your for the specific skills and know-how needed for the job you will eventually attain. However, taking challenging courses creates the ability to master new things. Companies today want a learner not necessarily experts.
6. What advice do you have to share with SUNY students?
Never pass up a chance to challenge yourself even if there is a chance of failure. You will learn as much from failures as success. Be a generous collaborator. Life is about shared accomplishment not allocating credit. And of course, stay curious. When I am looking for hiring team members I heavily weight curiosity and passion, and a little less on raw talent. The world is full of talented people; what distinguishes us is those that get things done and are always looking for the next challenge. Your academic life is practice for real life, it’s never too early to start acting like a winner!
Maxwell is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.