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Oral-History:Kimball Williams

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About Kimball Williams

Kimball Williams holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering (1973-1979) from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. He started working at the Eaton Corporation in 1976 and stayed there until 2002. While there he rose to the position of Principal Engineer and developed the first non-OEM EMC Test Laboratory in Southeastern Michigan. This lab began as a small internal EMC R&D facility and grew into a full service commercial EMC laboratory. In 2002, he moved to Underwriter Laboratories, when that company acquired the EMC Laboratory from Eaton. He later left Underwriters, finishing his career in 2012 with Denso Americas International.

His IEEE volunteer activities began in the early 1980s as his career transitioned into EMC. He looked to IEEE for information since he had never worked in this field previously. Over time, he has served as the President of the IEEE EMC Society (2003-2005), EMC-Standards (2001-2006), Technical Activities Board (2004-2005) and is currently the Chair of Southeastern Michigan Section.

In this interview, Williams discusses his childhood, time in the Air Force, and his time spent giving guitar lessons. From there, he discusses how he became an engineer and the start of his time at Eaton Corporation. After several years working there, Williams became an EMC specialist and joined IEEE. The interview goes into detail about his volunteer activity in the society, including his time as President.

About the Interview

KIMBALL WILLIAMS: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, August 8, 2012.

Interview #624 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Kimball Williams, an oral history conducted in 2012 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Kimball Williams
INTERVIEWER: Sheldon Hochheiser
DATE: August 8th, 2012
PLACE: Pittsburgh, PA

Childhood and Early Interest in Engineering

Hochheiser:

This is Sheldon Hochheiser of the IEEE History Center. It is the 8th of August 2012. I'm here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the EMC Symposium with EMC past president Kimball Williams. Good afternoon.

Williams:

Good afternoon.

Hochheiser:

Very good. If we could start with a little background. Where were you born and raised?

Williams:

I was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in multiple parts of the country. My dad was an aerospace engineer, and he kept getting offers for jobs that he couldn't refuse, so we moved around quite a lot. The main places I recall are Wichita, Kansas; Cleveland, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and finally Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Hochheiser:

That's quite a bit of moving around.

Williams:

It was.

Hochheiser:

With your father an engineer, were you interested in technology and science and things like that as a kid?

Williams:

Oh, yes. My earliest memories are that in our home, the library was set up so that the very bottom shelf had all these science and math textbooks, and they had lovely little illustrations in them. So even though I had no concept of what they were about, I had fun leafing through the books and looking at the illustrations. The next shelf up was Dad's collection of, as I recall, Stories of Wonder and Imagination, the old pulp paperbacks. He had a collection of those that ran all the way through Amazing stories and Analog. This was back in the day when John W. Campbell was editing Analog, and so I became an avid fan of science fiction.

On top of that, Dad was a gregarious person so many times we would have a weekend where engineers that he worked with would come over to the house, and they would have dinner with us or have lunch, or they'd be sitting around the kitchen table, three or four of them, talking about a problem they were working on at work. I was underneath the table, listening to all this going on, and just sort of soaking it in. It was a great deal of fun, especially since this was the period of time when dad, was working for the NACA, the predecessor to NASA.

They were discussing the concept of aircraft that could actually fly faster than sound and debating whether or not it really was possible. [Laughter] They were pretty sure that they could do it, of course, but there was still a lot of doubt at that time because if you haven't done it, no matter what the math says, everybody's still a little nervous.

The longest period of time was actually spent in Grand Rapids, Michigan, not too far from where I live now in Dearborn. That was while dad was working with Bill Lear. And talk about wild guys. If you ever could've had a chance to interview Bill Lear, it would've been something else again.

Dad was involved in in helping to design and build the first eight-track tapes that went into cars. Bill Leer forced the invention of audio systems in vehicles because he wanted to listen to his music in the car. The other thing that I got regaled in with stories from Dad was their developing of the first autopilots. Now, the way that started was they first began working on electronic controls that would steer the vehicle, even though there was no pilot in the seat. And the way they proved the concept was they took Bill’s — I think it was a red Buick convertible, and they equipped it with electronic controls, but they had a pilot actually driving the car in a van. And they drove it through downtown Grand Rapids. No driver in the car, and they got stopped by the cops.

They had to let them go because there was no law against it. You know, they had a driver. He just wasn't in that vehicle. [Laughter] Interesting time.

Hochheiser:

Where did you graduate from high school?

Williams:

That was actually in, the little town of Smyrna, Georgia, north of Atlanta. I started high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, jumped to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then down to Smyrna, Georgia, for the last year.

Hochheiser:

Which was about when?

Williams:

1959.

Joining the Air Force

Hochheiser:

What did you do upon graduating high school?

Williams:

I started the next school semester in at Georgia Tech, and spent the next couple of years proving to myself and my dad that I was a terrible student. I remember taking chemistry twice and just barely passing with a D the second time through. Horrible, horrible, and at that point in time, I said, “Dad, this doesn't make any sense. I'm going to join the Air Force.” I took a summer off to relax and spend some time with a very good friend of mine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I also spent that summer actually earning some money playing summer stock, which was great fun.

And then I joined the Air Force and marched for four years. I got into technical school for ground radio repair, which is pretty good foundation in practical, useful electronics. I got into an accelerated course there. They did in I think 12 weeks what they normally do in 36. I had a ball because it was with a whole bunch of really bright guys, and we were all trying to do the very best we could and helping each other as much as we could. It was a great camaraderie there. I graduated one of the four in the class at the very top, and they never told us who was the absolute top. But I have the feeling that we all probably had 100s on all of our exam papers.

I then got stationed back to Michigan again to Selfridge Air Force Base outside of Detroit. It's the practice of the Air Force that a year after you've graduated from a technical school, they send you the exam again and you get to retake it. I aced it, which meant I hadn't lost anything, and that's one of the things, by the way, that convinced me that working consistently in a field and physical demonstration of the principles is the best way to lock that knowledge into your, your system. We've carried that forward in the EMC society as well. That's why we have — well, you've seen some of the demonstrations on the floor. We try to do that physical demonstration of the phenomenon as much as possible because when you see Maxwell's equations… We all sort of understand what it is they mean, but when you actually see that happen, wow.

Hochheiser:

How long did you stay in the Air Force?

Williams:

Four years. Simple straight term. I was in it as an enlisted man, and I decided that I wanted to do a whole lot more than being an enlisted person would permit. This was during the Vietnam War period. So I, I managed to not quite get myself into a real bind. Twice I volunteered, once for training into the Recondos, who are the guys that get dropped in ahead of the helicopters that are going to bring the troops to prepare a landing zone. That option closed out just before my number came up on the list. I also volunteered for cross training as a helicopter pilot because I love flying. That closed out just before I got there. The helicopter survival rate in Vietnam is not what you would call a lifelong career unless you considered a very short life a career.

Hochheiser:

So you left the Air Force at the end of your four year term. What did you do then?

Williams:

By that time, I had done a couple of things. I had picked up playing guitar; I had some musical background anyway from back in my youth. My grandmother on my mother's side gave me a set of classical records when I was probably in about sixth or seventh grade, and I just fell in love with music in general. So when the folk music interest perused around the US, I picked up guitar and started to learn to play, but I graduated from folk almost immediately into classical guitar. When I left the Air Force, I looked around for what I could do with what skills I had, and decided, well, I might be able to teach guitar. I actually did that for about six years, made a living as a classical guitar teacher. Not much of a living, but enough to keep the wolf from the door. Then I met my wife, and I suddenly realized that the idea of marriage and a family on what I could make as a classical guitar teacher was not going to cut it. So I went back to school.

Attending Lawrence Tech while working for several companies

Hochheiser:

Okay. So that's when you entered Lawrence Tech?

Williams:

Yes

Hochheiser:

And did you go there specifically for electrical engineering?

Williams:

Oh, yes. I had gone back after I got out of the Air Force for a little while to Lawrence Tech and studied mathematics because that was another interest of mine, not that I'm any good at it. I never have been any good at it, but I'm interested in it. Usually the things that you're interested in, you eventually become good at. I just don't have that kind of a mind, but I still like it. You know, it's, it's engaging. It's fun. The other studies I did were in music, music theory, music history and that was at Oakland Community College, which is the only institution that I still have a straight A at. I was very good in musical studies, and if, if I had followed the general advice that most counselors give, what are you good at, take that, you know, I would've probably wound up in music. But I took, engineering. And it's been fun. Oh, I've really enjoyed it.

