Ragan, Maraniss Speak of Inspiration


posted March 22, 2018

Dr. Ray Wrabley, Andrew Maraniss, Rich Ragan, and Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar prior to the GIST series event on March 21, 2018.

Keynote speaker Rich Ragan, Pitt-Johnstown class of ’78, and guest speaker Andrew Maraniss told of inspiration while facing adversity at the Global Impact Speakers and Talks series, Wednesday, March 21, at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the Pitt-Johnstown campus.

The GIST series is sponsored by the Pitt-Johnstown Division of Business and Entreprise.

“It’s just a great opportunity to have so many students listen to two excellent speakers share their leadership experiences and their life experiences, and I hope that students took something inspiring that is going to help them become leaders like these two here today,” said Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar.

Mr. Ragan is Executive Director of Global Facilities, Safety and Security for American Axle and Manufacturing, AAM, an $8 billion global manufacturer of automotive and SUV axles and driveline components. 

Throughout his professional career, Mr. Ragan has held many prestigious titles, leading companies in Michigan including AVL North America, Arcadis Giffels, MACTEC, and Instron.

He served as the Senior Vice President and General Manager and Owner/Partner of Midddough, Inc., an architecture and engineering company in Cleveland, Ohio, where he led the development/implementation of a project management operating system that won the Harold Kerzner Award from the Project Management Institute which recognized him for his dedication to the field of engineering project management. 

Prior to that, Mr. Ragan had a stellar basketball career and is a member of the Pitt-Johnstown Athletics Hall of Fame. This past year, his work in philanthropy enabled the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center court to be resurfaced. The court is now named the Rich Ragan Family Court.  

Mr. Ragan spoke about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you and how important it is to remain on course to achieve something great. He shared the example of how he regrouped to become a leader after his basketball career was derailed due to injuries he sustained from a horrific car accident.

“Leadership is very important,” Ragan said to the audience. “If you want to progress in your career, apply yourself to be that leader. Don’t be afraid to take a risk or to make a mistake.

“Everybody says that necessity is the mother of invention.

“In my mind, leadership is the mother of entrepreneurship.”  

Ragan referred to words such as “progress,” “empower,” “vision” and “integrity” as key words in leadership. He later summarized his speech with one word – “culture.”

“Strategy is important,” he said, “but culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Mr. Maraniss, the Innovator in Residence at the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt University’s epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship, spoke about leadership from different perspective.

He told the story of Perry Wallace, a piece he has been traveling the country to share.

Wallace helped to desegregate the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference as a standout basketball star at Vanderbilt University. He later went to Columbia Law School and became an attorney for the Department of Justice. Wallace then spent time as a law professor at American University before his death in December.

His biography of Wallace, Strong Inside, became a New York Times bestseller. 

“I wrote about Wallace because he changed the South, and he changed the world in many ways,” Maraniss said. “The most courageous thing that Perry ever did was tell the truth. That’s what being a pioneer is all about.”

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” The distinctive combination of Pitt-Johnstown’s people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success. Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World.