William E. Smith III

For his outstanding record of accomplishment as a manufacturing engineer and corporate engineering leader, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to William E. Smith III.

[William E. Smith III., current]

On choosing Purdue and chemical engineering

Settling on Purdue was easier than many other choices in my life. My father was a Purdue grad (BSME '40), and my sister was already at Purdue when I was looking at universities. Purdue's engineering reputation was, of course, number one, and although I visit ed Penn State, Ohio State, and some other engineering schools, choosing Purdue was simple, given my family\071s familiarity with the university. I was trained right! I knew in high school that I wanted to work in engineering. I was the typical kid who took apart the lawn mower and couldn't put it back together. Moreover, I liked chemistry and math. Additionally, my dad took me to factories since his business involved him in the chemical industry. We would pass a refinery or chemical plant, and I was interested in how the plants operated and how the components were connected. This ultimately led to my chemical engineering decision.

On academics and campus life

I wasn't exactly a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of student! I was middle of the pack. This was during the Vietnam years, and, of course, the war was on my mind: lottery numbers, student deferments, and so on. Since I had fraternity brothers who were drafted, the rest of us often talked about the war and what our fate would be. But mainly I thought about passing P Chem (physical chemistry). Receiving a 12 on an exam is not a good sign, is it?

[William E. Smith III., current]

There was also a physics course that engineering students had to take. We called it "science fiction physics." The course content was theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, a very rough course. I was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and for three years drove their go-kart in the Grand Prix. One year I finished third place. I was also in the Catalyst Club, where students and faculty met to socialize and get to know each other better.

On a professor's influence

Professor Rushton, a chemical engineering professor, was quite a character and a very interesting man. I had several courses with him. During my sophomore year, I went through a period of questioning whether I really wanted to be in chemical engineering. My grades were less than I had expected, and the workload was becoming tougher. Professor Rushton talked to me about the value of being a chemical engineer and encouraged me. Of course I am very happy with the way things turned out.


On his career path

As a chemical engineering student, I didn't think of a career in pharmaceuticals' never planned on it. I thought that pharmaceutical companies just put pills in bottles. I began my career with Ceilcoate Corporation in Cleveland, a manufacturer of pollution and corrosion control equipment. I had worked there for three summers during college. After two years, I decided I wanted to change jobs. That was during the time of the great NASA layoffs. I sent resumes everywhere. I knew Eli Lilly & Company from its plant in Lafayette. Lilly came up as luck of the draw, and I realized that with its emphasis on bulk pharmaceutical manufacturing, it was a chemical engineering dreamland. I saw that Lilly would be an interesting place to apply as broad an engineering background as possible and to be involved at the leading edge of technology. Lilly's biotech work in general is a highlight for me. It is the leading-edge technology in the pharmaceutical business. I earned an MBA from Butler University, and, typically, with an MBA one has to become a selling/marketing/financial person or stay on the engineering side. At Lilly I've had the great opportunity to keep both a technical emphasis and additionally to be involved in business operations. The opportunities for chemical engineers in the pharmaceutical industry are endless.

On the New Directions advisory group

Being invited to participate in this advisory group for the Purdue School of Chemical Engineering was a great opportunity. It is so different from my day-to-day work; university life and issues are different. One of the big issues for industry to stay competitive is the quality of the people who come to work for it. I hope that New Directions' work is helping to prepare the graduates. The group is a great conduit for communication of our concerns, and the commitment of the group's members to Purdue is overwhelming. There's been a healthy debate about the proper mix of theory and practical education, but Purdue is still the best.

Named Outstanding Chemical Engineer by the Purdue School of Chemical Engineering.
1994- :
Executive Director, Global Manufacturing Services, Eli Lilly & Co., Indianapolis. Oversees technical support of Lilly's worldwide manufacturing facilities, oversees operations and maintenance of world headquarters and technical centers at Indianapolis, and heads corporate engineering, supply chain operations, and manufacturing purchasing.
Executive Director, Corporate Engineering, Eli Lilly. Responsible for worldwide planning, design, and construction of capital projects.
General Manager, Capsule Operations, Eli Lilly. Contributed to the operations' turn-around to profitability by focusing on product quality and customer needs.
Technical Director, Capsule Manufacturing. Led technical support efforts for Lilly's empty gelatin capsule manufacturing facilities.
Manager, Facilities Planning, Production Operations, Eli Lilly. Headed long- and short-term planning for new manufacturing facilities.
Manager, Biochemical Technical Services. Responsible for engineering and technical support for manufacture of basic active ingredients in Lilly's product lines.
Projects Manager, Process Control and Measurements Technology, Eli Lilly. Responsible for design and engineering of process instrumentation in Lilly's manufacturing operations.
Operations Coordinator, Antibiotic Fermentation Pilot Plant, Eli Lilly.
Operations Coordinator, Antibiotic Purification Development Pilot Plant, Eli Lilly.
Process Engineer, Fermentation Operations, Eli Lilly.

BSChE '69, Purdue; MBA '76, Butler U.