Hochheiser:

I believe you were working at the same time.

Williams:

Yes, I started working at a little company doing drafting. A little place called Vector Design down in Dearborn, which no longer exists. In fact, the building is no longer there. There's a very nice little house on the corner. And then I discovered that yes, I can do this, and yes, it's a way to earn some money, actually, quite a bit more money than I was making as a guitar teacher, but it wasn't in my line of interest because it was entirely mechanical drawing. While I gained some facility and skill at that I missed electronics in general. The experience in the Air Force had given me a taste for things that go zap in the night, so I looked around, and I found a job with a little company called William Christianson Corporation. They built instrumentation for the automotive industry, primarily for production lines. That was also a lot of fun. I got a lot of experience doing first of all electronic drawing, and then finally a little bit of printed circuit board layout back when we laid out with clear sheets of paper and blue tape on one side and, and red tape on the other, and black for those that would appear on both sides.

I worked there for a number of years, and found a job offering with a little computer company called TECH-S. Tested Electronic Hardware and Software. It's no longer in existence, but while I was there, I hired in as a technician/draftsman. So I did PC board layout, and then got a chance to build the boards, stuff the boards, check them out, make sure they work. This was back using 4004 chips.

Hochheiser:

The very first micro processing chips.

Williams:

Yes. And bit slice processing, and you had to grab the first half of the word, store it in memory, grab the second half of the word, store it in memory, assemble it, shoot it out. I worked with a, a very nice engineer who had graduated from Lawrence Tech. I remember his first name was Tom, and the last name eludes me right now. Maybe it'll come to me later.

Hochheiser:

Well, that's okay, and if it comes to you when I send you the transcript, you can add it then.

Williams:

Okay. Anyway, it was interesting how he got into where he was. He had gotten out of college and gone to work for Ford Motor Company, and he'd worked for Ford Motor Company for about four or five months when they finally came to him and said, here's your first big assignment. He said “What is it?” You get to pick what light bulb is going to in this position on this car on this dashboard. And he said at that point in time, I realized, I needed to find a job because this was not going to be electrical engineering. This was going to be, parts counting. And now he was designing with the leading edge electronic concept, microprocessors, in a small company where he got the design soup to nuts, you know? Fun.

That company, I think, by the way, was the first company to install computers in hotels. Holiday Inn was the biggest user, and it was an energy saving, energy control device. The biggest customers, though, turned out to be the manufacturers who mine copper in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Their control and their use of vast amounts of electrical energy in this process could make the difference between profitable operation and going bust, but the side kick off of that was we could save a hotel money, turn the lights out when nobody's there, turn the air conditioning off when it's not needed. Boy, they loved that.

Hochheiser:

Going back to Lawrence Tech for a minute, what was the curriculum in EE like when you were there in the '70s?

Williams:

Pretty much the way it is now with the exception of the focus on more computer applications. Now the department is called Computer and Electrical Engineering, back then it was simple Electrical Engineering. The professors that I had, this is now night school at Lawrence Tech.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Williams:

I'd gone to day school, and I had learned a lot from the people in day school, but the people who taught at night were a notch above. They were all working engineers with one exception, and that one was great too. They did teaching because they loved it, but they also loved their work, so they were transmitting not only the information, but the enthusiasm as well, and that was probably the best part of going to school at night.

Hochheiser:

Was there any EMC in the curriculum?

Williams:

None.

Hochheiser:

That seems to be typical.

Williams:

Back then, the problem was just being recognized, and understood. This was only a few years after the formation of the society as well so it hadn't filtered down much into the schools. And still, the percentage of schools that have EMC in their curricula is way, way down, which is why the society maintains the scholarship grant program.

Beginning Career at the Eaton Corporation

Hochheiser:

How, how did you end up with a position at Eaton?

Williams:

I found an ad in the paper for a job as a technician at Eaton. I applied for it while I was still working at TECH-S and got it, and started working there. The first thing that happened was they took me on at a salary that was a nice increase over what I'd been making at TECH-S. They had asked me what I was good at, analog or digital, and I said both, of course. One thing you should know about TECH-S, TECH-S was also into industrial controls, and one of those was things like controlling the torque that's applied to a bolt that puts the head on an engine cart. So you're reading the analog signal from the torque transducer, translating that into digital signals using the computer, and then feeding back to the analog controls on the torque motor. I had seen a lot of both, and I couldn't understand why they were even making a distinction between the too. To me, it was still electrons flowing. But, they said, really? And about three months after I had gone there, they gave me a raise, a fairly nice raise. The guy who was the head of the electrical department there said, you came to us you told us you could do both of these. We didn't believe it. You proved it. You can do both. Here, you're worth this. So they were very proactive with their people at that time.

Hochheiser:

What sort of things did they have you working on when you were within this time period?

Williams:

The Eaton operation in Southfield, Michigan at that time was referred to as the engineering and research center. It was mostly based on applied research, not fundamental scientific research, but any concept that they could come up with that might develop into a product was explored, usually taken through proof of concept. Beyond proof of concept it went out to the divisions that could actually manufacture it as a product and assess it to see whether or not you could actually produce it and make money because that's, that's the other thing. It took, took me quite a while to finally understand that completely. Yes, it's a great engineering product. Nobody wants it. [Laughter] What do you do with it? Well, you put it on the shelf. Maybe someday somebody will find it useful.

One of the things we worked on was, a proximity sensor, and at that time, couldn't find a commercial operation that wanted these. The first place we'd installed it was on the top floor at the elevator and removed the button for the elevator. You walked up to the elevator, and it, immediately you saw the little symbol saying it was calling the elevator to pick you up. You didn't push anything. It was the proximity sensor.

Eaton does a lot of things very well, but their sales force, just didn't do the job of convincing people to buy something new because they scrapped that product because they couldn't find any place to use it. A few years later, every department store, grocery store, etc., has doors that you walk up to and they self-open. Same basic product.

I worked on steering controls for hydraulic vehicles based on electronics instead of totally hydraulic in nature, heavy-duty truck transmissions. If you've ever been in a heavy duty truck, cab and trailer, 18 wheel vehicle, shifting those manually is a real chore, and it's one of the reasons that drivers wear out when they drive because it is a lot of work. You've got so many gears to shift through because you need that tremendous ratio range in order to haul some of the huge loads they haul. We designed and built and proved all sorts of modifications and variations on a theme. The real interesting problem was how do you control the clutch because from an electronics and digital standpoint, digital things, clutch on, clutch off. But if you've ever driven a stick shift, you know it can't be that way. [Laughter] And when you're dealing with a heavy duty truck, you can wind into one of these bouncy, bouncy situations, which is not good at all. We solved that eventually. The truck transmission and its development, and my involvement in it, crosses the period when I was still studying at Lawrence Tech. Then about a year before I graduated, the department chairman and I sat down for a talk. He said, “How would you like to transfer into noise and vibration?” I said, really? Why?

He said, well, we can't find a guy with a master's degree in mechanical engineering to work in noise and vibration, and the mathematics to understand the phenomenon are well within the curricula that you've already covered in your electrical engineering degree. You've got the math background for it, and it's just a minor side step. I said I don't know what it's like, but it would be interesting to find out. So they made me an associate engineer. I've still got a year to go on my degree, but they're now having me work as an associate engineer under a very, very experienced mechanical engineer with a lot of background in noise and vibration. I began to learn the job of an engineer, on the job training, you know? I'm studying electrical engineering. I'm beginning to work in noise and vibration, and learn the ins and outs of actual testing. This is not something you do in a laboratory. This is something you have to go out into the field and get dirty, or you're not going to get the data.

So it's a mindset change. In the school environment, you see the inside of the classroom and the inside of a very pristine laboratory. In electronic development labs, like Eaton's lab, it's a shirt sleeve environment laboratory, comfortable, easy access to all the tools. Field testing in noise and vibration is out in the field, but that was also great broadening experience, especially learning to work with a lot of other people closely and for details where you needed to get it all right. I really enjoyed that time.

Hochheiser:

Then you finished the last year of your studies.

