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First-Hand:Events that Influenced My Career

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Contributed by Gerard H. (Gus) Gaynor


IEEE gave me an opportunity to give back something to the engineering and management professions that provided me with many opportunities and a very satisfying and successful career. My career was built on a series of experiences where I took on greater responsibilities as I progressed from a neophyte to a professional.

As you read this brief commentary of my life you’ll recognize I didn’t do it alone. It began with my parents and immediate family; the great Depression; a favorite aunt and cousin; some elementary and high school teachers; service in World War II; a couple of summer jobs at the Detroit Edison Co.; a BSEE from the University of Michigan; my first years at Bowser Inc.; an entrepreneurial venture in instrumentation and control systems; my final 25 years at 3M; and last and most importantly the support from my wife Shirley and our children.

In retirement I consulted on the practice in management of technology; was designated a Senior Fulbright Scholar on two occasions; became a lecturer and Adjunct Professor in management of technology; served on several professional and educational boards; published five books and many papers; and have been active in IEEE for over twenty-years.

These experiences gave me a breadth of opportunities to gain different types of competencies, although I didn’t necessarily think so at the time. Having the opportunity to span not only the technical disciplines but also the management disciplines provided me with the necessary background for a successful career. I needed freedom and managed to have it offered wherever I worked.

I brought a business perspective in my work with IEEE. I ask the difficult questions and while not being a perfectionist, I do believe that there’s often a better way. I always ask why we are doing this and what are the benefits to IEEE if we succeed. If we can’t define the benefit, either quantitatively or qualitatively, why proceed. Volunteer time should be dedicated to constructive projects. My major IEEE activities included the Engineering Management Society and its successor the Technology Management Council, and the associated activities with the Technical Activities Board. Other IEEE activities included many years of involvement with various aspects of IEEE publications with nine-years of service on the PSPB.

My personal philosophy which I try to promote in all my IEEE activities involves taking individual initiative, disregarding job descriptions, and breaking down the functional silos that inhibit IEEE’s future. I believe in open communication and generating dissonance to start the creative juices flowing. I’ve always been an innovator based on developing something useful. My ability to raise issues and yet bring groups together has proved useful in my IEEE experiences.

Events that Influenced My Career

IEEE gave me an opportunity to give back something to the engineering and management professions that provided me with many opportunities and a very satisfying and successful career. My career was built on a series of experiences where I took on greater responsibilities as I progressed from a neophyte to a professional.

My roots began in Toledo, Ohio in 1921. I‘m part of that Greatest Generation that went through the Great Depression of the 1930’s; served three-plus years (1942-1945) in the Signal Corps during WW II; returned home safely from the European Theatre; and then received my BSEE from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1950.

My parents had a major influence as both supported higher education and were self-educated in the arts and history. They provided a foundation in ethical behavior which has served me well throughout my career. My mother, the homemaker, spiritual leader in the Gaynor household, an excellent self-taught pianist accompanied by father on the violin, always focused us on doing our best. My father, as all fathers in those days, was responsible for “bringing home the bacon” and somewhat less involved than my mother, but a voracious student of history and politics in all its forms. My wife Shirley, my advisor on those important decisions, influenced my actions toward a satisfying and successful career. Our children, each in their own way, kept us involved in their career opportunities.

Why did I decide on engineering as a career? I knew that I would become an engineer when I was six or seven. I was always mechanically inclined: those alarm clocks must have suffered as I took them apart and then not always put them back together. Popular Mechanics magazine was my bible from a very early age. I was a Tinker Toy and Gilbert Erector Set kid, and model airplane builder. Seldom did I build a model according to plan: I had my own mental model of what form it should be. In late elementary school I took a course in taxidermy where I stuffed squirrels, mounted squirrel and bat skeletons; skinned snakes: collected moss, rocks, and leaves; and drew countless of new automobile concepts. I cranked Ford Model T’s and learned how to fix things very early in life. Two seventh grade teachers, general science and math, gave me the inspiration to develop my own science projects.

An aunt who always engaged me in what I planned to do with my life remained my favorite aunt throughout her lifetime. A cousin who had all types of tuned-frequency receivers and a yard filled with antennas cemented my interest in radio. My visits through the vertically integrated Ford Motor Co. operations expanded my interest beyond the electronic. My fascination with watching the printing presses roll, for those then EXTRAS, further expanded my interests’ in engineering.

