Greg Fraser

Greg Fraser

 

Robert Wayman

Robert Wayman

Advice from two alumni
Think broadly

A McCormick education promotes creativity and versatility, preparing students to excel in a top job in engineering or in a number of other fields and disciplines. Two McCormick alumni, Gregory Fraser '77, MS '78 and Robert Wayman '67, Kellogg '69, have achieved success in high-level corporate management positions in the technology sector.

Fraser cofounded Faro Technologies in Lake Mary, Florida, where he was CFO from 1997 to 2005 and currently serves as executive vice president, secretary, and director.

Wayman has been CFO at Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto, California, since 1984 and is also executive vice president. He has forged strong ties with McCormick, where he is a member of the McCormick Resource Development Board and the Murphy Society, a recipient of an Alumni Merit Award, and the donor of an endowed fund.

Both alumni laud McCormick for encouraging them to think beyond algorithms and flex their creative muscles.

Strength in diversity of skills

Greg Fraser and McCormick were a great match from the beginning. Mulling the range of engineering schools in the early 1970s, Fraser knew he didn't want to be "just another" engineer. He chose McCormick because it was one of the few schools at the time offering courses in biomedical engineering.

Helping Fraser keep his interests in perspective was his adviser, Professor Jack Lewis, who split his time teaching civil engineering and serving as project director for orthopedic implant research at Northwestern's Rehabilitation Engineering Research Program. Lewis urged him not to narrow his choice of courses to a single field.

"Following some great advice from my adviser, I did all the work in biomedical that I wanted but graduated with a 'traditional' mechanical engineering degree," Fraser says. He further diversified his expertise by earning his master's degree in civil and environmental engineering at McCormick in 1978. And he remained an avid learner, even earning a PhD in mechanical engineering in 1982, the year he also cofounded Faro Technologies.

Creating a new company and helping it achieve success put Fraser's diverse skills to the test. His biomedical engineering education served Faro's initial purpose, which was developing new products for orthopedic diagnosis and computer-aided surgery. But lining up "angel" investors to fund Faro's start-up and organizing the company's first sales force and marketing department required entrepreneurial ability, he says. Fraser also helped to coordinate financing with a venture capital company before the company's initial public offering. And when Faro decided to move away from medical markets and develop computerized measurement devices for use in automotive, aerospace, and other industries, that shift "involved a retooling and international expansion that required even more diverse skills," Fraser says.

The change that Fraser says may be "the most dramatic departure from my engineering education" came in 1997, just before Faro went public, when he became the company's chief financial officer.

But regardless of how Faro and Fraser have changed over the years, the company stays on top of its game, an example of the McCormick ideal of robust entrepreneurial spirit. "We are a pioneer and leader in our market," Fraser says. "One of the reasons we stay in the lead is that we 'obsolete' our products by issuing new generations every four to five years."

His education at McCormick has aided him immeasurably when it comes to problem solving, making decisions, and "thinking through" business processes, he says. And that helps Faro keep ahead of the curve in such a competitive and unpredictable industry as computer-based inspection technology.

"The process-based thinking that I learned at McCormick translates into a disciplined implementation of company controls and processes that is seen by most nonengineering entrepreneurs as a necessary evil," Fraser says. "The fact that my cofounder was also an engineer means that Faro has had a very good decision-making and process-control environment."

Fraser will bring considerable knowledge and experience into the next chapter of his life. He will transition out of Faro in 2007 and into a second career, which he says will include business-growth consulting, charitable "give-back," and perhaps some teaching maybe even at his alma mater.

Comfort zone: Do not enter

Robert Wayman's words of advice to graduating McCormick students at Convocation on June 17 were more personal than the audience realized.

"Be versatile," Wayman told them. "The worst thing you can do as an engineer is to atomize yourself, to lock yourself in your own silo. The best engineers are the ones who can see the big picture, who have the broadest range of experiences to bring to any conversation." Then he offered examples for broadening one's outlook: "When you leave here, hang around an art school. If you don't know how, learn how to write software. Practice speaking in public. Live constantly outside your comfort zone. You won't regret you did."

Little did they know that speaker Wayman, a self-described "numbers guy [who] liked working in the backroom and coming up with the answer," used to be afraid of public speaking. But early on in his career at Hewlett-Packard, Wayman realized that speaking was going to be part of his life. So he embraced it, consciously seeking out speaking engagements, getting practice by talking in front of small groups, and eventually finding the confidence to stand at podiums before thousands of people.

A willingness to challenge yourself, versatility, and the ability to learn from new experiences are at the heart of what it means to be an engineer. A McCormick education means preparing yourself to ride the rapids of change. Not long after joining Hewlett-Packard in 1969, Wayman saw with the creation of the handheld calculator how swiftly the landscape could change by the introduction of "things no one had envisioned yet." The handheld calculator went from an idea to an instrument in a matter of months, skyrocketing in popularity and soon accounting for 40 percent of the company's revenues.

McCormick stressed the importance of being versatile, an ability that has served Wayman well in his HP career. Given how rapidly things change, "you never know what skills are going to be called for," Wayman says. So, he adds, you have to be able to creatively apply your knowledge, especially in the global economy. "There are clearly lower-cost sources of engineering than U.S. engineers, particularly ones who graduated from McCormick, so you need an edge. That edge is partially described by creativity and entrepreneurial forces and values."

Clear, disciplined thinking is another important skill taught at McCormick. "I absolutely believe that engineering is an excellent background for business problem solving," Wayman says. "I attribute a lot of the confidence that I gained in problem solving to the core of understanding I got in engineering school."

Among the ways he has given back to McCormick is creating the Robert and Susan Wayman Endowed Fund in 1998. It has helped provide state-of-the-art technology to the industrial engineering and management sciences department. But as important as technology is, Wayman knows it's just part of a larger picture. "Turning knowledge into a better life for people is what engineering is all about," he says.

Jack Bess