Williams:

I did, and I stayed on in the noise and vibration group for another year because I was having fun. I think that may be a common characteristic of people, although I've never checked for sure. Once you get to be fairly good at something, you find out you like it. The chief engineer that I was working for at that time came to me about a year into after I'd graduated. He said, you know, Kim, you've got to think about something here. You've got a fairly new degree in electrical engineering and you're working in a mechanical engineering discipline. You've got to decide if you want to go on with the mechanical engineering side and perhaps pursue a master's degree in that area and continue in noise and vibration or go back into electrical engineering and pursue that path. I took a couple of weeks to think about all the pros and cons, and finally I went back to him. Tom, I really need to get back into electrical engineering because despite the fun, the enjoyment and the satisfaction that working in noise and vibration provided, my real love is where you can throw a switch and watch it light up. So I moved back into the electrical engineering department, and went to work for Walter O'Neill, one of the nicest transplant British engineers I've ever met and ever worked for, and one of the best report editors. He was a stickler for the proper use of the English language and a great guy with a red pen. It probably took me three or four of my reports where they would come back all marked up in red before I finally got over the — what, what, criticizing me? To realize, no, it's making the report a whole lot better. I've come to really appreciate a good editor. They are worth everything we pay them.

Anyway, I started designing small sensors and actuators, rotating magnetic actuators. At that time I also got involved with the first computer analysis for magnetic fields. There were a few programs out there that were so expensive that we figured we couldn't afford them. Like everything else, even though Eaton had a fair amount of, of money invested in research, it was a tight budget.

But I had a friend in the IT department, and he and I had started searching around, and we found a computer program that had been written at Sandia Laboratories, designed to model magnets that were going to be used in particle beam weapons. We got a copy of that because since it was designed at Sandia Labs, it was public domain.

It came on these huge tapes and in Fortran, and it took us probably about six months to write the preprocessor for it because this was basically the analysis engine. It wasn't any of the stuff that would let you easily do anything with it. But we wrote the postprocessors for it, and began turning it into a useful analysis tool. That combined with the courses in electromagnetic field theory grounded me pretty well in electromagnetics.

When I first went through the electromagnetic field course at Lawrence Tech, I took the first semester, took the exam, the first half of the exam. It was a two day exam for each, and there were two courses in electromagnetic fields. I took the first half of the exam so I could see what it was like and walked over to the engineering department to drop the course. I got called into the dean's office a couple days later, and he said, can you explain to me why the guy who got the second highest score on the first half of the exam wants to drop the course? I said, Dean Moszlowski, I can pass the test. I don't understand the material. I don't have any feel for it at all. And he said, okay. I took it again, and did pretty well the second time through. But again, I passed the course, but I didn't have that strong feel for it, which is why I'm such an advocate of the demonstrations here because they make the difference between “I can quote you Maxwell's equations”, and “what do they really mean.” But that analysis work with the program let me dig into the equations in depth and demonstrate them and then actually build things based on what they said, and hey, they actually worked that way, which gave me a lot of confidence in modeling which is why I'm an advocate of modeling.

Initial Involvement with Electromagnetic Compatibility

Hochheiser:

When did you first started to get involved with the field of EMC?

Williams:

We're actually back at truck transmissions now. Two things happened pretty much at about the same time. We developed a small model of a truck transmission for Spartan Foods. They have delivery trucks, and if you've seen any of them around, it's it has a sign with a muscular looking young man with a sword and a shield and “Spartan Foods”. These went into their class six delivery trucks, which are panel trucks, larger panel trucks, but not 18 wheel monsters. We had these out in the field, and one of the chips that we had built into the device was a memory that monitored the reset function. We wanted to know how many times did they start the car engine. How many times did it reset for whatever unknown reason? Well, we got the first of them back, and one of the guys that I was working with on the project, Jim Lane started pulling chips and looking at the counters on them. 6 million restarts! That's not possible given normal operations, so we began wondering, what could possibly be going on here?

I had already stumbled across one of the tests that the Navy uses, which is called a chattering relay. It's simply a relay wound up, wired like a buzzer. It becomes energized. It opens the circuit. It de-energizes, it closes the circuit, and it just keeps repeating that. We put that signal on the power line, and we were able to produce immediate failures in the module. So wow, this was a bit of an eye-opener for both Jim and I. Jim had also been working on the edge of electromagnetic field theory and interference and he had built the first shielded enclosure with a test amplifier and a small oscilloscope with a plug in spectrum analyzer and a small testing chamber there that they could do some preliminary gee whiz, what's going on work. They did that for a few months, and then another project came along in addition to this one with the ‘what the heck is going on with 6 million failures’ problem. He’s got another big project coming in, and he came to me and said, “Kim, you know, I've got this, this small facility here for doing what they call RFI. And I cannot handle that and take on this new project here.”

Now, he knew I was a ham, that I'd had some experience with radio frequency interference as an amateur radio operator. He said, would you like to take this on as a side project? I said, yes, that could be fun. I started the learning curve that way. The first practical application of that work was this chattering relay and this transmission controller that failed almost immediately. Since I was now about to get into EMC in a big way, I looked around and found there was this thing called the IEEE. I'd never noticed it before.

Hochheiser:

Even though you had been an electrical engineer.

Joining IEEE and the IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society

Williams:

Even though I was. But in night school at Lawrence Tech, and also even in the day school — when I go to the universities and I lecture to the students, a lot of them don't even know what IEEE is because they're so focused on getting that degree. Now, as, as a guy working full time, raising a family, going to night school, that focus put blinders on. I didn't see what was going on. But as soon as I ran into this RFI problem, I looked around, and I found EMC Society in the IEEE. Hey, there's a symposium coming up very shortly. I think this was 1982. And I'd also stumbled across a book by a man named Henry Ott and some papers by another man named Clayton Paul, and they both referenced the EMC Society. I said this sounds like the place I can go and help myself get booted up into what I need to know. I remember walking into that hotel Sunday evening and getting settled. This was back in the day when everything was in the hotel. We were small enough that we didn't need a separate conference facility. And I looked at the schedule of what was going on, and I saw that the next day, they started out not with lectures, but with committee meetings. Oh, that's interesting. Committees. What would I like to get involved in? What would I just be interested in hearing about? Ah, education. So I walked into the education committee, and there was Henry Ott as the chair of the committee and Clayton Paul as his secretary, and at that moment I realized, it's the land of the giants. I was overwhelmed. They taught me so much, and so fast, that I've been a volunteer ever since.

Hochheiser:

Ever since you first walked into your first convention?

Williams:

Yes, because at that convention, that symposium one of the things that Henry and Clayton asked was if somebody could write a short article about EMI, RFI and EMC. I said I can do that. I figured they'll edit like mad on it and make it reasonable. This was for the student magazine, Potentials. And so I got to work on an article, and gave it to them.

Within about two or three years of that, we had formed a corporate committee on electromagnetic compatibility because Eaton's products ran the gambit of applications, but they almost all have electronic content in one form or another, and we were beginning to see real concerns about EMC in those products. So we formed a corporate committee and held a corporate conference on EMC, and that allowed me to be in touch with Eaton concerned engineers all over the world. Great experience. And I think most of them are, are or were in the EMC society at the time. It also introduced me to two gentlemen who became very profound mentors. One was Bob Brook. Bob was out of New Jersey. He worked for Eaton Aerospace Labs which was originally Airborne Instruments Laboratories on Long Island. When Eaton merged with Cutler Hammer, Cutler Hammer was in the process of acquiring AIL, Airborne Instruments Laboratories, which had two main facilities. One was in Long Island at the Airborne Instruments Laboratories. These people built aerospace electronic systems, mostly electronic warfare systems. The other was the instrumentation division on the West Coast, which built EMI measurement instruments. That particular arm of the company had been in business since the end of World War II. I believe the evolution was Empire Devices to I believe an intermediate company and then AIL, and then AIL Tech, when Singer owned them for a short time and then Eaton Instrumentation Division. So they'd been in business for 35, 40 years when Eaton took them over. Eaton did not understand how to run a high tech leading edge business operation. Within a couple of years, they had determined that it was an unprofitable business to be in. Perhaps it was just because their profit margins and what was realistic for a high tech didn't match up, but they wound up closing the company down. They said, we can't make a profit in this business. Okay. A company that's been in business that long, something's wrong with the perception, I think. But be that as it may, they closed it down, and the gentleman who became my mentor from that operation, Jerry Roffthalmmer within six weeks of closing it down passed away from a heart attack. And I'm pretty sure that it was that action on Eaton's part because this, this guy loved the business. The other gentleman, Bob Brook, worked at AIL Labs on Long Island. He's the one that got me interested in the Society for the Social Implications of Technology. He had been on the board of SSIT for quite a number of years.

