James A. Tompkins
President, Founder, and Chairman
Tompkins Associates
BSIE '69, MSIE '70, PhD '72

[James A. Tompkins]

For his outstanding accomplishments in facilities planning, material handling, warehousing, factory automation, and workplace leadership, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to James A. Tompkins.

His Purdue memories

I really bled Purdue blood. I enjoyed the whole Purdue experience-going to football games and basketball games, being involved with the professional societies and the honor societies. Plus I worked basically full time in the Union in the catering service. I started washing dishes; then I was a waiter; then a waiter captain; then the head waiter captain, the manager of the student workers in serving breakfasts, lunches, dinners, or parties or other functions that took place in the Union. This work fit in well with my IE major in that the people aspects of understanding how to delegate and motivate and encourage people was an important portion of that job. My boss at the Union, Mr. Fish, was very supportive. Once in an IE course I did a simulation of what exists now down in the Union's "train station" area. What originally was there was a traditional cafeteria line, where you would put your train on the rails and you would first go to your salads and then to your meat and then to your vegetables and so forth, and you had to stay in line. I did the simulation model that led to the elimination of that in favor of a more free-flowing bullpen.

On leaving academia for industry

Tompkins Old Picture As I got on with my master's and PhD work, I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to teach the design aspects of engineering for a living. I was positive that was what I'd be doing when I was 50 years old! But I did not understand all the political and nonteaching aspects, which provided me with a sufficient negative. I did a little consulting on the side and found myself enjoying the consulting more than the nonclassroom aspects of teaching. So, I began to see myself not a professor of students but a professor of industry with a role to teach industry how to think outside of the box and improve their plants and warehouses. My first love was teaching students; my second love was solving real problems. And the profession that allowed me to do both of those best was not being a professor but being a full-time consultant.

Major influences in his life

My mom taught me the difference between right and wrong, and my dad taught me how to work hard. At Purdue, I had a major professor, Dr. Rudy Reed, who was a gruff, challenging guy who motivated me to a high degree of performance. And my wife has this unbelievable confidence that I can fix things. I don't mean fix things like the toaster or the refrigerator, because she knows I can't fix those things, but she's always had a lot of confidence that whatever we made up our mind to do, somehow or other I could make it happen.

On how he has remained the same since his Purdue years

Four words described me as a student: aggressive, hard-working, positive, anxious.

Today it's aggressive, hard-working, positive and anxious. It's still me. I look older but I haven't changed at all. I have the same enthusiasm and excitement about what I do, and I've been blessed to be able to do what I do. I don't view myself as having a job- I just have fun and it's really neat. I can't believe I get paid to do what I enjoy so much.

How he has been a catalyst for change

The daily challenge I face is dealing with growth. Growth is a wonderful thing because it allows you to tackle new opportunities, but it's a terrible thing in that it uncovers all sorts of inadequacies. Maybe two years ago we did something in a certain way and it was great, but now we've grown, and still doing that same thing in the same way doesn't work any more. I don't like the words "managing change." I like the words "harnessing the energy of change." I think change is my ally, so by harnessing the energy of change I can help the people around me grow and accomplish their goals.

Outstanding Industrial Engineer Award, Purdue.
1997- :
Founder, President, and Chairman, Tompkins Associates of Canada Ltd.
1992- :
Founder, President, and Chairman, Tompkins Associates International Ltd. (London).
Served on Board of Directors, Material Handling Education Foundation.
William T. Shirk Service Award, Material Handling & Management Society.
Selected Fellow Member, Institute of Industrial Engineers.
Won Material Handler of the Year Award, Material Handling & Management Society
Won Book of the Year Award, Institute of Industrial Engineers.
Won Reed-Apple Award for outstanding lifetime contributions to the profession, Material Handling Education Foundation.
Senior Scientist, Research Triangle Institute. Led research for the U.S. Air Force Integrated Computer Aided Manufacturing Program.
1975- :
Has written or contributed to 19 books and more than 400 articles and served as president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the Material Handling & Management Society, and the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education.
1975- :
Founder, President, CEO, and Chairman, Tompkins Associates, a total operations, engineering-based consulting firm that works for manufacturing and distribution companies in the areas of manufacturing, organizational excellence, maintenance, quality, warehousing, logistics, construction services and systems.
1974-78: Wa
Assistant Professor and Adjunct Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, North Carolina State University.
Director of Automation, Office of Facilities Engineering, Fort Monmouth, NJ.

BSIE '69, MSIE '70, PhD '72, Purdue.