At a recent presentation at the IEEE/Boeing Co. Conference I remarked on my excitement as I listened on my crystal set to Charles Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. I felt that same excitement as I witnessed the first public test flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Two high school teachers had a major influence in my future career: a teacher of literature and one of Latin. The literature teacher who insisted on “doing the best you can and no less” without any penalty and the Latin teacher for her focus on developing a sense of discipline in our lives. Both defended me on many occasions against a somewhat unadventurous principal. It was comforting to have two teachers defend my actions to promote a better educational environment. Interest in the Radio Club led me to becoming an apprentice soundman at WJR Detroit.

My three and half years in the Signal Corps in WW II brought me together with many different people whose habits and manners required a certain level of tolerance. I learned that not all people came from the Midwest with a particular work ethic and set of values.

I was privileged to work two summers at one of the Detroit Edison Co. power stations in the instrumentation and control systems department where the manager gave each summer student challenging assignments and urged us on to do more than we thought we could do. He began to teach us that to be a good engineer requires more than being an engineer.

My two-years at the University of Michigan Research Labs as a part-time technician brought me in contact with a new group of challenges. I was given the responsibility for reducing the size of an assembly by a factor of 100 to 1. This was a first attempt at miniaturization with miniature vacuum tubes. Under an excellent project leader I was brought into the total design of the system. This effort expanded and crystallized my thinking of the need to focus on the system: it was not enough to just focus on my limited responsibilities.

The University of Michigan engineering professors taught us how to think as engineers and not technologists. It’s hard to forget a professor who on the first day of class picks up the book he wrote and informs his students; “You see this book, I wrote it, and you need to doubt every word that’s in it.” Or the one who after giving us a problem scolded: “Why are you guys working so hard? You can solve this problem in your head. You don’t need a slide rule.” Simple lessons learned.

Life after graduation was filled with experiences never dreamed of with responsibilities that made me ask myself “why did I get into this?” But then I got into the next one.

After graduation I joined Bowser Inc. Mr. Bowser invented the gravity gasoline pump. However he was no longer involved. Bowser Inc. became a small conglomerate, headquartered in Chicago that involved about fifteen companies most in liquid processing; fare collection, coin sorting, counting, and packaging equipment; and card sorting devices. Bowser had a policy that its young engineers participate in trade shows where they can meet customers face-to-face. What an experience for a young engineer. My first major project involved development of the electromagnetic flowmeter and realized the benefit of the fluid dynamics course all EE’s were required to take. Eventually I became involved in process controls, mechanical proportioning systems, flow meters of various types, water strippers from jet fuels, and non-attended gasoline pumps. These experiences involved measurement, instrumentation, and control systems.

During this period I presented my first paper to the AIP on electromagnetic flow meters and a paper on precision mechanical flow proportioning system at Purdue University. Within a short time I was asked to set up an electronics department. The nature of the work required more than knowledge of the electrical and electronics disciplines. I was appointed Chief Engineer of the Electronics Engineering Department and became involved in all types of work from the model shop, through production, and even marketing. Nine years of experience and I learned what it takes to bring an idea to the marketplace successfully. It’s more than technology.

In 1959 I tried my hand as an entrepreneur. For approximately three years we developed instrumentation and process control systems on a contract basis for the Ford Motor Co., Hotpoint, Air Force, NASA, and several small organizations in the Chicago area. This experience taught me what it means to meet a payroll; bring people together to focus on a problem; what it means to solve problems under pressure of a time schedule; and what it takes to manage when you are the one and only one responsible for the outcome. As a group we learned if you’re on a roll, keep going.

I joined 3M Co. in 1962 and progressed through a series of positions from instrumentation specialist to several manager and director level positions that culminated with assignment as Director of Engineering 3M Europe where I was responsible for the activities of roughly 3,000 technical people and retired as Director of Worldwide Engineering for the Graphic Technologies Sector which was approximately one fourth of 3M’s revenue.

These positions included managing the activities of technical groups that involved engineering and process development, plant engineering: developing technology strategic directions related to new product innovation; auditing innovation and product and technology programs in R&D and their management; proposing and obtaining approval for product related investments; integrating technology requirements for a multiplicity of product lines for 3M divisions; making the proposal and taking a leadership role in the turnaround of a major subsidiary; and meeting the technology expectations from a business operational perspective. During seven years of residence in Belgium and Italy I served as an active member of the Executive Committee of 3M Europe and the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of 3M Italy.

Throughout my 25-year career at 3M I was afforded the freedom to go far beyond my job description in initiating cross-disciplinary activities. Did I take some risks? Yes. Did I stick my neck out? Yes. Did I have some failures? Yes. Did I have some successes? Yes, major ones. Did I enjoy my career? Absolutely! My career at 3M provided many opportunities: I accepted failure as part of the discovery process and 3M accepted “well-intentioned failure” as its charter for innovation.

