Bob Willig was always meant for a career in manufacturing.
“I was that kid who always wanted to take things apart, see how they worked and put them back together again,” he says.
Growing up in a General Motors family afforded Bob lots of opportunity to see manufacturing production in action. That early fascination led him to pursue a postsecondary education in mechanical systems design at Lawrence Tech University in Southfield, Michigan. While Bob was at Lawrence Tech, Bob got some on-the-job experience that started him down the path of a manufacturing career.
“My first job was as an intern at a metal stamping and spinning company where I copied and filed blueprints while learning die design and detailing,” he says. “I saw firsthand the process of how design and manufacturing work together. I was hooked.”
Bob completed his bachelor's degree in mechanical systems design at Lawrence Tech and almost immediately went on to earn his MBA from Wayne State University, all done in the evening while working full-time during the day. Over the next 30 years, he put together an impressive track record of financial management, strong leadership of teams across multiple cultures, languages, locations, disciplines, lean implementation and business development success. This record of success – and his ability to stay focused on long-term strategies rather than short-term solutions – made him an outstanding candidate to be SME’s new CEO. He begins his new role on Jan. 1, 2021.
Bob says that a combination of factors spurred his enthusiasm for joining SME – including the philanthropic activity of the SME Education Foundation. The Foundation’s work offers Bob the chance to influence – and be influenced by – the next generations of talent; he says we have as much to learn as we do to teach. “I want to know how they think,” he says. “I want to know what’s relevant to them, what they’re looking for in their careers and what they see that they might be able to improve. If our industry wants to continue to grow, we need to adapt and incorporate their approaches and ideas into what we offer.”
Bob also cited SME’s almost 90-year history of supporting and helping to advance the industry, saying it offers a rare opportunity to influence the direction and growth of manufacturing as the post-pandemic, technology-driven economy takes shape.
Doing so may call for SME to evolve quickly as well, he says. “My job is to protect and leverage SME’s legacy while also charting new courses in order to thrive. Where we’re going is just as important as where we’ve been – for our industry, and for SME.”
Outside of work, Bob’s interest in taking things apart and putting them back together again has led him to restore several old vehicles; it’s one of his passions. Another is space exploration; he takes keen interest in the activities of SpaceX as well as NASA.
SME enthusiastically welcomes Bob Willig as our executive director and CEO as of Jan. 1, 2021.