Hochheiser:

So I, I gather after your first symposium, you immediately got active.

Williams:

As active as I could be at the society level. It took me years to understand that there was a geographical side to this. But then again, I was putting all my energies into my work and into the society and it took a while to grow into that other awareness. Meanwhile, back at the ranch the small laboratory that I had taken over from Jim Lane had grown as we contacted more of Eaton's divisions and discovered that they had products that needed to be tested, or they had a field problem that needed to be looked into. So from my background in noise and vibration testing, you got a field problem, you go out in the field. You find it. And I became the roving troubleshooter for Eaton's field problems.

Solving EMC problems at Eaton

Hochheiser:

For EMC problems in particular?

Williams:

Yes. Later on, the team adopted the Ghostbusters logo because when something weird would happen out there, eventually we'd get a call, and I'd say about three quarters of the time, we would discover that yes, it had some electromagnetic field related problem. Sometimes it didn't. Sometimes it was just one of those weird things that was manifesting in a way that was unusual, but I was usually able to help them track it down because I saw things not just from the electrical point of view but from the mechanical and the noise and vibration, etc. But that engendered a period of a lot of journeying to find problems, and those became some very interesting ones. One of the ones I remember fondly was the one that made me sick, actually ill. This was at a division in Beverly, Massachusetts, which makes semiconductor process machinery. These are big, huge machines that actually are little mini-cyclotrons because they accelerate the particles that are going to embed upon the surface of the silicon ‘strate. But it wasn't to the machines because the designers of the machines and I and our team had had discussions early on in some of their design work and convinced them that fiber optics and a lot of isolation was a really wise thing to do when you had chambers that were being elevated to 100,000 volts and occasionally would decide to discharge to the side wall, creating a small lightning storm. And if they didn't have that isolation of the fiber optics, those electronics were not going to do what it ought to do. In fact, it might not even survive.

I got a call from them when they were putting in a new area in their building. They were setting up a whole bunch of computer work stations along one wall, and they'd gotten all the computers and work stations installed, and then turned them on, and every, single one of them, the display would sit there and move slowly, rotating. It was in such a way that if you sat there and stared at the screen for more than a few minutes, you began to feel nauseas. It impacted your vision, and that did something to your perception of the inner ear. I went in there, and it took about two days to actually isolate it and solve it. We found a low frequency magnetic field floating around there, but it was in the wall, and when we finally partitioned pieces off and took a look at what was going on, it was all along a conduit that was running in the wall. This was fed from the box up through distributed power to all of these work stations, and then terminated in an outlet on the other side. Well, it turned out that when they had put the final screws into the box for that outlet, one of the screws had penetrated one of the current carrying wires, and set up a resistance of about eight ohms to ground which then, of course, carried back through the conduit. We figured they had about three or four amps of current running through this conduit back there, generating a magnetic field around the conduit.

Now, inside the conduit, the romex, of course, wires close together inside, no substantial magnetic field. But flow that current down the conduit, and now they had this big, magnetic field in the wall right behind all their displays. We took the box apart, checked everything, put it back together carefully, the problem disappeared. But weird. [Laughter] Fun things. Fun times.

During this period of time, we had the first and the only independent EMC test facility in Southeastern Michigan — I say independent because by this time, Ford Motor Company, GM, and Chrysler had all come across the problem in their vehicles, and they had installed at least some level, and with their financial resources, that some level was considerably more than ours. But ours was the only independent laboratory. So when other people in the Detroit area, other manufacturers had problems, they were coming to us and saying, can you test this for us? And I'd gone to my boss, Walter O'Neill as soon as the first few came in and said, Walter, these are companies that may or may not be competing with us. Some of them are our partners in industry. Can we do this testing for them, and can we do it in a way that, that protects both them and us legally? He said, yeah, I think we can do that. We got hold of the controller. I can't remember the gentleman's name right now, but one of the nicest — you know, a lot of engineers downplay bean counters and what they do, right? This guy was one of the most enthusiastic boosters of engineers and engineering talent. He did everything he could to make our job as easy as possible, and he took care of all the financial stuff for us. He worked out a system whereby we could set up an operation to run the test lab. We had all the forms — nondisclosure and all that that made sure that we protected the customer's interests and that our interests were protected as well. We received a fee for doing their testing. Not outrageous. We just wanted to make sure that we broke even.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Williams:

Within two years we had four technicians and two other engineers working with us and we needed somebody else to help run the business, and that's when we pulled in a young man named Scott Lytle. Scott Lytle now and for the last 15 or 16 years, I believe, has been the chair of the Southeastern Michigan chapter of EMC Society. Within another two years we had so much business — in fact, I think we leveled off at about $2-and-a-half million a year. So we're actually running a small, fairly profitable business inside of Eaton Research Center doing this stuff. A great deal of interesting products came our way. We would have manufacturers from Japan and Korea and India flying into Detroit to test in our laboratory for automotive applications because they knew we knew how to do that testing.

Also, our divisions were constantly still calling us for problems. One of the last of the most interesting problems before we left Eaton happened when the Disneyworld was installing the Tower of Terror. The ride that takes people around in Tower of Terror is actually an Eaton-Kenway robotic vehicle. It follows a little robot path built into the floor. We got a call from the engineers down in Disneyworld, the Eaton-Kenway people down there who were working with the imagineers saying, we got a problem with this vehicle. It's not talking. We can't seem to receive or send messages. Now, the way that vehicle communicates with the outside world is it finds the wire that's got the signal it's supposed to follow, and then it uses a pulsed magnetic field signal into the wire to send digits down the wire, and it receives digits by the same mechanism. So you need to have a system where that's pretty much the only significant magnetic field. They put the wire in the floor as almost a twisted pair. The guide wire goes to where you want it to go to, and then the return path goes one side, cross over it one side, cross over one side. So it really builds a large, effective twisted pair, and at very low frequencies; we're talking one kilohertz to ten kilohertz magnetic field pulse. So a fairly low frequency. A big loop like that does work like a twisted pair. Scott Lytle and I both went down to this one. It was a good thing too, because it took us a little while to figure out what had gotten wrong. To make a long story short, the Disney people had looked at the return path pattern and said that doesn't make any sense. We'll run the return path up the end wall, across the ceiling, down and back to the driver circuitry. So they had built a huge loop antenna. When we finally figured out what this was, we disconnected the loop from the drivers, and we t set up an oscilloscope on it. There was construction going on about two buildings away in Disneyworld, and we could hear when they would fire up one of the big drills over there.

And as they fired up that drill, we could watch the signal rise — [Laughter] — on our oscilloscope connected with this loop. It took us another day to reconfigure the system and prove that that solved the problem. But where else would I have gotten a chance to play with the Tower of Terror in Disneyworld?

EMC Society activity and leadership

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] And meanwhile, were you continuing to be active the society?

Williams:

Yes. There were a couple of lines of obvious interest, the first being the education committee because that had become my virtual home. By the way, the society as you become involved in it becomes a second family. Other societies are not like this, but EMC society has always been a very, very warm and welcoming place, and continues to be to this day, thank heaven.

So I stuck with the education committee, and when Henry Ott needed to take care of his own consulting business and Clayton Paul stepped up to chair the education committee, I became Clayton Paul's secretary and did that for a number of years.

Hochheiser:

What did that involve?

Williams:

Taking the minutes, communicating with the members, helping organize the meetings, that sort of thing. Good work. Good, solid work. Clayton eventually needed to take care of his duties as a university professor, and he asked me if I would take over as the chair, and that was the first time I met one of the presidents of the society. Don Heirman was the president at the time, and I remember walking down the hall in — where were we? We were outside Disneyland in California, I think. I introduced myself, and he said, okay, fine. I said no questions? He said, no, I just wanted to meet you. If Clayton Paul said you were okay, you were okay. He just wanted to make sure he had a real person that he could recognize. While I was secretary the first time I got an award from the society, and I couldn't find a copy of this, but they're in one of those boxes.

Hochheiser:

Well, if you find it later send it along.

Williams:

The education committee produces a volume they call the education manual. It's really a list of experiments that demonstrate the phenomena plus a course outline that Clayton Paul developed. I realized that it didn't have a bibliography of what was available out there as far as texts and reference information and standards and what not. So I coerced my corporate committee at Eaton to pull together from their experience, because we had products all over the gambit, and bring in examples of standards and of interesting literature and references and they did. We turned this over to the committee, and they said, thank you, that's a great bibliography, and here's a certificate of appreciation. Wow. So I immediately went back home to Eaton and made copies of this for everybody on the committee and sent it out to them and said, this really belongs to you because you guys gathered all this stuff together.

