Segway scoots to success (Spring 2005)
Former principal horn of the Purdue Symphonic Band and Purdue Orchestra Doug Field currently rides a two-wheeled burst of innovation called the Segway Human Transporter to recognition and success in the business world.
Just as he led his ensembles – “Doug was an outstanding student while he was here and one of the true leaders musically,” says Bill Kisinger – Field now leads a team of pioneers in the transportation industry.
As a company, Segway is passionately devoted to developing fun, smart transportation. Its first product, the Segway HT, represents the first two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric transportation device to use dynamic stabilization technology. With the help of solid-state gyroscopes, tilt sensors, high-speed microprocessors and powerful electric motors, the Segway HT balances whether the rider's traveling at 10 mph, carrying a heavy load, slowly maneuvering in tight spaces or standing perfectly still.
For Field, one of two employees when the parent company of Segway started up in 1996, the companies and their cutting edge products have put him right where he wanted to be when he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1987.
“I love seeing an idea take shape for the first time, and seeing the future in them, and thinking about what they might become,” he says. “There are starters and there are finishers. Starters love that creative, inventive phase. Finishers are often paralyzed by the blank canvas but love to crank stuff out.”
From his college days, Field knew his personality most closely aligned with the starter. From Purdue he went on to earn an MBA in the Leaders for Manufacturing Program, a partnership between the MIT School of Engineering, the MIT Sloan School of Management and major US manufacturing firms. His career in managing and developing new products took him through a series of jobs with such firms as Johnson & Johnson Medical and Ford Motor Company.
Through it all “I was searching for opportunities to be creative and professionally challenged and to work on products that inspired me. It takes time to find the ideal job – time and luck,” he says. Moving through his early jobs, “my growth was more lateral by leaving an organization and bringing a skill set to a new organization that they didn't have.”
When he met Dean Kamen and stated development on the Segway, things exploded for Field. “I always loved transportation, and always wanted to work in it, and I always wanted to work in a start-up environment. I thought I was born 50 years too late (to do it in transportation) because it's a very mature industry. I'm incredibly lucky to end up where I did.”
Field's responsible for all the day-to-day design and engineering on the Segway HT, the innovative results of which have landed him on magazine covers. Field says his musical experiences fueled his creativity and honed his leadership skills.
As a freshman he played in marching band then focused on symphonic band and orchestra. “The ups and downs of engineering were offset by devoting myself to music,” he says. Field eagerly sought out leadership positions and earned a chance to solo in the Brahms Horn Concerto with the orchestra.
“Music was a good learning experience. It's easy in engineering to believe the world is black and white. You have a lot of control over the outcome and that's why I was attracted to it, because of the predictability. Music, on the other hand, you can practice as much as you want, but there's a randomness in what actually happens in performance that is incredibly annoying to the engineering student but much more representative of how life really is,”
Being in a band, where each musician strives for their personal best to better the entire ensemble, imparted a sense of teamwork that Field easily transferred to the business world “In our team we have a lot of different dynamics producing a world class result. It's very similar,” he says.
Sometimes music enters into his work just as music. In designing the gearbox for the Segway, Field's team made sure it was harmonically tuned to make the sound pleasant to the ear. “Most people can't tell why it's better so they say its precision engineering. But there are certain elements of music theory behind it, and that comes from several engineers on the team who are also musicians.”
For a while Field played in local orchestras but a demanding career and a family with three young children keeps him from having as much time as he'd like to make music. But memories of bands at Purdue remain as close as his wife's hand. Field married Cathy Macklem, a chemistry major and trumpeter he met there.
So far the Segway HT has provided Field with quite a ride. Where others might be tempted to enjoy the scenery for a bit, this Purdue engineer bristles with energy to tackle new projects – products that expand the use of the HT to make it better, a new four-wheeled product called Centaur that was featured recently in Popular Science and more.
The secret to landing the perfect job involves searching, and “you need to enjoy the search,” he tells students. It starts in college “by paying attention to what you're enjoying and being ready to change to get on track with what makes you happy. Life is too short to do stuff you don't enjoy or that doesn't matter,” Field advises.
“If you enjoy it but it's not important, it's a hobby. It you don't enjoy it and it's important, it's a chore. Work should be the stuff you enjoy and believe is important.”