Lorry Y. Wagner
Chairman & CEO
Phillips Electric Company
BSE '73, MSNE '75, PhD '81
For his outstanding record of achievement as an engineer, consultant, and entrepreneur in a wide range of industries, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Lorry Y. Wagner.
On his graduate researchMy professor and I worked in an area where there were a lot of conflicting opinions in the engineering community, and our goal was to do the definitive experiment. Somehow or other we did it! We answered the question of what happens to the heat-transfer process during liquid metal boiling under the influence of a magnetic field. It wasn't until other researchers duplicated our work and I started seeing it referenced in the literature that I really understood the significance of it. I just saw a recent paper talking about what I did 18 years ago. I thought, "Wow, so I guess we really were right!"
On engineering and power-boatingIn 1991 I met two offshore power-boat racers that I could tell were world-class. They never thought I'd really show up in California to help in the next two races, but I did. I decided it was time to leave Cleveland State [where he was coaching swimming] and do this instead-it was a wide-open opportunity to do engineering. Everything fell into place. We had a great team, the four of us, and unlimited resources from an individual willing to spend millions of dollars. The owner basically said, "Here's a free slate, so engineer to your heart's desire and make me a winner." I knew nothing about boat racing, but when I was at my research lab at the Purdue Airport, George Palmer was running model tests in the wind tunnel. I picked up a lot of information about aerodynamics and developing prototypes. Now these racers said, "Make us the fastest boat in the world." It was great! And to go out there and win-it was just amazing because everything worked!
On his Purdue engineering educationNo matter what I'm doing, if I'm boat racing or coaching, people say, "What is a PhD doing here? You're an engineer; you don't belong here." Or when I'm at Phillips Electric a lot of people in this industrial blue-collar type of environment say, "You're too smart for this." Basically what they're saying is, "You don't understand the real world." But what Purdue did, especially Professor Paul Lykoudis, was teach me, "You are going to figure out this problem." He would say, "I'm going to hang around and give you a few hints here and there, and finally when you become the teacher, then you can graduate." I'd get so angry! Sometimes he'd walk into the lab after a while and ask, "Where's the answer?" That drove me to learn how to develop new technologies. I began to look at what everybody else did, read every paper, learn everything I could learn. And now I take that approach into everything I do.
On his current challengesThe biggest is balancing home and work. I refuse to follow my old ways and sacrifice my life for the "Holy Grail." Last year we worked on a proposal for NASA 31 days in a row, 16 hours a day, and I never missed a dinner with my wife and kids. Right now we're taking on a project for a hydroelectric control system. Probably 25 percent of the engineering I will have to do myself, and I'm sweating, because the only time I'm going to be able to do it is when everyone's asleep. I get my twin six-year-olds up and take them to school, the days are absorbed by planning and event-driven processes, and I work out from 9 to 10:30 at night. So when am I going to have my creative time, and will it impact our business? We've done a pretty good job at Phillips Electric of adapting as an organization, but the next 10 years are going to be twice as tough. We do a lot of industrial repair, contracting, and engineering-but the future is taking new technologies like failure prediction and the Web and helping our customers manage that process instead of just being there when they have a flat tire. I see that as a huge challenge for my partner and me as well as for our organization.
- 1995- :
- CEO, Motor Guarantee Corp. Licenses a line of proprietary products (developed by Phillips Electric) that prevent electrical equipment from failure at startup.
- 1992- :
- General Partner, G&W Partners. Supplies rental and leased equipment, vehicles, and tools to the construction industry in the Midwest.
- Chief Engineer, KR Racing. Designed and built a zero-failure system (14 races with no failures) for the offshore powerboat team that won the 1992 world championship.
- 1989- :
- Chairman & CEO, Phillips Electric. Phillips is an industrial engineering services company specializing in custom engineering, electrical contracting, and apparatus repair solutions This work led to two patents, and an industry-leading trademarked process for repaired-equipment reliability.
- Director of Research, Global Asset Management. Developed and implemented a neural-network-based trading system to predict the weekly price of long bonds.
- Head Coach, Women's Swimming Team, Cleveland State University. Posted best record and most school records in history; developed a "race pace distance training model," used in 1996 by the top-ranked distance team in the country.
- President, Phillips Electric.
- President, Remote Sensors (subsidiary of Phillips Electric). Did seminal work leading to a patent for a device used in an Ohio nuclear power plant.
- Executive VP, Redmond Waltz (subsidiary of Phillips Electric).
BSE '73, MSNE '75, PhD '81, Purdue.