During the time I was chair, we got a couple of other things going, too. We convinced Andy Drozd, who is also now another past president, to begin putting together a series of demonstrations that would be shown on the symposium floor. We started with the demonstrations that were in the education manual and branched out from there. But Andy's been the principle driver behind that for a long time and did a wonderful job with it.

Hochheiser:

You were talking about Andy Drozd.

Williams:

Yes. Andy did a wonderful job developing the demonstrations, and I think they've helped a lot of people understand the fundamentals in ways that they just would not have if it was simply a lecture. He went on to become president, and a good one, too.

Hochheiser:

When did you first join the board of EMC? Is that when you were chair of the education committee, or was that sometime later?

Williams:

You know, I don't remember when I joined the board. I do remember my first interactions with the board, though. That was as education committee chair.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Williams:

After one of our meetings, like we held here yesterday for the education committee, I built up a presentation to take to the board to tell them we're planning to do this whole bunch of things, and giving them a heads up that, that we were starting some actions. I remember giving a very long presentation to the board, and I realized partway through that presentation, this is way too long. After the meeting that night, and this was the Thursday night meeting, so everybody's already tired at the symposium. It's been a long day. They've had a great meal, and they're all falling asleep. I've forgotten who was president at the time but he said if you don't need their approval, just go ahead and do it, and you'll find out later whether or not they don't like it. He said, if you don't need any funding from them, and it's not getting you crosswise with any existing rules or regulations, go ahead. The worst thing that could happen is you fall on your face and if it doesn't work, you pick yourself up and you try something else that may work. Good advice. Most of the things we tried to do, we tried to do without spending money if we could.

Our presidents have always been very, very good at that kind of thing. Anyway, that was the first interaction. I enjoyed the give and take of working there so I managed to make sure that any time there was a board meeting that I could get to, I'd get there, and I'd represent the education committee., not as a member of the board, but as a member of the society working for the benefit of the society. And a few years later, I know I, I volunteered to — in fact, I'm not quite sure why I did, but I'm pretty sure one of the board members said, “why don't you run for the board?” “Oh, okay.” And I made it.

Hochheiser:

Was it different being on the board rather than attending meetings and making presentations one by one for the education committee?

Williams:

Not a whole lot different. The attitude was always, what can we do to help? What can we do to make a difference, make a positive difference? And that, that really didn't change coming on the board. The thing that did change was eventually it became obvious to me that I could step into other positions that would be difficult to do if I wasn't on the board, but usually it would wind up that I'd get tapped for something, after I'd been on the board for a little while. I remember during Joe Butler's presidency, he came to me initially with a request of, can you take over as the chair of the technical activities committee, and I did that for several years. Did my very best to help organize and structure things a little more solidly because it was kind of loosey-goosey up until then, particularly the planning that goes into the operation. What periodically rises is objection to doing long range planning. Right now, because of some of the documents that I introduced when I was the TAC chair, each technical committee is asked to sketch out a five year plan for what they plan to do in the next five years. What's your planned activity at the symposiums over the next five years? They may shortly shorten that down to two years. I like to plan ahead. Is it Sun Tzu who wrote the Art of War? One of the things that he says is, if you enter battle without a plan, you're doomed from the start. And the other thing I really love of his is he says, no plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy. Okay? Okay. You know it's going to change, right? It’s guaranteed, you're going to have to make adjustments, but the first statement of his says is if you don't make any plan at all, forget it. You're dead. You might as well just quit and go home. You're not going to get any place.

Chair of EMC-S TC1 (Technical Committee on Engineering Management)

So I, I firmly believe in trying to plan ahead as much as possible. Yes, it going to change. Yes, it's worth the effort. But touching up the manual for operations, a lot of the guidance documents that they're using. I think it was the last year of his presidency, he asked me if I would attempt to restart TC1, which is EMC Management.

Hochheiser:

So TC1 had been active and become inactive?

Williams:

It, it had been fairly active, but the gentleman who had run the committee ran it as chair only, no secretary, no vice chair. He worked out of NIST in Boulder, Colorado and he was killed in a traffic accident, and of course —

Hochheiser:

And without a vice chair or a secretary —

Williams:

There was no history, right? And it just fell dormant, One of the other gentlemen on the board had tried to start it up one year but had not been successful, and so I sat down and plotted out what would be the way that if I was going to start something from scratch, how would I do it because basically we were starting from scratch. I started out with a letter that went to all the symposium attendees that year and said, this is what we're intending to do on the TC1 EMC management committee, and this is how we intend to work, and if you're interested, please join us this meeting room, this day, this hour. I think we had 35 people show up and the rest is history. It's a going committee now, been very successful. We need to do more. I stepped away from it for a while, and stepped away from education for a while, and now I've stepped back in again because it needs some assistance.

Hochheiser:

When you took over TC1 and you had 35 people show up, what sort of activities did you did you start?

Williams:

First of all, documentation. If you as a manager of some kind of facility need to send out something or plan something, how would you organize that in documentation? Well, you'd probably sit down and design something that would work. We had examples of things that already we knew worked, and not only that, we'd worked some of the bugs out. We put those into available documentation, and now they're all up on the web site so if you run into this kind of a situation and you need something, this may not be the exact form that you wind up using, but it may give you some ideas that will get you close.

Hochheiser:

You're not then starting at ground zero, right? You've got something useful to help you get to where you need to be.

Williams:

Yes. We also wanted to reach out to the membership, and in particular to the younger members, and tell them that okay, the technical stuff is necessary. It's valuable. It's useful. You're not going to build a career on it. It's a start, but there are other things that you need to know about. We call those the soft skills, and we now have a program every symposium on Friday, in fact if you're around here Friday, drop in and watch.

Hochheiser:

Well, as you know, I'm giving a workshop, on Friday.

Williams:

But not all day Friday?

Hochheiser:

Just the morning.

Williams:

The other half of Friday, look us up. It's called the leadership tutorials, and we basically talk about the soft skills. The things that you need to know. How to give a talk. In fact, unfortunately, that's one of the first ones in the morning. I think Dan's is in the morning as well.

Hochheiser:

Dan's is in the morning.

Williams:

Yeah, Bruce Archambeault, one of our top speakers, gives that talk. Bruce is a very enthusiastic speaker, and he convinces you that you need to bring that enthusiasm to whenever you do a presentation. I wasn't particularly that way because of my background, but most young engineers focus on the technical stuff. The math, the science, the physics, the engineering, and can I get away from that English literature course, and oh, forget that writing course. That's a pain. But if you can't write a decent report, if you can't write a decent memo to your boss that convinces him that your idea is worth at least listening to, and then if you can't give a reasonable presentation to the board of directors of your company that they ought to pursue your idea, your idea is probably not going to go anyplace. These things are part and parcel of what makes a successful engineering career. We try to give them some exposure to that. It's not going to do the complete thing, but it will hopefully open their eyes and send them off looking for, say, local courses at a community college nearby where they can brush up on some of those skills. Those are probably the two biggest areas that TC1 is working at right now. And one other — one of the soft skills. And one of the things that, that I really espoused as during my presidency is more of an attitude than a skill. You're probably quite familiar with it, The Code of Ethics. I carry one of these all the time.

Hochheiser:

I do not carry one with me, but I'm certainly quite familiar with it.

Changes at Eaton

Williams:

If any young engineer is going to run into trouble, it's not going to be usually from any of his technical abilities. It's going to be because he can't communicate, or because he gets crosswise with ethics someplace along the line. Fortunately, most of my employment has been with people who are up and up all the time. I've worked for a number of companies. Eaton the longest. I was 26-and-a-half years with them. At some point they had a major sea change in philosophy. I'll get back to ethics in a few minutes. They decided that they didn't need electrical engineers anymore or technicians or laboratories. They were going back to their core business. Now, Eaton's primary business is in heavy duty truck transmissions, so their core business is cutting and grinding gears, so I can see how they would suddenly believe that electrical engineering probably wouldn't have a lot to do with it. That turns out to be not the best choice, but neither here nor there. The powers that be decided to let 100 electrical engineers go from the research center in Southfield, Michigan, 100 engineers and technicians. Simultaneously, 100 engineers from the acquired research operation that they acquired when they acquired merged with Cutler Hammer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So here's 100 in Michigan, 100 in Milwaukee, and the WARN act kicked in. They suddenly became responsible for retraining and finding job opportunities for all these people. I don't think they realized that when they pulled the first switch.

