Industrial engineering alumnus shares his path to the C-suite

Miranda Buckheit
October 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Matthew J. White, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Linde, a multinational industrial gases and engineering company, shared his thoughts on what it means to be a successful engineer as part of Penn State's College of Engineering’s ExecutiveXcellence Speaker Series. White spoke at the fall 2019 installment of the series on Sept. 13 in the HUB-Robeson Center.

A man in a blue suit jacket and blue button-down shirt speaks to a crowd.

Matt White explained that education is important for the success of someone's career and that it can come from both informal and formal settings.

IMAGE: Tyler Henderson

“It’s natural to doubt yourself in your career; it’s going to happen,” White, 1994 industrial engineering, said. “Sometimes I would wonder, ‘where am I going?’ You need to be comfortable with your decisions and know what you want and do not want out of life. If you don’t like the direction that you’re headed, change it.”

White joined Praxair in 2004 as finance director. He served as the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer before it merged with The Linde Group in late 2018 to form Linde. Prior to that, White worked at Fisher Scientific, a laboratory supply and biotechnology company, and GenTek, a manufacturing and performance chemicals company. He earned a master of business administration from the University of Delaware in 2000.

Throughout the talk, White stressed the importance of both formal and informal education to the students and faculty in attendance. He stated that education shouldn’t end at graduation and that people can find ways to learn new things from projects, jobs and peers.

“The best experiences come from jobs that you will least expect and sometimes don’t want,” White said.

White also advised attendees to rip up their five- or 10-year plans and trade them for an overarching view. He explained that “life happens,” which can make it difficult to follow a strict plan; rather, he said it is best to opt for a general plan based on interests. He explained that flexibility and patience have a large hand in driving success.

Maintaining his flexible mindset, as well as keeping his general goal of being a chief financial officer in the back of his mind, led White to mentors who greatly influenced his career path.

“I listened to my mentors early in my career and they often knew what I was capable of,” he said. “The right mentor can shape you and give you insight into things that you are missing because you don’t have that skill set yet. People are more perceptive than you think, so remember to be yourself; perception can become reality.”

Priya Baboo, director of industry, innovation and development for the College of Engineering, said that the event was a huge success.

“Students and faculty were excited to hear from Matt. He worked his way up to become the CFO of the world’s largest industrial gases and engineering company,” Baboo said. “Students from engineering and business asked several questions and Matt gave them individualized advice after the talk. One of the students said how he appreciated the opportunity to meet White and that he learned a lot from the ‘precious opportunity.’”

The ExecutiveXcellence Speaker Series launched in spring 2018 to provide students and faculty with opportunities to hear directly from corporate engineering leaders about their experiences. Industry executives interested in being a part of the series are encouraged to email Baboo at pzb104@psu.edu.

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Last Updated October 10, 2019