Tebbe family gives back to advance Purdue Engineering's leadership, inspires further giving

Alumnus Stan Tebbe’s latest major gifts to Purdue Engineering — supporting the first endowed 150th Anniversary Professorship and the recent Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories expansion — bear his family’s name, but the philanthropy is not about him.
Purdue Pete supports Stan Tebbe, surrounded by his family
Purdue Pete supports Stan Tebbe, surrounded by his family.

“It is not a priority to have my name on a professorship or a building,” says Tebbe (BSME ’67, MSIA ’68). “My father taught me if you have the ability to do something, it is your job, and do not ask to be thanked for it.”

Tebbe explains: “My contributions to Purdue are all about people, and my motivation dates to my experience growing up on a farm in Greensburg, Indiana. I want to be an example, and I hope to inspire other alums to follow to invest in people, think big and give back to make the world a little better.”

A retired ExxonMobil senior executive and 40-year Purdue donor, Tebbe most recently became the first donor to endow a Purdue 150th Anniversary Professorship. Charles Krousgrill was named the Tebbe Family 150th Anniversary Professor in Mechanical Engineering in February 2019.

“Stan Tebbe and his family have long been generous supporters to Purdue Engineering, including the recent renovation at Zucrow Labs,” says Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “This time, they provided the first support to endow a 150th Professorship that highlights the importance of teaching. We are grateful for these transformative gifts to our students and faculty.”

Before the latest contribution, Tebbe provided the lead gift that resulted in $1 million in contributions and secured commitments toward the 2017 expansion of Zucrow Labs, the world’s largest academic propulsion research facility. The centerpiece of the addition is the Tebbe TDI Laser Lab, a 2,000-square-foot, climate-controlled laser diagnostics facility within the new High-Pressure Combustion Laboratory.

The Tebbe lab is pushing boundaries in collecting and analyzing large amounts of data in short time frames to advance gas-turbine combustion research, chiefly for jet engines. Connected directly to five new test cells, the lab includes control, instrumentation and mechanical rooms, as well as a fabrication shop. The facility expansion was needed to retain and attract leadership people, faculty and students. Results have exceeded expectations.

Tebbe leverages donations by using matching grants, from sources such as ExxonMobil, and encourages all donors to do the same.

Stan Tebbe stands with grandchildren.
Stan Tebbe stands with grandchildren (clockwise) Kate, Joseph, Jack and Andrew at the Zucrow lab named after the family.

Three guiding words

“TDI” in the new Zucrow lab’s name stands for “Teamwork, Discovery and Innovation – the three words that have guided me throughout my career and hold the key for the next generation of engineers,” Tebbe says.

“Purdue today exemplifies all the elements of TDI, and I see those strengths carrying the university forward. Who could guess it possible to freeze tuition for eight years while increasing numbers of engineers at the same or higher quality? Purdue is doing it. Purdue is also increasing the availability of continuing education via Purdue Global.”

Tebbe sees the university overall and Purdue Engineering enriching penchants for nurturing teamwork across disciplines and fostering innovation through entrepreneurship to put discoveries to use. He praises Dean Chiang as a valuable asset and catalyst who leads by example.

In addition, Tebbe says: “Professor Krousgrill is world-class in education, mentoring and motivation of students. He lives the TDI concepts in how he advances education, and we all benefit. He stresses the power of global diversity in teamwork. Students refer to the impact he has had on their lives, as well as the technical skills they learned from him. The Tebbe family sees supporting him and the named position as the best way to pay it forward consistent with family values.”

Reflecting on his own practical and academic education

In terms of his own family influences, Tebbe grew up surrounded by inventiveness, both informal and formal. His dad left high school to help care for his nine siblings after his own father died fighting a grass fire on the family farm. Self-taught and resourceful, Tebbe’s dad became an accomplished farmer, storeowner and insurance agent. Two uncles were what Tebbe calls “non-engineer engineers” – one designing and making farm innovations before they were commercially available.

Early on, Tebbe dismantled the family’s toaster to see what was inside. After his mother warned him to wait next time until something broke to take it apart, the future engineer reassembled the toaster. A few years later, he rebuilt the disabled engine from the family’s garden tractor and used it to construct an early two-wheel-drive go-cart.

A high school math teacher, a friend’s father, and scholarships ultimately steered Tebbe to Purdue, where two cousins already were first-generation college pathfinders. Tebbe says Purdue was his obvious choice for quality and cost.

The summer before he started college, Tebbe scored one of his first team leadership victories while working as a jack-of-all-trades at an independent grocery store. After the bosses took off for a two-week vacation and put him in charge, he solicited ideas from the staff and launched a clever, bargain-filled advertising campaign that helped the business outsell all competitors. The owner offered to buy him another store to run, but Tebbe was headed for Purdue.

“One of my most influential Purdue experiences,” Tebbe says, “was taking an engineering ethics class, in which the professor instructed us to never put ourselves in a position where an individual, a company or a government could force us to do anything unethical. The professor recommended creating a reserve fund for making the right decision without hesitation or worry as to where one or one’s family would eat in three weeks.”

Tebbe points out that such a fund also can allow professionals to take entrepreneurial risks, and to see failure as a way to learn from mistakes. The ethics professor had impact way beyond his subject matter.

Later, after graduating from the then - Krannert School of Industrial Administration, Tebbe became a groundbreaking team leader at ExxonMobil, where he was one of the youngest executives and served in roles including vice president of the Paramins Additives business and regional director of ExxonMobil Chemical Asia Pacific.

Among his many successes with ExxonMobil, in a European manufacturing position, Tebbe pooled a multinational team’s diverse approaches to pull off a challenging mission: converting a non-ExxonMobil plant in the Netherlands to a successful plant, replacing two former suppliers in a record two years.

Another time, in an experience whose lesson he took to heart and applied later on, he saw the power of cultural insight used to engineer a mutually beneficial deal that combined a local venture with a joint venture in Asia. This became a win-win that had been headed to lose-lose, and it remains one of the most successful joint ventures in China.

The Tebbe family tours the Tebbe TDI Laser Lab.
The Tebbe family tours the Tebbe TDI Laser Lab.

Purdue honors

In addition to providing significant financial support, Tebbe has served on Purdue Engineering and Krannert advisory committees. Purdue has recognized him with numerous honors, including the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award in 1983, the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award in 1991 and the Krannert Distinguished Alumni Award in 1994.

The relationship with Purdue is mutual. “I’m proud to be helping Purdue sustain and enhance its world-class educational and research leadership, particularly to benefit first-generation college students,” Tebbe says. “Purdue keeps educating people and making discoveries. We all win!”

Tebbe family values are in good hands

Tebbe, who lives on a ranch outside of San Antonio, is proudest of his family. “All the adults are leaders in their professions, as well as in their local nonprofit community organizations,” he says. “My four grandchildren supplement school with sports, travel, and being the highlights of our family. Family values are being lived and passed on to future generations.”

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