At that time Scott Lytle and I had this going operation in EMC testing with an international reputation as a very, very reliable test lab. We decided, the team, 14 of us at the time — we're not going to say a thing to anybody about this. We've got a good business here. All we need to do is find some sponsor money and we can set up shop in the Detroit Metropolitan area. We'll have our own business. We can go our own way. This ought to work, right? Reality set in.

Two things happened. First of all, we looked at what it takes to set up a business plan and attract investors, and this is not something you do in a few weeks. This is a fairly substantial activity. And the second thing was that although not a soul in our group mentioned what had happened, somebody talked because inside of a week, there were a dozen different external companies coming and knocking on Eaton's door and saying, we hear you're selling your EMC laboratory. We'd like to talk to you about that staff, and oh, by the way, do you have any equipment you'd like to sell? That occupied the full attention of a vice president for Eaton Corporation for about six weeks while he sorted through everything and did due diligence on all the offers. At the end of it he came to our group in a group meeting and said, guys, you've, you've seen all the offers, and all the people from National Technical Systems to Don Sweeney's Group in Chicago and Underwriters Laboratories, all of them had come in and spent time with us, and talking about the options of going with their company.

Most of them wanted to reestablish the company as a separate entity, just as we did, in the Detroit Metropolitan area, and continue automotive testing as the primary focus. Made sense to us. But at the end, they came to us with the four top offers, and they said, all of these are pretty much tweedledum, tweedledee as far as the money's concerned, but we know that you want to keep your team together. So decide what you want to do and let us know. And after talking about this for a couple of days, we all got back together again and said, hey, we'd like to go with Underwriters Laboratories. The whole concept that they had presented to us in our meetings, and especially their attitude of working for a safer world really rang true with us, that this and makes a lot of sense. So we moved to Underwriters Laboratories and set up the lab in Novi, Michigan which is quite successful today. I'd been with them about three years, and departed for Denso when they said, we need somebody to manage our EMC test lab here. And I just retired from Denso February 15.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] But you're still wearing your shirt.

Williams:

Yeah, well, put a jacket on. Nobody knows, unless you flash, right? [Laughter]

Vice President for Technical Activities of EMC

Hochheiser:

This is true. Back to the EMC activities. So if I have it right, next position you had was vice president for technical activities?

Williams:

Yeah, vice president technical activities, and I did that for a number of years.

Hochheiser:

What did what did that involve?

Williams:

Basically it's oversight over technical operations for the society, and all of the technical committees, including the education committee. Not standards. Standards is a completely separate entity. You've probably talked with Don Heirman already. Or you will.

Hochheiser:

I haven't formally interviewed him, but I've talked to him.

Williams:

Yeah, it's hard to be in IEEE and not know Don Heirman.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Williams:

It's impossible to be in EMC and not know Don Heirman. The technical content of our symposium also falls, to some extent, under that aspect of it. So there's involvement, not only from the technical activity committee side, but also from engagement with the symposium committee as well, although the vice president for conferences handles the major concerns there. But all the vice presidents work hand in hand with each other. Nobody's an isolationist here. We all cooperate very closely with one another.

Hochheiser:

Any particular issues or problems or opportunities you've faced as the vice president?

Williams:

It may be because things were running smoothly, or it may just be that my mind has gone blank. Whichever. Somewhere along the line, and you'll see in the documentation that I've left with you, I received two major awards. Neither one of them's coming to mind right now. I don't know why. Both of them had to do with contributions to education. One was the Lawrence G. Cummings Award, and I remember that one particularly because it's the heaviest award. It's got all sorts of brass sculpture on a plaque. And that was for contributions to education. That's where I think I've done the most fundamental work for the society, on the education side, although I'm not an educator.

Hochheiser:

One of the things that really strikes me about this society compared to some of the other societies is the degree to which there seems to be far more practicing engineers than educators. There are other societies where it's quite the reverse.

Williams:

That's probably because of the nature of the kind of thing that we deal with. It's fundamentally something that comes out of the practice instead of out of the theory. But it's nicely backed up by the theory now.

Hochheiser:

During these years while you were rising in the society hierarchy, were you at all engaged with the local chapter?

Williams:

Yes. When we formed the local chapter in Southeastern Michigan, I became either secretary or treasurer, depending upon what year and whoever else we could find to work there. I've pretty much for the last maybe ten or twelve years been the secretary. And I've been thoroughly happy as the secretary. In fact, right now, I'm secretary for TC1 right here at the society level. I'm secretary for the chapter back home, and I'm also secretary for two other technical chapters in the section.

I try to help get chapters that are having difficulty going again. Usually when I find them in tough straits, they have insufficient officer support, and it's usually they don't have a secretary. And to me, as I understand the functioning of a Roberts Rules of Order type organization, the secretary's the pivotal person. They communicate to everybody else, and if you don't have that link, that means that all that communication responsibility and keeping track of the history and the planning all falls on the chair. They can't do all that and do their job, too, and be successful. So usually and rightly so, IEEE is the thing that will fall off their personal map. It must. They've got work. They've got family. They've got a life in general, and then they've got IEEE. I caution officers when I bring them on board in the section: Look, this is volunteer. If you get into trouble, if you can't keep up with this, let us know, we'll get you help. Don't try to go it alone. We can make the job functionally work, but we won't be able to do that if we don't know, so please, let us know, and go find your replacement and begin to train him. Ever since taking over as the section chair, I reinforce that constantly. When I took over as section chair, we had two chapters, an affinity group, and two student branches who had lost their leadership within the last few months all due to deaths through cancer. None of them had let IEEE or the other organizational officers in Southeastern Michigan know that they were even ill. We read their obituaries, and that's when we finally figured out why they weren't communicating with us anymore.

So at the section level, I've instituted a couple of things that I hope keep going on as the section evolves beyond where it is now. It's not completely 100% successful. Most of them are doing it now. Every month I want a short, written report from every chapter, every affinity group and every major officer. I haven't pushed that down to the student branches yet, but I'm getting ready to.

The report can simply say nothing happened this month. But now I've got a heartbeat, a pulse. I know somebody's still out there. If I don't hear from them for a month, I'm on the phone. You okay? Everything fine? Something wrong? This way, at least I've got some feedback. If they're active, they're doing things, we ask them to tell us about them. Tell us what happened, and what are your plans coming up. And because now with several of them, we see plans coming up, we can also reach out to the other chapters in the section and say, did you know that Chapter 4 is planning this on this date? Your people may be very interested in this. We're seeing an increase in the activity level because of that.

We've formed also a communications committee, which is making sure that when we hear about something like that, we put it out on the local online community. We make sure it's on the section web site. We're getting a Facebook page up and running. We've got a LinkedIn page that's beginning to function, so we're beginning to spread the word. And again, we're seeing an increase in activity as a result.

But if you don't tell people something's going on, It’s hard for them to participate.

President of the EMC Society

Hochheiser:

What led you to want to be the president of the society?

Williams:

I had such wonderful examples of people who'd come in front of me to do really great things. I thought, wow, I'd like to help contribute that way, too, and I had some great examples. You've met or will meet most of them. And they're all really nice, nice folks.

Hochheiser:

How was the president-elect selected?

Williams:

That's a vote amongst the board members. Anybody who is an active member, an elected board member, is eligible to become the president-elect. It's then a matter of the perception of the other board members as to whether or not that person is going to be able to handle the job and do it well. Fortunately at one point in time, they said, you ought to be able to do that. In fact they said that twice. The first time they said that, I was on the ballot with Todd Hubing, and just before the election, I told everyone that I'm going to vote for Todd.

My work at that time was quite intense, and I thought it would be better off if I had another couple of years. I knew Todd would do a good job, and he did. So Todd came in, and then I followed Todd.

Hochheiser:

So does the board then nominate two candidates for president elect?

Williams:

The board has a nominations committee, which goes out and tries to find as many candidates as they can, okay? We always try to have at least two, so it's a decision. Sometimes we've had three. I remember once, four. But usually it's just two.

Hochheiser:

And then who votes? All the members?

Williams:

All the members of the board, yes.

Hochheiser:

And they vote among the choices brought to them by the nomination committee?

