Thomas J. Sheehan Jr.

For his outstanding record of achievement in the automotive electronics industry, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Thomas J. Sheehan Jr.

General Director, Operations (retired)
Member, Executive Committee (retired)
Delco Electronics Corporation
BSEE '64, MSEE '65
[Thomas J. Sheehan Jr., current]

On choosing Purdue

As an undergraduate at General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, I got a mechanical engineering degree in 1962 with a minor in electrical engineering. I always had a love for Purdue, and so that's where I went for graduate study. As I looked at where engineering was going, I thought, "I'm going to have to have a heavier involvement in electrical engineering." My Purdue bachelor's degree came as a result of switching from ME to EE in graduate school.

On his career

In the 35 years that I've been married, our family has moved 13 times. We'd joke that our furniture was worn out from moving, not from being used and in fact several people have accused me of not being able to hold a job!

At General Motors/Delco Electronics, I was many times put in the lead role of the firefighter taking on the next big challenge, taking on the cleanup assignment. That was extremely challenging, and I give credit to whoever my superiors were along the way for their guidance.

[Thomas J. Sheehan Jr., current]

From 1993 to 1995, we had the opportunity to live and work in Singapore, and that was very satisfying professionally and personally. I was there to start a branch of our company. Very few people get a chance to do a "green field" project like that: to put together a commercial, engineering, and manufacturing operation in another part of the world and get it up and running. I found that to be very satisfying and educational.

Another point is that I've been with Delco Electronics long enough to see it grow from a single-product-line company into a company having nearly 50 product lines in about 40 countries and 31,000 people. The opportunities that I've had throughout my career have been tremendous. You don't do the kinds of things that I've been able to do without the support of your family and fellow employees.

On serving Purdue

My Purdue education has served me extremely well, and in turn I've been able to help Purdue by participating in the School of Technology Dean's Executive Council and the Schools of Engineering's Visiting Committee. I was also General Motors' key executive for Purdue for the last ten years, and I have been very encouraged with the progress that Purdue has made in keeping up with the needs of industry and business.

On his civic interests

I'm very much involved in the Boy Scouts and the United Way. I have lived most of my life in smaller communities like Kokomo, Indiana, and I enjoy taking a leadership role in helping people understand what sharing means and how we can help others who are less fortunate.

On current concerns

I don't see enough of our young people taking on the tough challenge of going into engineering and the sciences. A larger concern is that we've got a very serious breakdown in primary and secondary education in this country. Having operated all over the world, I've seen other educational systems and if we don't get our children competitive with them, they won't get the top jobs. This impact will happen very quickly and could be potentially devastating.

I honestly believe that America's university system has stayed up and is in fact leading the world. Foreign students come to the U.S. to study at the college level but we have to do something with primary and secondary education. Now that I'm in retirement, I am interested in working to improve our educational systems.

On lessons learned

Whether you know or don't know what you want your lifelong career to be, there's no substitute throughout your education for getting all of the available math and science courses. Those are fundamentals that everyone is going to need.

Another thing I've learned and I know I learned this the hard way is to let your career lead you. Open your mind up, because you won't be able to imagine all the possibilities that could come your way. Young people need to think about multiple skills and disciplines in their careers and to think and act globally. Living in different cities and countries is becoming the norm.

Campaign Chairman, Howard County (Indiana) United Way.
General Director of Operations, Delco Electronics. Responsible for production in Delco's 19 manufacturing locations worldwide.
Senior Vice President and COO, Delco Electronics. Responsible for global operations of Hughes Electronics automotive sector.
President, Delco Electronics Asia/Pacific. Started new business segment from the ground up, to expand customer base.
Director of Instrumentation and Air Controls Business Unit, Delco Electronics.
Director of Operations Support and Materials Management, Delco Electronics.
GM key executive for Purdue.
General Manufacturing Manager, Delco Electronics. Responsible for company's manufacturing operations.
Director of Materials Management, Delco Products Division, GM. Led worldwide divisional purchasing, production control, and material control.
Regional Operations Director, Rochester Products Division, GM. Responsible for all western manufacturing operations of Rochester Products, a leading producer of engine management systems.
General Sales Manager, Diesel Equipment Division. Handled multistate marketing and sales.
Various positions with Delco Electronics, concluding with Manager of Divisional Purchasing and Material Control.
Various positions with Delco Radio, concluding with Superintendent of Manufacturing.

BSME '62, General Motors Institute; BSEE '64, MSEE '65, Purdue; Harvard Advanced Management Program '88