After retiring from 3M in 1987 I organized G. H. Gaynor and Associates concentrating in managing technology and innovation from a business perspective. My clients included organizations like Medtronic, Deluxe Check, 3M, Yamaha, United Nations, Automation Association, and others.

I was designated a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Management of Technology on two occasions: 1990 in Sofia, Bulgaria and in 1993 Varna, Bulgaria. I taught courses to graduate students on innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology management and their implications on organizational performance.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Development of Technological Leadership offered me the opportunity to teach courses on innovation and up-front project management in their graduate Management of Technology program. Later, St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota appointed me as an Adjunct Professor in their graduate program on Management of Technology where I taught for three years.

Much of my post-retirement activity involves volunteer work with IEEE, the Academy of Management, Michigan Technological University, Fulbright Association of Minnesota, and other groups. I served a two-year term on the first board of the Technology and Innovation Management Division of the Academy of Management. In my associations with these groups I served on the editorial board of the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 1990-1995; Managing Technology Today, 1989 - 1995; The Academy of Management Executive, 1996 to 1999.

I became active in IEEE after becoming a member of the program committee of the Electro Conference and Exposition (New York and Boston) even though I lived in Minneapolis. A consultant, whom I hired, was chair of the Technical Program Committee, asked me to participate which I did. He was Vice President Publications for the IEEE Engineering Management Society (EMS). Later he asked me to become Chair of the EMS Strategic Planning Committee. When I was elected to the EMS Board I chaired a committee to review the Engineering Management Review that had its problem at the time. I then found a new EiC who built the publication over several years and then found a replacement who continues to more than meet all requirements. My EMS activities included Chair, Professional Development Committee; Engineering Management Society President, Executive Vice President; Vice President Publications; Newsletter Editor; Chair of the Transition Committee for transitioning Engineering Management Society to the IEEE Technology Management Council; President of the Technology Management Council; and others.

My involvement with IEEE galactic came about after I attended a USAB meeting in Minneapolis. The result of this chance meeting, where I voiced my concerns about how little IEEE was doing in professional development for its members, resulted in being asked to take on the development of a new IEEE magazine on professional development that would become Today’s Engineer. I became the Founding Editor and EiC of Today’s Engineer; it was published as a 48 page color magazine that won all types of accolades for editorial content and presentation, managed to develop 5,000 paid subscribers, but was discontinued after three years of publication. Today’s Engineer now comes to IEEE members electronically and in a newsletter format. I began to learn the complexities of working within IEEE.

Over the last twenty-years I have served on many IEEE Committees that included, Publications Services Products Board (PSPB); PSPB Strategic Planning Committee; Technical Activities Board (TAB); IEEE New Initiatives Committee; Tellers Committee; Career Services Committee Chair; TAB Finance Committee; TAB Society Review Committee; TAB Strategic Planning Committee; TAB/PSPB Products Services Committee (PSC); PSC Conference Publications Committee Chair; IEEE-USA Business Development Committee Chair; IEEE-USA E-book Committee Chair; IEEE-USA Communications Committee.

Over the years I presented or published about 40 papers at management of innovation and technology conferences, gave many keynotes, and authored five books related to technology management with some translated in Chinese, Korean, and Spanish.

I brought a joint business management and academic perspective to IEEE. My service on many 3M/University committees and subsequent teaching opportunities at the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas University, my two Fulbright appointments, and representing 3M to several academic advisory boards gave me an intimate working knowledge of the academic community.

I was a person who could not do repetitive design work or remain in one area over a lifetime. There was too much exciting new technology out there to limit myself to a narrow field. As I became involved in technical management, I needed to look beyond the technical because bringing a new technology to the marketplace required more than technology: it required integration with many other organizational functions and disciplines.

Over the years I did have the opportunity to develop multi-disciplinary competencies both as related to engineering and management. But those experiences were provided because I had the courage to take on projects that others declined. There is no doubt that at times I took on more than I was capable of accomplishing on projects that garnered my curiosity but if I got into trouble I put in whatever effort was required to solve the problem. Often, it involved working around the clock for days.

My career allowed me to consider the pieces as well as the whole: I had the opportunity to see both the forest and the trees. I was also privileged to share a vocation and an avocation: that makes a great combination but may not be available to everyone. But, then it’s necessary to recognize the opportunities that further a career. A career path is a very personal issue and involves the whole person and of course some level of “luck.” What was good for me may not be good for others. I can only tell the story as “how I did it.”