Williams:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

It's interesting because not every society selects their president the same way.

Williams:

I know. I've looked at that, and I've also looked at the full membership voting for president.

Hochheiser:

Right, which some societies do.

Williams:

Yes, I realized that then it's just a popularity contest, and while the selection method we use for the EMC society may not be as "democratic," I think it selects probably the best potential candidate at the time.

Hochheiser:

As you were nominated and selected by the board as president-elect, were there particularly things that you had in mind that you hoped to accomplish while you were president?

Williams:

You know, I can't think of anything right now.

Hochheiser:

Well, that's fine.

Williams:

If I go back and read through the agendas and the minutes of the meetings, that might spark some thoughts, so I might take an opportunity to do that. I thought I had lost all of that a while back, but then I found the disks I had squirreled all that away on, and I'll, I'll reassemble that information and see what I can find.

Hochheiser:

That would be interesting.

Williams:

I do know there were a couple of things that I put into place right away, and I was a little disappointed at the meeting on Sunday to see that Ghery had stopped using them because ever since I introduced them, every president since then had used them. And that was a list of the ethics applied to how we deal with meetings, the fact that we're all there on a common mission and that we're all colleagues working together, and that we need to treat each other with mutual respect and understanding, make every effort to understand the other person's point of view and realize that his point of view is very valid from his point of view. And you don't belittle that. You try to encompass it and understand it. But I'll speak to Ghery and see if he'll bring that back in. He may have his other reasons for not. Usually what the presidents do, they do for a very good reason.

Hochheiser:

I know as president-elect, you were chair of the long range planning committee.

Williams:

Yes, in fact I think I started the long range planning committee.

Hochheiser:

I know earlier you talked about how that was something of interest to you.

Williams:

Oh, yes. Subsequent presidents have taken that forward and done a much better job of organizing it than I did, but at least we got the ball rolling. We started people thinking a few years ahead of time, where do you want to be? It overall has helped.

I was mentioning the introductory material to a board meeting which discussed, collegiality and common mission and things like that. It relates again to, to the code of ethics. I had mentioned that I'd encountered that in my day to day work , but only once really seriously, and that was with one of the companies I worked for when I discovered that the managers immediately above me had done something that I felt was very unethical. In fact, it damaged the business operations of one of my friends in the society. I went to them, and I said, hey, this is not right. They said, yes, but it gives us a business advantage, so. I said, okay. So I stepped a few days later into the office of the managers above them and said, you know, I've got a concern I need to talk to you about. I explained it, and they said, yes, but it gives us a business advantage. I said, okay. What good would it do me to rile things up, blow whistles and whatnot? Nothing. Would anything here change here because of that? Not a thing. Okay. Kim, find yourself another job. Fortunately, I now know that that attitude and those business managers are no longer in place in that company, and it gives me a good feeling to know that eventually, the corporate machinery found out what was going on and took care of it.

Hochheiser:

It takes a while.

Williams:

Yes, it does take a while, and given where I was on the corporate ladder at the time, the only thing I could've done by beating my head against that brick wall would've got very, very bloody in the process. Um hm.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So now you're president of the society.

Williams:

I am? [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

Now we're ready to move onto your presidential term. Maybe that's the right way to put it.

Williams:

You know, I don't really remember a whole lot about that. I think that's because since I left the presidency and tried to step back more into supportive and constructive roles within the society, after my couple of years as past president, where you're taking care of a lot of those duties like finding people for election because past president is in charge of nominations. As I began to back away from that, I got more and more involved in operations at the local level, geographically, and began working more closely and closely with the section as a section totality. And now my focus is probably about 75% on the section because I'm section chair right now. I am responsible for it. And 25% on society.

Hochheiser:

Yes, sometimes it's the luck of when you're president. Sometimes things are running smoothly. The symposium is running smoothly. The membership seems not to be a problem, and the economy is reasonably well, so you don't have lots of members dealing with being laid off. Some people have their presidency in times when —

Williams:

When it's smooth, yes.

Hochheiser:

When it's smooth and some when it's not, so wouldn't you characterize your presidency as you were in when things were smooth?

Williams:

I think so. I think at least economically they were. Now, inevitably, there will always be some members in any organization who ruffle feathers who tend to be just a little disruptive, and certainly I've gone through that period when I was president. I've got one or two in the section right now who are that way as well, but they're part of the mix. You can't isolate them. You don't want to lose them as a member. In fact, because they have an opinion or a point of view that's somewhat dissonant to the rest of us, they may be one of the more valuable voices to listen to because they're the ones that are shaking things up.

If you get too complacent, too happy with where you are stagnation is not far behind. I firmly believe that those other voices are important voices, and they should not be lost in the crowd.

Hochheiser:

I know as president elect, you talked about how -your role in developing the long range planning function. Were you as president able to further that and implement things?

Williams:

You know, I really don't remember at this time. It's almost like it never happened.

Hochheiser:

Of course one of your tasks as president is running the board meetings.

Williams:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

How did you manage that?

Williams:

Pretty much by example, following those who had come before me. First of all, we have on the board and have had for a number of years one of the best secretaries that ever has been. If you have not interviewed Janet O'Neill, you need to. That lady is astonishing. She handles so many aspects of the meeting that it's absolutely phenomenal, how she can keep everything going and do as much as she does.

I remember a few years ago, she received an award from the society, and this was at an award luncheon. I had never before seen a standing ovation lasting ten minutes for someone like that. Everybody in the society I think understands how much she gives to this society and really, really appreciates it. She makes the presidency run smoother because she's out there, taking care of all these other little things that you don't have to worry about.

Hochheiser:

How time consuming did you find the job of being the president of the society?

Williams:

Hmm, it's a good question. Because I work in EMC, and I'm involved in EMC at the society level and at the local level, it all tends to blend together. It became fairly typical for me to get to work early. I'd usually arrive at work someplace between 6:30 and 7:00, and get on the email, and probably spend the first hour to two hours taking care of IEEE related email and then begin to delve into the daily tasks. Of course that varied depending upon what meetings happened early in the day and what not. But then I'd get home at night, and I'd still be working on the computer until 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 at night. And that's still going on, actually. [Laughter]

Working at Underwriters Laboratories

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] Am I correct that it was during while you were president of the society that you moved from Underwriters?

Williams:

Yes, that's correct

Hochheiser:

Did that cause any hiccups as far as —

Williams:

Not a one. Working for Underwriters Laboratories was an interesting experience. I digress here.

Hochheiser:

That's okay.

Williams:

Underwriters Laboratories initially had the laboratory that our team moved from Eaton to Novi, Michigan, under the direction of the laboratory management operations in Research Triangle Park. Those people also did automotive EMT testing, so they understood the automotive business. They understood the customers; they understood the testing, the requirements, the whole nine yards. Great working relationship. About a year after we transferred from Eaton to Underwriters Laboratories, I think somebody in world headquarters, Northbrook, Chicago, north of Chicago, looked at it and said, hey, these guys in Michigan aren't going to go under after all. In fact, they're making money, and all that money is flowing through the group down in Research Triangle Park. We're going to take them over so that all the money flows directly to us. And at that point, an attitude change happened. Initially with the team that was at Research Triangle Park and most everyone else that we had met in Underwriters Laboratories, the attitude was the same that we had experienced at Eaton. We've got a customer. He needs our help. What can we do to help this customer as soon as we can, and what do we do to make it happen? The management philosophy or attitude that came from the world headquarters operation in Northbrook was, you're going to do it my way. You understand that? I think I was about the seventh person from the old Eaton team to walk away from that situation as, hey, there's, there's obviously something better and more friendly out there. [Laughter] Now, I understand that that also has changed at UL, that they're more back to looking for the customer's interests. To me, that's where any service organization needs to be.

Member of the IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB)

Hochheiser:

Now, as president of the society, you were a member of the IEEE TAB.

Williams:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Do you have any recollections of the TAB meetings or more to the point, were there things at the TAB meetings that you found useful?

Williams:

Oh, yes. A lot of what went on at the TAB meetings gave me a feel for what's needed to work with a larger organization. How do you approach it, and how do you make sure that when you present an idea to this large organization that they are sufficiently prepared to receive it so that it can be accepted on its merits.

