Local Personalities: Bruce Hoppe

by Dr. Iain Corness

The managing director of Emerson Electric (Thailand) is an American career executive who, despite his mild mannered appearance, has a passion that has stuck with him since his school days. He is above all an engineer who has liked to use his hands and has turned his talents in many very physical directions.

Bruce Hoppe was one of the first post-war baby boomers and was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His father was in retail sales with the American giant Sears Roebuck and was the son of Dutch immigrants, which explains Bruce’s piercing blue eyes and blond hair.

Very early in his schooling, it became obvious that engineering was the field he should follow. He built the soapbox derby racers that many of us did, but Bruce went further. He was going to build a hovercraft, but got sidetracked by a special motorized mini-bike that he built and took to the dragstrip, the quarter-mile races becoming very popular in America. More than 30 years later, Bruce could tell me the gearing he used, how he used funnels to provide a primitive ram-air induction, how it did 63 miles per hour at the end of the quarter and beat all the MGA’s in the intermission shows! He also admitted working on and taking the family Buick to the drag races. “I won in that too. Mother wasn’t too happy about this, but she kept the trophy anyway!”

So it was obvious that engineering school was where Bruce should head, and one of the finest was the General Motors Institute (later to become the Kettering University). This organization offered a five year engineering course, incorporating study and practical experience. It was six weeks in college and then six weeks in one of the General Motors operations and then repeat the routine.

Bruce worked for the Oldsmobile Division, and after graduating with his Bachelor’s in Engineering, went to work for Oldsmobile full time. Being a graduate engineer, there was a high degree of probability that he could end up driving a desk, but that was not what Bruce wanted. He took a two year deal to work as a practical engineer on the plant floor. Eight years later he finally was transferred to the office!

By now it was the early 1970’s and Bruce found a new outlet for his mechanical bent. The air! The auto man wanted to fly! He joined a flying club and took on pilot training, getting his license and packing his wife and eldest son into the light plane and doing a three day flight around various parts of America.

He progressed from there to micro-lights. “I got involved in that because it seemed to be a less expensive way to fly.” His training was carried out by Bryan Allen, the man remembered as the first pilot to cross the English Channel in a pedal-powered plane. The involvement with ultra-lights then grew to selling them and to teaching people how to fly them. Since these very small flying devices are single-seaters, the flying training involved dragging the plane along on a tow rope behind a car while shouting instructions (encouragement?) to the tyro pilots. “We got to sell a lot of parts too,” said Bruce, obviously remembering some less than elegant one, two or three point landings done by some of his students! The fledgling business was meant to be a tax write-off, but was too successful in that aspect. “The only problem was that it was real - you really did lose money,” said Bruce, rather ruefully.

His real income producing work was still with General Motors and he was transferred to a GM owned plant in New York. He was told that he had six months to make the plant profitable, or to close it. For Bruce this was not an option, and he made it work. He was also moving along in the air, as well as on the ground, flying his experimental aerobatic plane.

After a few years in New York, and working in a couple of GM plants Bruce was approached by the man who had previously been his best man at his wedding, many years before. This was an opportunity to continue up the corporate ladder, but away from the protective umbrella of GM. “It was a good opportunity, and I took it.” That opportunity was to join Numatics Actuator as President.

His ‘presidential’ duties did not stop his passion for aircraft and he built an airplane in his basement in his spare time! He did not say what his long-suffering wife thought of all this! Or whether he flew it down the street for its maiden flight!

After this, he was head-hunted by Emerson, a USD 14 billion worldwide corporation, based in America. “The timing was right,” said Bruce. “The kids were in college and it looked to be an interesting opportunity. There were several positions in the US but Thailand looked the most interesting. This seemed like the one to do.”

It appears that this is correct. Bruce (and wife Judy) have fitted in well in Pattaya, and are involved in local charity and service organizations. He has joined the flying club here to keep his flying licenses current, but has now begun to explore another world - this time under the sea, and has been doing dive and SCUBA courses.

I asked him what was necessary to be successful in corporate America and he was most forthright in his reply. “Try to make a lot of friends, your workmates, your peers, the people above and below you. Learn everything about your job. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and responsibilities. Be willing to do the stuff no-one else wants to do. On the other hand, don’t get too good at a rotten job, or you’ll have it forever!”

Bruce Hoppe has done well with that game plan. It is advice well worthwhile considering by all those starting on the lower rungs. It could just work for you too.