Jack A. Shaw

For his outstanding contributions to engineering and management in the field of satellite communications and digital wireless systems, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Jack A. Shaw.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Hughes Network Systems Inc.
BSEE '62

Shaw bust

On Purdue

I was the first one in my family to go to college. My dad and mom said I had to go, but they didn't say what I had to take. During the summers I worked for the Auburn [Indiana] Power and Light Company, and the head of that organization recommended that I go into electrical engineering. So studying electrical engineering was certainly no more complicated than that-somebody I respected said that it was a coming technology and that a decision to get a degree in it would be good for my future.

Auburn was a town of about 7,000, and my graduating class had about 85 students, so when I came to Purdue and got into chemistry and calculus and physics, I wasn't well prepared to go up against folks from cities like Indianapolis and Gary. I especially remember one fellow from Gary who used to beat me badly in every course. I was just not well prepared academically-but I worked harder and longer than most students.


My father never let me give up, even though there were times I wanted to. He kept being a cheerleader, which was very important to me. I believe I took more undergraduate chemistry than anyone else at Purdue-because I had to take Chem 100 so many times! Finally, the last time I took the course, an elderly professor said he'd give me a D for my persistence. Once I got out of basic physics and chemistry and got into engineering courses, I did just fine. But it took me five years to finish, which was not the norm back then.

Young Shaw at the computer

One of the things I will always hold very dear is that I belonged to a fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. I was the president in 1962. I still value those relationships I made outside the classroom. Every now and then those people and I talk to each other, and it's pretty wonderful because you went through so many hard times and fun times together. Purdue became a home to me, because I was there for so long. People there all seemed down to earth, and I enjoyed meeting people from all the states of the Union, because where I came from I didn't have that opportunity.

On career and family

As a student I had a vision for my future, but it turned out to be wrong! I was intrigued by aircraft, so most of the jobs I interviewed for were in the field of avionics. I began my career at Hughes Aircraft Company, and my first assignment was at a strategic air command base. Then I had the opportunity to pursue satellite communications with Hughes, on the commercial side. So a year later I changed direction, going into communications, but more than just communications-commercial communications. That proved to be the very best decision I could have made, though of course I didn't know it at the time.

I have been more fortunate than I have any right to be. Nowadays people seem to have trouble keeping together with the person they married, but my wife, Sue, and I have been married for more than 30 years. She also graduated from Purdue [HE '62]. We have one son, Mark, who is in law school, and we're really proud of him. So on the family side, it's all aces! As for the business side, I've had more luck than good sense. I happen to be in an industry that doesn't appear to have any growth hurdles at all. Telecommunications is the place to be. And even within telecommunications, the largest growth area is digital. And within digital, it's wireless. We're into all of that, and growing at 40 to 50 percent a year. From a career standpoint, the sky is the limit.

On roots and values

There is no doubt that what I learned growing up in Indiana and attending Purdue has served me well in business. I believe most people would say I am a very down-to-earth, direct-speaking executive. The benefit of that is you don't waste a lot of time with niceties. I hope that I also have learned to be fair. I can say that came from my growing up in Indiana.

At times, parents ask me to talk to their children, either to help them make up their minds about their futures, or because they're already troubled and going in the wrong direction. From my view, there were three things that worked to my advantage. One is my father and mother, who gave me the right upbringing. Two is education: the more you have, the better prepared you are to compete in the world. Three, I have a wonderful family, including my wife and son, my in-laws, my two sisters, and a brother, who have always supported me in whatever I have done. Those three ingredients are important, and when I talk to young people I make sure to not leave any of them out. I owe much to my family, my education, and the state of Indiana and my hometown of Auburn. All these elements in my life contributed significantly to whatever measure of success I have or will have.



Chairman and chief executive officer, Hughes Network Systems. Has presided over a 40% compounded annual growth in revenue from $100 million to almost $600 million.
President and chief executive officer of M/A-COM Telecommunications, formed when Microwave Associates acquired Digital Communications.
Vice president and chief operating officer, M/A-COM Telecommunications.
Vice president, corporate development, Digital Communications. This start-up company was one of the first to promote digital technology in an analog-dominated industry.
Director, field operations, ITT Space Communications. Later became director, program management. Installed and operated Intelsat-type satellite earth stations to 30 different countries.
Project manager for telemetry and command for the world's first commercial communications satellite, Intelsat I, or "Early Bird."
Engineer on telemetry and command functions of Syncom II, the world's first successful geosynchronous communications satellite.
Technical staff, Hughes Aircraft Company. Worked on MG-13 Fire Control System for the F-1901 aircraft at Glasgow AFB, Montana.

BSEE '62, Purdue.