Robert F. Widmer
For his outstanding career as an engineer and executive with the country's second-largest automaker, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Robert F. Widmer.
Performance and Luxury Vehicle Line Director
Ford Motor Company
On his early education
My dad, George Widmer, owned an auto repair business for about 30 years in Lawrence, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis. I worked for him from the time I was able to walk around the garage. I became a mechanic before I was a teenager, and I worked in his garage business all the way through college. So I developed an interest in cars and in engineering working there. Even before I could drive, I had built with my dad a little midget race car. When I got to an age that I could drive, I built a race car for drag racing. I was modifying and changing cars my whole young life. That got me interested in the technical and the engineering end of the business.
On choosing Purdue
|The real clincher was going to the school and actually visiting the Mechanical Engineering Building-seeing the laboratories and shops and talking to professors and graduate students. There was a lot of work going on in jet propulsion rocket propulsion engines with Dr. Zucrow. I also remember going into the ME Building and seeing the locomotive sitting in the middle of the high bay area. It just knocked me down. They had jet engines in that area and they were laying strain gauges, doing laboratory test work. It was incredibly impressive.
On his career preparation and expectations
I was perfectly prepared to come into Ford Motor Company, although I didn't know it at the time. From my dad I had learned automobiles from the inside out. There wasn't anything I didn't know how to take apart and put back together or diagnose and fix. I had a knowledge of the product way beyond what most of my peers had. Purdue gave me a technical foundation to build on that was just super.
I envisioned myself in a very technical job as a total career -designing, developing, testing, and proving out products for sale. When I came out of school I didn't have any thoughts about being president of the company or anything. I was happy just to have a degree. I was the first one in my family to get a college degree.
On engineering education
While I was a Ford liaison with the Schools of Engineering, I pushed for a more practically oriented engineering curriculum. There was a tendency to push the mechanical engineering curriculum more toward science and away from the hands-on practical aspects. We wanted people in the work force who were not just engineering scientists but people who knew how to accomplish work, who knew that to figure out what a strain was in a part you also should know where to put the strain gauge. Engineers should come out of college knowing that stuff, and knowing about reliability engineering and quality.
On job satisfaction
I feel like I've come through 30 years of hard work to get to a point where I've got just about the best job in the company [Performance and Luxury Vehicle Line Director]. It's a wonderful job. I'm totally responsible-like the Chief Executive Officer-of my car lines. I've got profit-and-loss responsibility; I manage the cost, the investment, and where we spend our money. The engineers who design and develop the product work for me. And of course we have a really wonderful stable of vehicles. If you're interested in cars, I have the best ones-performance cars like the Mustang and the T-Bird and performance-oriented luxury cars like the Mark VIII and the Jaguar XJ-6.
I've often told my wife that my career has been more than I ever dreamed it could be. I've had fun, made a contribution, and worked with wonderful people. I've gotten tremendous satisfaction from the kind of work I've done and the respect I've gained from my peers. It's wonderful.
On future challenges
The big challenge facing Ford and probably every other company is being more responsive to market needs-being really agile at translating into product what a customer needs and wants, and doing it quickly and efficiently. I really enjoy listening to the Mustang Owners Club or the T-Bird Owners Club or focus groups of people who are driving our products. They've got certain things they love about the cars and certain things they want you to change. Everybody has an opinion. You can't go to a cocktail party without being cornered by people wanting to talk about their cars. It's not always what went right, either-sometimes it's what went wrong.
His message to students
Somebody once asked me what I thought was the most important thing to ensure a student's success in business. I think there are three things. One is a hard work ethic. If you come out of school and you're willing to work hard, it covers up for lack of experience. The second thing is integrity. You never want to compromise your integrity and take the easy path. If you don't stick up for what you believe in, you just can't recover. Finally, you need to have fun in your work. People don't like to be around a whiner.
- Vehicle Line Director, Performance and Luxury Vehicles, Ford Motor Co.
- Executive Director for Quality, Ford Automotive Operations. Responsible for establishing and implementing Ford's global quality strategy in engineering, manufacturing, sales, and service.
- Executive Director, Body and Electrical Engineering, Ford Automotive Operations.
- Named to Ford 2000 Study Team, which established the corporate strategy for reorganizing the company's global automotive operations.
- Group Director, Vehicle and Component Engineering, Ford of Europe. Technical leader of Ford's "World Car Program," which led to development of the Mondeo, Contour, and Mystique models. Implemented driver and passenger airbag systems in all Ford of Europe vehicles.
- Vice President for Quality, Ford of Europe.
- General Manufacturing Manager, Climate Control Division, Ford Motor Co. Responsible for all component manufacturing worldwide. Developed manufacturing processes which facilitated conversion of all heat exchangers for Ford's climate control systems to brazed aluminum. Launched division manufacturing operations in Europe, Mexico, Korea, and Thailand and supervised design and construction of new plants in Mexico, Korea, and Thailand. Obtained the company's first Q1 (Quality 1) certification for the division.
- Chief Engineer, Climate Control Division. Responsible for design of all vehicle thermal management components and systems.
- Executive Engineer, Powertrain and Chassis Systems. Developed earliest driver airbag systems for passenger cars.
- Executive Engineer, Steering Engineering and Suspension and Brake Engineering, Car Product Development Group.
- Manager, Advanced Chassis Engineering and Steering Gear and Pump Engineering, Chassis Division. Introduced load-sensing brake proportioning and contributed significantly to development of Ford's first anti-lock braking systems.
- Supervisor of Design Engineering, Steering Linkage System, Chassis.
- Supervisor of Design Engineering, Steering Section, Car Products Engineering.
- Principal Design Engineer, Steering Section, Car Products Engineering.
- Product Design Engineer, Steering Section, Car Products Engineering.
- Product Design Engineer, Chassis and Powertrain Section, Car Products.
BSME '65, Purdue; MBA '70, Wayne State University