Determination, preparation in software engineering

Sugar Ray Leonard offered advice for automation software users, system integrators, and engineers, as a guest keynote at the Rockwell Automation RSTechEd conference.

By Mark T. Hoske June 21, 2012

Sugar Ray Leonard has advice for software and automation engineers: Determination, vision, preparation, and risk-taking can help engineers, as well as boxers. The Olympic gold medal boxer with six world championships (also husband, father, and businessman) provided life and career advice to approximately 1,500 attendees at the Rockwell Automation RSTechEd 2012 conference. Leonard’s boxing career spanned 40 fights, resulting in 36 wins (25 by knockouts), 3 losses, and 1 draw. His June 12 comments, paraphrased, follow.

I have to take off this jacket. Wherever I go, I always get this look. Guys are staring at me. Sizing me up. They stand a little straighter, puff out a little bit, and think, “He’s not that big. I bet I can take him.” (Laughter)

In my boxing career, I beat the best of the best, using the power of the mind, body, and spirit. Now I share a message about the power of winning. For a while, though, I wasn’t a fighter outside of the ring.

I’m also a husband, father, and businessman, and am here to tell you that dreams can be the window to future. Vision and determination are a roadmap to your dreams. Determination turns us into winners. Sure you need to develop strength, talent, and intelligence. But without determination you cannot be a champion. For me, that determination included a 5-mile run at 4 a.m. Determination gives you that mental edge.

Dig deep

In 1987, I told my father-in-law that I was going to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

“You’re past your prime,” he told me. “You’ve only had one fight in 5 years, and his head is impervious to pain. This man is going to kill you.” I was blown away by his confidence in me.

“They are paying me $10 million,” I said.

“So when does training camp start? Did I mention that you’re my favorite son in law?” (Laughter)

I trained harder than I ever had, working up to 5-minute rounds instead of 1-minute rounds. I pushed my body and mind more than ever. When I finally stepped into the ring, I knew I was going to beat him. Less than 1 hour later, I proved the critics wrong, because of my determination and ring savvy.

(Video clips of the fight showed Hagler waving his fist and Leonard’s dancing feet. The split decision went to Leonard, earning him another championship.)

I had the capacity to put it all together and be focused. Boxers don’t use the word scared. I was…concerned. (Laughter) I knew what I was capable of doing. Also you need to know your strong points and weak points. Dig deep. Do the roadwork. Find out what activates you, what gets you going. Another great sports example of motivation is 56 points scored by one player in a critical playoff game, despite being wiped out by flu—Michael Jordan.

I was behind in my fight with Tommy Hearns, very tall, with extended reach.

(Video showed Hearns landing long punches on Leonard, but in round 11 Leonard caught him with a combo, and in round 14 Leonard won by technical knockout.)

It’s not about the punches, although seeing the video again, that was pretty cool. (Laughter) It’s about the road work that made it happen. For you, it might mean studying longer, putting in more hours, with greater determination. Roadwork separates a champion from others.


Self-esteem is another trait of winning that can be most elusive. It can have a tremendous impact in decision-making. Five days before the fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, I nearly was knocked out by a sparring partner. I knew how to hide it, so the assembled press didn’t see it. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. I knew I had extensive training and extensive prayers.

Always believe in yourself and maintain composure, in your relationships with others, in dealing with teenage children, and when playing golf. I didn’t earn 36 wins against 3 losses by losing my head.

Composure, inspiration

But in June 1980, in Montreal, I lost because I lost composure against Roberto Duran, one of the most intimidating fighters ever. He would stare, push, shove, curse me, and then curse my wife. I allowed him to take me out of my game plan. Once you can control your emotion, you will reap benefits. Maintain composure. At that time, I only had 27 bouts versus 70 for Duran.

(Video showed Duran taunting Leonard, by pointing at his own chin during the fight, inviting Leonard to try to hit it. Duran taunted him repeatedly, even after the last round, before the decision. Duran won, 145 to 144.)

