Tony R. Brown
For his record of outstanding achievement in engineering and management in the medical products industry, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Tony R. Brown.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Webster Laboratories Inc.
BSME '62, MSME '64, PhD '68
On college and hard work
I had to work very hard in college. My high school didn't have a lot in the way of chemistry and physics, and I was always struggling to keep up with better-prepared kids. I was also paying my own way through school, so to make money I worked at a filling station, cleaned apartments, and prepared drawings to go into theses. Later, during graduate school, I worked in industry, at Midwest Applied Science Corporation.
There was also the struggle to learn all you could while you were here. I got married my junior year, and we had one child while I was going through college. My wife, Sherry, worked full-time on a PHT degree—" putting husband through"—while I studied and went to class. I did find time to be in Pi Tau Sigma and the Purdue military honor guard, and I was a cadet colonel in Army ROTC.
When I first started out in mechanical engineering, I had difficulty with one particular homework problem. I didn't know how to go about solving it, so I turned my paper in without any solution to the problem. My professor, J. B. Jones, told me, "You've at least got to give it the good old college try." That experience taught me to go get some help when I needed it—to do something rather than just give up.
On his Purdue education
My education has served me extremely well, although I've used very little of my textbook learning. In industry you don't solve the textbook problems that you get in school. What Purdue left me with was the ability to deal with complex issues: cause and effect, how things interrelate, how to think from a problem-solution point of view. I have been able to apply that basic education to management fairly effectively, I think. The part I had to fill in was the people issues—communications. If I had to do it over, a little more emphasis on the humanities would have been helpful. A basic course in management would have been extremely valuable.
On pursuing a management career
My goal as a student was to graduate-and then to become a chief engineer making $20,000 a year. But as I worked in industry, I realized I wanted to be in management. At Midwest Applied Science Corporation I started out as a project engineer; then I became assistant manager and chief engineer, and later general manager. I enjoyed the chance to put my engineering talents to work and also to get into management, to work with other people to accomplish more than you can accomplish on your own.
|My educational background trained me for work that's detailed, technically oriented, and factually based. Management is more intuitive, though, so a major challenge for me has been to come out of my engineering shell to learn how to read people. You know, it's estimated that more than 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal. I've become more observant as a manager, trying to understand what people are trying to communicate and what they aren't.||
On challenges facing industry
How to improve productivity—to get everyone to achieve more results per effort—is our greatest challenge. Our productivity has been going down nationwide. Recognizing the importance of quality is another challenge. We're turning the corner as a country in that area, but we have to remember to be very customer-focused. We should always serve the customer and provide the right product in a timely manner.
On goals and leadership
I would have been astonished as a student to think that my career would turn out the way it has. I'm a farm boy—the oldest son of farmer parents; Mearl & LaVerne Brown of Gosport Indiana. My parents suggested that I try to go to college if I didn't want to have to work the way they did. I've always set goals, but never anything too far ahead of what I thought I could reach. Then, when I'd reach that goal, I'd set another one.
Setting goals and working hard don't do it for you alone, though. You also have to learn the skills of leadership. Someone's got to set the direction. Seeing a vision and being able to articulate that vision in terms that people can understand are keys to being an effective leader. You have to make the members of your team a part of the vision—it can't be your vision only.
- Devoting full time effort to civic activities (primarily churches), trying to help others and maintenance on our home (handyman).
- CEO TRB Ventures LLP. In 2001 retired from business and started part tome assessment of and investments in new technologies principally atrial fibrillation and fat removal from body organs. Also started a full time effort in civic activities.
- Founding President and CEO of Hearten Medical Inc. A startup company pursing technology invented by a MD and sponsored by Menlo Ventures in the use of heat to reduce the size of an enlarged infracted heart and repair other tissue disorders.
- President and CEO of Webster Laboratories, a private electrophysiology products company. Led Webster during the time it was being acquired by Cordis Corporation and later when Cordis was being acquired by Johnson and Johnson Corp.
- Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award, Purdue.
- Chief Operating Officer of Bio-Rad Laboratories, an international public held company providing over 4000 products and services in clinical diagnostics, life sciences and analytical instruments to healthcare, research, and process control industries.
- Board of directors, Los Angeles City Missionary Society.
- Initially President of Edwards Cardiovascular Surgery Division of American Hospital Supply Corporation (acquired by Baxter Healthcare). This Division’s products were primarily heart valves. Later assumed responsibility for Edwards Orthopedics (minimally invasive orthopedic products) and Novacor (heart assist device) divisions. Later became President of Bentley Laboratories (bypass surgery disposable products) with oversight responsibility for Edwards Cardiovascular Surgery Division, Edwards Orthopedics and Novacor. Later worked for a year at the Medical Specialties Group offices.
- Vice President Business Planning and Development of the Medical Sector division of American Hospital Supply Corp. Evaluated, integrated and made recommendations regarding the strategic and operating plans of nine Divisions.
- International president, Society for the Advancement of Management.
Vice President of Research and Development of American Pharmaseal Company a division of American Hospital Supply Corporation. In 1978 was promoted to Vice President of Research and Business Development. In 1981 was elected to the Pharmaseal Hall of Fame. Evolved a research and development effort into a new market assessment, product development and pilot production of disposable devices for operating room, anesthesia, nursing and general health care segments of the health care industry.
- Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering and General Manager of Midwest Applied Science Corp. a private company located in the Purdue Industrial Research Park. Primary efforts were development of new and improved products from idea through working prototype stage. Worked while obtaining MS and PhD Degrees at Purdue University.
- Captain in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
BSME '62, MSME '64, PhD '68, Purdue.