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To succeed, companies must be human, and engineers must be creative

To succeed, companies must be human, and engineers must be creative

President of Tri-Tronics since 1983, Hacquebord has actually spent much of his professional life with the company. He started there in 1963 as an assembly technician. He received his electrical engineering degree from the University of Chicago in 1974, and became general manager of Tri-Tronics the same year. He received an MBA from the Lake Forest School of Management in 1980. Hacquebord has experience in a variety of fields: TV/radio repair, volunteer firefighting, CPR instruction, and church missionary work. He has a pilot license.

Manufacturers have a lot of work to do to convince prospective employees that they are people-oriented and that they will provide an environment for personal and professional growth, says Hacquebord.

Design News: What's the major problem top managers have today in managing people?

Hacquebord: One of the major problems is overcoming doubts some people have about how people-oriented manufacturers really are. There has been a lot of lip service on the importance of people, but little evidence that companies really believe that. For example, it feels like downsizing has been done with little thought of the impact on people's lives. We at Tri-Tronics have to deal with those impressions. We decided not to build a large labor force, and instead use subcontractors, and we give them steady work. We want to be a company that has integrity, and that's more important than making a huge profit.

Q: How do you go about finding good engineers and then keeping them motivated?

A: Frankly, we pray a lot about those things. And we network. We might, for example, contact local churches when we look for technicians or others. We also talk to buyers, and we get recommendations from our employees. Additionally, we have used headhunters. In fact, it was a headhunter who brought us our top engineer many years ago, and we wound up buying the company he used to work for. To keep employees motivated, we emphasize the benefits of long-term employment, including bonuses, and our entire culture in the company. That culture is one where we motivate employees to do better than they thought they could do. We treat employees as individual players who are important to the team, and we encourage them to do a lot. We emphasize education, reimbursing 100% of the tuition, lab fees, and book costs of employees. We really want to help our employees advance.

Q: What specific traits do you look for when hiring engineers?

A: We look for creativity in the engineers we interview. Without the ability to be creative, engineers won't be successful. We are a small company, and our engineers have to multi-task-one minute doing design, the next working with customers, and in between perhaps managing subordinates. We use testing for important hires. We want to determine if the candidate is outgoing and willing to help people. Depending on the specific job, you could have an engineer who is creative but a loner. Not everyone has to be highly sociable. But at the highest levels, they have to be customer oriented. We also like engineers-and all our employees-to be goal oriented. I get concerned about employees who have no long-term goals.

Q: What are the major challenges facing the sensor industry?

A: I think the major challenge for the industry as a whole is to understand and solve customer problems of all kinds. We are a problem-solving industry. We at Tri-Tronics are in non-contact sensors. When we spend a lot of time on a customer's problem and find a way to solve it, they can grow too. Some people say the sensor industry's biggest challenge is to make products smaller and faster. But I still say solving customer problems is the major challenge. We can develop new products that incorporate breakthrough technology as it evolves. We've done that with LEDs and microprocessors. We can do remote monitoring of sensors. I don't know what the next sensor-technology breakthrough will be. Who knows how ultra miniaturization will evolve? At Tri-Tronics, we have to keep our eyes open and be ready for the next wave so we can adapt to it.

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