That hurt. Physically, it did hurt. Mentally, it hurt more. It was my first loss. The first time I had to deal with BAD. After that particular fight, I contemplated retirement. I questioned myself. I went on vacation, and I thought a lot about how to respond to the setback. I thought about how many times I worked at a certain level. I had fought the wrong fight against the man they called “Hands of Stone.”

I had to change the way his image affected me. Don’t look into his eyes, the press told me. I knew his eyes could not hurt me. It was his hands that I had to watch, when I fought him again, less than 6 months later.

(Video: Leonard got out of the corners more quickly, and landed blows on Duran, several times, hard. Finally, Leonard wound up dramatically with his right, and hit Duran hard with a quick left. Eventually Duran signaled he had enough. “No mas,” he told the referee. “No more.” Duran quit. Leonard won.)

When I was training, I saw that first loss in my head and knew it could happen again. I trained hard.

The day of the fight, I had extra inspiration. I was named after Ray Charles. You saw in the video, he was there to sing the National Anthem before the fight. I got to meet my namesake. And after Ray Charles finished singing, he came over, hugged me, and offered brief words of inspiration.

Risks and preparation

We cannot be afraid of taking risks. Most of those who have made millions of dollars also have lost millions. The greatest fear is the fear of doing nothing. If we can find a way of overcoming that, then risk becomes a part of success. When the time is right, don’t be afraid to take those risks.

In one of my greatest challenges, I moved up two weight classes to challenge Donny Lalonde of Canada. I was 32 years old and a welterweight. Take a look.

(Video showed a visibly larger Lalonde pressing Leonard hard and finally hitting him hard enough to knock him down. That was not good, because Lalonde was known as a great finisher. Leonard was hurt and did not look his usual nimble self, but still looked for opportunities. He got in several punches to Lalonde’s midsection and head, hurting him, and then went for it with a flurry of well-placed punches, finally knocking Lalonde down. Lalonde got up and Leonard shortly knocked him down again, ending the fight.)

I won that fight because I was in focus, and full of determination. I believed in myself.

Memorable meetings

When I think back on my life, it’s been truly a blessing. I’ve had the chance to travel the world and talk about my life to benefit the lives of others.

I had the pleasure of meeting South African President Nelson Mandela, but was out too late the night before and overslept. I was late for my 9 a.m. meeting, and police knocked my door down, fearing foul play. I had just overslept. I ran around the room, showering quickly, embarrassed, sweating profusely, and arrived with my head and stomach hurting, with apologies. Mr. Mandela was very gracious.

A year later, I received a call that Mr. Mandela wanted to have dinner with me. I was careful to be on time and when I appeared at his door, he announced, “One thing I don’t tolerate is being late.” Turns out, the photographer was late that time, not me, but I was sweating again anyway. (Laughter) He told me that I was his hero, and I said, “On the contrary, you are my hero.”

Also, I got to golf with President Clinton, but I thought someone was teasing me when I received the invitation and hung up on them. I called back, after some prompting, and thought again that someone was teasing. I was just across street from the Riviera, the proposed meeting place, so thought I had better show up anyway. When I saw the Secret Service, I knew it was true, and I got nervous.

My golf game sucks, and I told myself I can’t accidently swear in front of the president. On the head of my large driver, I previously had written an obscene reminder to myself to slow down and think about my swing. I have been known to miss the ball off the tee. (Laughter)

“God,” I said, in silent prayer, “I don’t call on you that often. Please help me not to miss today.” My first shot was pretty good, about 250 yards. I felt even better when the president cursed after his first swing. Turns out, I did pretty good that day. I shot a 41, and the president signed my scorecard.

For victory, give your best. All you have, with your head and with your heart. Make plans to turn your dreams into reality. Whether victory is career, family, a gold medal or world titles, our victories are the same: To gain security, to do well, to have your children love you. I see many fighters looking out among you. Winners. You too can be a champion, if you apply the same principles.

(Video showed many family pictures, including a little girl saying, “I love you, Papa.”)

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer,