The Big Picture

An icon in the aviation industry, James Raisbeck has seen it all

A Purdue alumnus and founder of Raisbeck Engineering, James Raisbeck (BSAA ’61) has played a significant role, over the past 50 years, in evolutionizing the aviation industry. Under his leadership, the company has continually worked to design, develop, and produce advanced and innovative aviation technology. The company’s products are standard equipment on business and airline aircraft worldwide. He attributes his success to a curious spirit, a dedicated work ethic, and an ability to see the “big picture.” Raisbeck shares some of his insights with Impact.

Q: You’ve been in the aviation industry for nearly half a century.  How has the business of aviation changed over that time?

A: The first is the introduction of computer-aided technology. Engineers no longer need to understand foundational information, such as Newton’s Law. They can rely on computers to do that work and spit out a configuration. I believe this has great potentially negative ramifications for engineers in terms of what they study and how they apply their knowledge.

The second thing in my opinion is the character of engineers as a whole. I am concerned that with the great potential for financial gain in other recent disciplines such as financial investment management, the lure of wealth may play a role in why students may not pursue engineering as a career. I believe to be truly successful in the engineering field and to make a significant impact you have to live and breathe all relevant elements of engineering, and not just be in it for the money. In short, you must have a true passion for making a technical contribution in your chosen field. Then, money will come.

Q:  As someone who has helped set standards within the aviation industry, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry today?

A:  Finding those individuals who truly think and care about engineering is the biggest challenge going into this next century. I can’t stress enough how important it is for the industry to train and hire those individuals who think about problems not just in the office or in the lab, but who take them home and think about them, talk about them, dream about them. Those are the engineers who will be leading the next wave of evolution in the aviation industry.

Q:  From an entrepreneur’s standpoint, do you see the aviation industry heading in a positive direction?

A:  A professor of mine at Purdue once told me that there are no easy problems left to solve. There are only hard ones ahead. I think the industry will be heading in the right direction as long as graduates are equipped with a broad spectrum of knowledge, exposure and most importantly, interest in engineering to take on tomorrow’s challenges. To keep moving in the right direction, engineers need to learn to view “the big picture” of those challenges.

Q:  What have been the key motivating factors for you as an entrepreneur?

A:  When I was growing up, because of the way my birthday fell, I was always smaller than the other kids, always younger than my classmates. As a result, I needed to try that much harder to keep up. It feels like I have been running ever since. A quest for large financial gain was never a motivator for me. I have always been driven more by a desire to have my opinions and my contributions respected.

Q:  What has been the single most rewarding aspect of your entrepreneurial endeavors?

A:  Being recognized for my accomplishments and respected for my contributions is very rewarding. Being successful has also given me the opportunity to help others and that is by far the most rewarding thing about my career. The ability for my wife, Sherry, and I to support cancer research and the arts, as well as institutions like Purdue, is gratifying. It is our goal to give our wealth away and to help others at the same time.