Centenarian and alumnus Gus Gaynor: tech leader, entrepreneur, and communicator
Gerard “Gus” Gaynor, a technology leader who received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan 72 years ago, still carries the memories of lessons learned from his favorite faculty.
One of those faculty was the iconic William Gould Dow (1895-1999).
“On the first day of Dow’s senior course on industrial electronics (he wrote the book for the course),” said Gaynor, “he came in, sat on the edge of his desk, and said, ‘I wrote this book, but you have every reason to doubt what’s in it. Just because I said it, doesn’t mean it’s true – so keep that in mind.’”
That memory turned into a life lesson about personal accountability that stayed with Gaynor throughout his career.
Gaynor didn’t start his higher education at Michigan. After graduating from high school, he took night courses at Lawrence Technological University and joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps Reserve. World War II was happening, and as expected he was called up, and served for three years in the war.
After the war, he returned to complete his degree in electrical engineering at nearby University of Michigan (he grew up on his family farm in Livonia, MI). It was there that he took courses from faculty that included Dow, Arthur D. Moore, and renowned math professor George Piranian (for differential calculus).
What we got from our professors in those days was not just the information and knowledge about the courses, but they provided us with a philosophy of engineering.
“I had great experiences with those professors,” said Gaynor. “What we got from our professors in those days was not just the information and knowledge about the courses, but they provided us with a philosophy of engineering. Faculty like Prof. Dow came with industrial experiences because of WWII, and they all came with a different attitude.”
Dow also gave Gaynor a taste for research by inviting him to be part of his team working on the Aerobee project in the department. He worked on the instrumentation for the rockets, which were used to measure atmospheric temperature and pressure.
“That was an amazing time to be part of the department,” recalled Gaynor. “There was a lot of top-secret research.”
As a student, he shared a dorm room with the editor-in-chief of Michigan Technic (the College of Engineering magazine at the time) and would later become editor-in-chief himself.
“My responsibilities included serving as chair of the engineering Slide Rule Ball Committee, the annual formal dance,” said Gaynor.
In the pre-computer years of the late 1940’s, engineering students relied heavily on slide rules (also referred to as mechanical analog computers). They were also required to take an engineering drawing class (which Gaynor likened to “drawing the heads of screws”), and courses in fluid mechanics, materials, welding, statics, and dynamics.
After graduating, Gaynor’s technical prowess was exploited in his first job, where he helped develop an electromagnetic flow meter. He stayed with the company for 10 years, but looking for more of a challenge, he left to start his own company, called Electromechanisms Corporation. “It went on for about 3 years and I made good money,” said Gaynor. “Then we had a bit of a recession.”
Next, he settled into a long-term position at 3M, where Gaynor discovered he had a prowess for engineering management. During this time, he brought his family of nine to Italy and Brussels for seven years as Chief Engineer responsible for modernizing manufacturing operations of a photographic company acquired by 3M. He later was named director of engineering for 3M Europe.
Upon his retirement in 1987, Gaynor was not nearly done. He launched a new career in service to IEEE that lasted more than 30 years, and also turned his attention to writing (Gus recalled with glee the 5,000 word essay he wrote as a high school student, called Adventures of an Onion Seed). Gaynor translated the wisdom he gained as a tech leader into six books after he retired, several of which have been translated into multiple languages.
Also, while in “retirement,” Gaynor received a Fulbright scholarship to teach technology management to students in Bulgaria, and he was invited back a couple years later. He says his wife, Shirley, encouraged him to pursue the first Fulbright after visiting their booth at a tech conference.
Ever the innovator, Gaynor was founding editor of the IEEE magazine Today’s Engineer. He also served as VP of publications for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society, a position he resigned this past June due to eye surgery. He is an IEEE Life Fellow, “For contributions to engineering and technology management.”
Looking back on his career, Gaynor says, “I met so many good people in my career, I’m just blessed to have met them.”
Gaynor has this advice for today’s students, advice that is still relevant today:
- Engineering offers challenges – accept them and nurture them.
- Use your personal initiative
- If you have the best talent working for you, find a way to use it, even if it means working with people you may not like
- Accept some level of risk
- Don’t give up – don’t give up
But most importantly, said Gus as he signed off, “Go BLUE!”
The information for this story came from a recent interview with Gus Gaynor. For additional information, please read, “From Fixing Farm Equipment to Becoming a Director at 3M At 100, Gus Gaynor reflects on his career and volunteerism with IEEE,” by Joanna Goodrich, IEEE Spectrum, June 9, 2022.