Robert J. Heideman
Senior vice president and chief technology officer
A.O. Smith Corp.
BSMetE ’88, PhDMatE ’15, UW-Madison
MSMetE ’92, Purdue University
Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Bob Heideman is among the engineers we will honor in 2018 at an Oct. 19 banquet.
In his current role, Bob is responsible for global engineering and advanced technology development at the A.O. Smith Corporation. Headquartered in Milwaukee, it is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heaters and boilers. He has worked with the company’s business units to improve multiple manufacturing processes and has extensive experience overseeing materials engineers and technicians charged with identifying new materials for its current and future products.
We are honoring Bob for advancing manufacturing technology through research, product engineering, technology management and corporate leadership.
Recently, we chatted with him about everything from his memories as a student at UW-Madison to his career and hobbies. Here are his responses to some of our questions.
Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
There have been so many people who have touched me along the way; just being able to help the people I’ve helped—whether it be China or the U.S. or India—I could look at the people and say, wow, this person has moved ahead in their career or this person’s moved ahead just as a person through interacting with them and the ways I’ve been able to help.
Why did you choose to attend UW-Madison?
Madison was, one, close to home; it was about an hour away from Mayville, Wisconsin. But also, more importantly at the time, it had a metallurgical engineering program which is why I was interested in it. The number of universities offering this major was pretty limited and Madison was really the only in-state school that offered it.
What was your interest in metallurgical engineering?
I got into metallurgical engineering because the son of one of my parents’ friends became a metallurgical engineer. He had a good job and it seemed like he had a lot of opportunities to do different things. Plus in high school, I was more interested in the sciences than any other subject so metallurgical engineering seemed to be a good fit.
Did you have a favorite place to hang out?
Jingles Stadium Bar, right across from Camp Randall Stadium—and the reason is that I was a tuba player in the marching band, and that was a hangout spot of the tuba players. We would spend some time there after games or on Friday nights.
What is your fondest memory of your time on campus?
Being in the marching band. I wanted to go to Michigan Tech because it was a smaller school but it was really expensive. Madison was in-state; it was affordable for me, but I was afraid I was going to get lost in such a large university. The marching band—and also the metallurgy program—had its own little community within this 40-plus-thousand-student campus, and then it didn’t seem very big at all. Looking back, I just can’t imagine having gone to Michigan Tech.
How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career?
I had the opportunity to work as a student intern for Professor Austin Chang. He was a very theoretical professor but at the same time, he helped students understand the practicality behind engineering. Also, the kind way he cared for his students I think was something that shaped the kind of person I am when it comes a technical world and dealing with people.
What advice you would give current students?
To be an engineer, I think the first thing that’s important is to be a good engineer. Sometimes people get enamored with looking ahead in their career or looking ahead for something else other than what they’re currently doing. I think it’s important to be good at what you’re doing today. Also, what you do today you need to do with integrity because that’s what people are going to remember. And be humble. Don’t confuse humility with meekness or anything like that. Humility is a great trait and it’s something we can all work on and will help people in their career.
What are your hobbies or interests?
I’m a passionate musky fisherman. I’m a fisherman in general, but given a choice, I’ll always go chase muskies. I also like to run and try to get out running most days. I think running is a good way for me gather my thoughts for the day—or if I’m having a problem, a great way to unwind and solve my problem is to get some physical exercise.