Stamp, who grew up in Piedmont, Mo., Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Mo., knew part of the answer to that question. Entering college he was interested in political science and economics, and he chose to pursue those areas of study at Southeast. But he wanted to go into business. The question was which route would he take?
"About halfway through my junior year I determined ... I wanted more education, I wanted to go to grad school. So I looked at MBA programs and I looked at law programs. I went into the pre-law club, that at that time at SEMO was supervised by Dr. Scully. And we had an excellent program. We had meetings in his office in Academic Hall and it just felt right. So I went and took the law school admissions test and the feedback I got from my results there was that I was probably going to do well as a lawyer."
The results were so positive that the University of Missouri Law School accepted Stamp after his junior year and said they would help him finish his undergraduate degree as he worked his way through law school.
This opportunity, though an exceptional one, brought up another question: Should he forgo his final year on the Southeast campus to start law school?
Charles needed advice, so he sought out prominent Cape Girardeau lawyer Rush Limbaugh Jr.
"I grew up next to the Limbaughs on Sunset Boulevard ... I went to see him [Limbaugh] and he said to me, ‘Well, you know, you could go on and do that. My recommendation is that you stay here for another year and get a little bit more mustard on your face.' And that's what I did."
After graduating from Southeast in 1971, Stamp headed to law school at the University of Missouri. But his intentions going in were probably unlike those of many of his classmates.
"When I went to law school, I wasn't going to practice law one day. I was going into business."
To prepare himself for the kind of career he hoped to have, Stamp focused on a business-related curriculum. But as it turned out, he not only had an interest in business but was a pretty good lawyer as well.
"I won the moot court award in my class, and I got offered an opportunity to go back to Sikeston [where he graduated high school] and practice law. And I thought, ‘Well, OK. I'll go see how it goes.'
"It turned out to be just a fabulous experience, because without the ability -- even though we had a small country practice there [in Sikeston] -- without taking the time to at least minimally understand the practice to go with the education, it would have been much less of a foundation to build upon going forward."
In addition to his law practice, Stamp also served part-time as the city's attorney and was president of the Sikeston Jaycees.
After seven years of practicing law in Sikeston, Charles was approached by a client about an opportunity in the business world. At 32 years old, Stamp was hired as president of a small manufacturing company called Meyer Agri-Products in Morton, Ill. The company later was purchased by Butler Manufacturing Co., where Charles then served as vice president of the agri-products division.
With technology changing in the 1980s, Charles started a new challenge.
"In the '80s, after we sold the business, I got involved with a half dozen very smart people, and we started an organization essentially from scratch and built a very successful company called InterAg Technologies, which Deere acquired in March of 1999. So we had quite a successful run in electronics manufacturing and computer software. And the business today is ... growing, growing, growing."
Asked where he developed his entrepreneurial ambition, Stamp pointed back to his early years and the influence of his father and grandfather.
"I wanted to go into business my whole life. My father actually sold Caterpillar tractors for a living. When he went to Sikeston he managed the Fabick dealership in Sikeston, and that's the environment I grew up in. I started working in the parts department when I was a young lad. I thought that's all I would do, interestingly enough, was sell yellow tractors. And then ultimately later on [I] ended up at John Deere.
"[I was] certainly highly motivated by the entrepreneurial and business focus of my father and his father. [They] were the greatest influences in my life, relative to the professional side of things."
After InterAg Technologies was purchased by Deere & Company in 1999, Charles was asked as part of the acquisition to stay for three years and help with the transition. In 2002, the CEO of the company at the time asked Stamp to stay with Deere and run the public affairs operation in Washington, D.C. Charles today continues his work at Deere as vice president of public affairs worldwide, and he can see how his educational background and entrepreneurial experience helped prepare him for the challenges he faces today.
"It's really amazing in a way how it's [come] full circle. It's back to political science and economics and the law. I have really enjoyed this position.
"We have economics and public policy as it intersects with business strategy, and we do it globally. Deere, of course, is 60,000 people strong now. We're doing business in well over 100 countries around the world and manufacturing in maybe 25 to 30 companies roughly around the world."
After graduating from high school -- though he had other opportunities -- Stamp decided to attend Southeast Missouri State University. He said about his decision, "It just felt like the right thing to do.
"In some respect it was like going home. In other respects, I thought that it was just a nice opportunity to be in an environment where I could continue to mature as a young person. I thought the learning environment was excellent, and as things worked out it was."
Last weekend Charles was recognized with the Southeast Alumni Merit Award. Now living in Atlanta and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife Cindy, Charles said his involvement with the university over the years has been limited due to living at a distance -- though he hopes to get involved with the agribusiness program going forward. However, he said many of the relationships formed at Southeast -- in particular with his fellow Sigma Chi fraternity brothers -- have remained strong since graduation.
"The group of us that were initiated into the fraternity in the fall of '68 are still to this day -- every last one of us -- quite close and get together a lot."
Stamp said many of these friends were in Cape Girardeau to see him receive the university award.
After joining Deere & Company -- though he said he was "falling in love with the company" -- Stamp, who was in his early 50s, asked himself if there was anything else he really wanted to do. The answer: teach.
Referring to a comment in businessman Lee Iacocca's book, Stamp said, "In a purely rational world the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less."
Stamp had taught adult education and taxation while in law school and described the opportunity as "one of the great experiences of my life."
Having lunch with a psychologist friend in Atlanta, he told him about his desire to teach. His friend said, "Tell me, how many employees are there at John Deere." At the time, according to Stamp, there were about 40,000 employees in the company. His friend responded, "Captive classroom."
Charles took that comment to heart, and today, as part of Deere & Company's formal mentoring program, he speaks with the next generation of leaders -- regardless of their field of study.
"I had a young woman who called me a month or so ago and she was involved in our environmental area. She had a background completely different than mine. And she called me and said, ‘I'd like to talk to you about being my mentor.'"
Charles found out that she had filled out a mentoring form through the company online. He had filled one out as well and said he would be willing to mentor others. When the woman called, she said she picked him because their forms, according to the program, were a 100 percent match.
"It gives you an opportunity to get advice and counsel from someone other than your boss. It's been a wonderful program."
His advice to others: stay curious.
"It's understanding what it is that you don't know or what you really don't understand, and continuing everyday to learn something new. Study. Read. My father used to tell me whenever you have the opportunity to get around someone smarter than you are, drop whatever you are doing and go sit by his or her side. Keep expanding your mind.
"And the other side of that then is [to] mentor, teach, pass on what you learn. Help younger people. My favorite job at Deere is mentoring young employees. I love that kind of stuff."
Golf is something Charles has does for fun his entire life. However, today he says work is also fun.
"I work hard, and I have fun at work. I love what I do. I love people. And to have ended up by some sort of miracle acquisition of our smaller company of 1,000 people, at the time in 1999, in this great company, John Deere, it's been quite a journey."
Lucas Presson is the editorial page coordinator for the Southeast Missourian.