This is something else I learned, also, from working with Denso. The Japanese use that kind of approach very frequently, and they call they call the philosophical approach to that kind of a operation, nimawashi, which roughly translated means having a conversation on the back porch. So before any major decision happens in a Japanese company, all the relevant people involved in it will have been approached quietly, appraised of the situation, discussed about what they believe could be a reasonable solution, and presented with options that are being considered. So that when you finally get to the final meeting, it's more of a rubber stamp operation. Anybody have any second thoughts? Okay. We're all agreed on this? Good. Which is why someone from a more Western company stepping into — as I was in the first couple of meetings — stepping into one of these situations, seems like, wow, that was fast. What happened? And it was because everything really had been decided and adjudicated beforehand. I learned that's a very, very good way to go about doing things. It tends to avoid a lot of conflict. You raise concerns from different quarters that allow you to temper a plan and make it more rational, useful and acceptable to everyone before you present the thing in an open forum.

It does shock some people when it happens like that, though, especially if they're not aware of what's going on.

Hochheiser:

So did you find this sort of thing happening at TAB?

Williams:

Yes, I did, and it's amongst those that the more successful people at getting their ideas across in TAB did. Also, the set of, introductory notes that I mentioned that I usually presented as I began, I got those from one of the gentlemen. I'm sorry, I can't remember his name, in TAB right now, but he presented those when he began a TAB meeting. I said that's great, that's wonderful, so I just adopted them. I told him I'm going to use these for our meetings. He said, great, go ahead, have fun.

Hochheiser:

Was this your first exposure to the overall IEEE?

Williams:

Yes hm. I had seen a little bit of other aspects of IEEE occasionally. I visited a PAC meeting. I'm not sure if this was then officially IEEE USA, or it was just IEEE PAC, but I don't think they mentioned IEEE USA. They mentioned just the Professional Activities Committee. And I was quite impressed by everyone I met.

Hochheiser:

Did you have much, if any, contact with the IEEE staff?

Williams:

Very little. I've had a lot more contact, I think since I left the presidency, and also since getting involved in the MGA more, well, also because I ran the EMC symposium in Detroit in 2008.

Hochheiser:

This is the next thing I have to ask you about.

Williams:

I became involved with the committee there.

Hochheiser:

With the conference?

Williams:

Yes, and in particular with Yehuda Fornstein. Vita Foirestine who is a delightful person to work with. Just a joy. But with the MGA people I have been uniformly impressed with their dedication and hard work. Those people really, really put in a lot of effort to make sure that whatever you need out in the field, they're there to help make it happen. They're really impressive and friendly. I've been to headquarters twice in the last few years and met a number of them personally, and they're just as warm and friendly in person as they are over the phone. Great people.

Chairing the EMC Symposium and other recent IEEE Activities

Hochheiser:

In 2008, you were chair of the symposium

Williams:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

What does the chair of the symposium do?

Williams:

Mostly run around like a chicken without its head. Fortunately if you plan ahead and you have a really good support staff and they're all working hard, all you have to do is make sure that everybody understands everything that's going on because again, as we mentioned before, no plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy. So there will be changes and adjustments you have to make.

For instance, we were going to save a fair amount of money on transportation costs at the symposium because Detroit has what they call the people mover, which is a monorail system that goes from the Marriott Hotel, around a loop of businesses in Detroit and to COBO Center, where our primary conference was, and then back to the Marriott again. Well, we found out a couple of weeks before the symposium was going to start that they were going to have the people mover down the entire week for maintenance. If you don't know, you can't plan for it. Everything else was lined up, so all we had to do was figure out how to get some transportation going, and that was done. The symposium was fun. I think everybody had a good time there. We had the reception the base of the Marriott Towers Hotel, and that, that base is a big, rotunda area, and GM has a lot of old cars on display down there. We had e a band there to play music. We had food stations around and amongst the old cars. Everybody had a great time, and then when the night was over, all they had to do was walk to the elevator, go up to the room and go in. We had a good time in Detroit, and also we well exceeded our target in surplus to help fund the society for the next year.

So in every aspect I can think of, it was a good symposium. And we're now pitching for 2018, ten years later, to do it again.

Hochheiser:

In what other ways have you remained active in the society in recent years?

Williams:

In the society?

Hochheiser:

You talked about your section work.

Williams:

Yes, and beyond the involvement in TC1 EMC management committee I think my society involvement has, has died down quite a bit. My involvement in the chapter has remained as active or perhaps even a little more active because in the last few months, I've been really pushing the search out there to find my replacement and get him trained. Remember I said that I tell everybody coming on, find a replacement, train them. I have been begging for years, at least once or twice a year, I'll contact the membership and say, hey, I'd like to train somebody else to be secretary. , I've learned a lot doing this job. I've developed some tools that can really make it easy for you, but I need to train you. I recently I had a gentleman come forward and say, yes, let's do it. So I'm going to be training him.

Final Thoughts

Hochheiser:

In what ways has the society evolved over your many years of involvement?

Williams:

When we started, or when I started with this, nanotechnology was not even a term, and now we've got an active technical committee and we're seeing products out there, and a lot of interesting activity going on with that. Several other technical things have come along. As far as a society, it hasn't changed a whole lot in its character. It’s still the warm and inviting place that, that I found when I first came here. Sadly, it has not grown as far as numbers of members. Well, a little bit. When I first joined, I think we were around 3,000 members. Now we're up somewhere around 4,000 members, but we're pretty sure, based on, on the statistical information we're able to gather, that the number of members in our society, and in fact, probably most of IEEE, is about 1/10th of the active practitioners in the field. That means that there's a lot of potential I don't know what to do about it yet, but my concern is that a lot of them are out there like I was, so busy with the job, and the family and all that, that they haven't had time to even look up and notice that there was such a thing as an EMC society.

Hochheiser:

Or figure there were things in that society that would benefit their careers.

Williams:

Yes, and again, a lot of — especially the youngsters don't even have the concept of a career yet. In fact, that's one of the talks that's going on Friday. In fact, that's my talk, designing a career path. I give that frequently to student branches. And I see some eyes opening up when I give it. Think about this. It makes a big difference.

Hochheiser:

Well, you saw I started with a bunch of cards face up. There's one card remaining. And that's simply is there anything you'd like to add that I haven't thought to ask you? You have had a lot to say.

Williams:

[Laughter] Oh, I did want to show you a couple of things here.

Hochheiser:

Please.

Williams:

Several of the items that you'll see in the awards file deal with what's happened at the MGA. This is one of the most recent happenings at the MGA.

Hochheiser:

Did you want to show that on camera?

Williams:

Yes, and this copy is yours to take with you.

Hochheiser:

Very good.

Williams:

This was the 100th anniversary of the founding of Southeastern Michigan section. That's why it says once in a lifetime. Not many of us are going to be there for the second one of these. But I wanted to point out to you our speaker.

Hochheiser:

I remember talking to Mike Geselowitz as he was putting together his talk to you.

Williams:

A great talk. We thoroughly enjoyed that. This was part of the work under my chairmanship. This is from the Engineering Society of Detroit. The Engineering Society of Detroit may be unique in the engineering communities of the world. It's an umbrella organization. It coordinates a lot of communication and social activities amongst the almost 100 different professional orgs that deal with engineering in the Detroit Metropolitan area. And at the award banquet,. This was an IEEE MGA award presented by Southeastern Michigan. This is for the outstanding professional of the year.

Hochheiser:

Very nice.

Williams:

This is a workshop that I helped put on, and actually ran last year, December 5, in Houston, Texas. This is the Group on Earth Observations. It's an element of the Oceanic Engineering Society, of which I am a life member and have been a life member for a long time. By the way, the other award that I find the most professionally rewarding is when the EMC society made me an honorary life member because it told me that even in my declining years, they valued my participation.

Hochheiser:

Anything else you'd care to add?

Williams:

It's a big universe. The tendency for us is to categorize people as engineers, and yet everywhere I go, I find engineers who are also musicians, artists, dancers, cyclists, athletes of all kind. We're three-dimensional type people, and to categorize as that narrow — well, he's a technical person or an engineer, grasps only a small part of that person. And it's too bad there's no way for us to capture that entire perspective. So many people are so much more. By the way, that's one thing I would like to do, introducing into this symposium is cultural activities. We have student paper contests and a poster contest and all that, and occasionally in the past at some symposium, we've brought in music, and that's been very successful.

But sustaining that probably requires more focus than the board currently has. And thank you, you've just given me my next job on the board of directors. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Williams:

That's it.

Hochheiser:

That's it?

Williams:

That's it.