Partners in progress

Shared reputation for excellence bonds Purdue, Rolls-Royce.

By Eric Nelson

Most people associate the Rolls-Royce brand with luxury automobiles, evoking memories of such classic models as the Ghost and the Phantom.

As the world economy changed, however, so too did the legendary carmaker, shifting its primary business to the aerospace, marine propulsion, energy and defense industries while licensing its iconic nameplate to other auto manufacturers.

Today, you’ll find Rolls-Royce engines driving everything from commercial and military aircraft to nuclear submarines and offshore oil-drilling platforms, making it one of the world’s leading providers of power systems and services. And just as these engines require many parts working together to run smoothly, the Rolls-Royce company requires employees with a variety of academic backgrounds and skill sets to come together as a team to push the company forward. That makes Purdue University a natural partner to Rolls-Royce, a top employer of Purdue graduates, including a growing number of College of Technology alumni.

More than 100 alumni representing most of the college’s majors and departments work at the company’s sprawling Indianapolis location. Acquired from Allison Engine Co. in 1995, the complex is now home to Rolls-Royce Aerospace, which includes the Civil, Defense and Helicopters aircraft engines groups, LibertyWorks advanced development group and Marine and Energy groups. Scores of other alumni are employed at one of more than 150 Rolls-Royce manufacturing and operational sites worldwide.

Among the Indianapolis-based grads is Scott Baier, who began his career at the former Allison location in 1984 as a technical writer after receiving his bachelor’s degree in aviation technology. “We were in the midst of a recession at the time and jobs were scarce,” he says. “I’d taken a technical writing course as part of my Technology classes at Purdue, so that got my foot in the door.”

Other opportunities soon followed, including positions of increasing responsibility in product training and service engineering. Baier, who also earned an associate degree in applied science (AAS) in aviation maintenance and an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic’s license at Purdue, credits that early career success to the broad range of skills he developed in the College of Technology.

"The Purdue AT program isn't just about developing the technical skills needed to become a licensed aircraft mechanic, but also about understanding how a system operates on a larger scale,” he says. “You have the opportunity to learn systems engineering and operations theory and apply it to business and project management outside the classroom, which in turn promotes team building and leadership development. That’s a combination other universities don’t offer.”

Baier became a Purdue student again after being promoted to manager of business development, earning a master’s degree in technology through a College of Technology program offered on-site at the Rolls-Royce training center in Indianapolis. He now serves as senior manager of fleet operation services, leading a team that supports 16,000 engines and 13,000 helicopters in the fleets of more than 5,400 individual customers worldwide.

Rich Sinks, an alumnus of both the aviation maintenance and the professional flight programs, has also spent his entire career at Allison and Rolls-Royce, joining the company in 1990 after earning his bachelor’s degree, an A&P, a commercial pilot’s license and a Flight Engineer rating.

Like Baier, Sinks is a licensed aircraft mechanic and began as a technical writer before using his broad skill set to advance through the ranks. He is now senior manager of off-wing service operations for Roll-Royce’s fleet of AE 2100 and AE 3007 civil aerospace engines, including a global network of authorized maintenance centers.

"My degree from Purdue has given me an incredible set of tools and abilities to build upon,” Sinks says. “I might go from a budget meeting to a quality assessment review to network strategy planning and global performance measurement in a single day.

"Because of the base of skills that Purdue gave me, though, I've never felt overwhelmed in my career. I've always been able to take the next challenge, master it and move on. I don't think I would have been able to do that with a degree from a different program.”

Another veteran Purdue alum at the Rolls-Royce Indianapolis location is Curt Perry, who earned an AAS degree in 1984.

“Although my degree was in industrial illustration technology (now computer graphics technology), my skills, training and proficiency allowed me to be promoted several times into various roles and disciplines until I found myself working with information technology,” he says.

Today, Perry is the IT administrator for the support engineering area, overseeing the computer systems and software used to produce all the maintenance, repair and overhaul media for Rolls-Royce aerospace turbine engines and power systems.

“Purdue and its faculty helped prepare me for the real world,” he says. “I was able to step from the classroom into a professional office and be productive from the first day. Very little acclimation was required because I already had the knowledge and education necessary to succeed.”

Other College of Technology graduates have taken less direct routes to Rolls-Royce, including James Olsen, BS ’01 (aviation technology), MS ’07, and Patricia Boardman, BS ’78 (organizational leadership and supervision). But both say their Purdue experience was critical to getting there.

“My undergraduate education was invaluable, particularly my internship with Continental Airlines,” Olsen says. “It gave me real-world insight into the day-to-day work being done to manage a large business, and also provided me with industry contacts that I still maintain today.”

Hired by Rolls-Royce in 2005 as a reliability forecaster, Olsen was promoted in 2010 to fleet business manager with responsibility for the company’s growing portfolio of aftermarket business, including cost reduction strategy, new service strategy and operational forecasting.

With more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing engineering, Boardman brought her diverse array of technical and managerial skills to Rolls-Royce in 2006 as director of new product introduction.

“My degree from the College of Technology opened many doors for me,” Boardman says. “It led me to my first job at TRW, and from there my career snowballed. My degree and work experience also led me to my MBA degree, which brought further growth opportunities.”

Boardman’s professional development has continued at Rolls-Royce. After taking on additional responsibilities as a production systems coach, she acquired her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and recently chose to return to a more hands-on role as a technical specialist in support engineering. “It has provided me with new challenges as well as new opportunities,” she says.

New opportunities also await Travis Cash, BS ’03 (aeronautical engineering technology), who is completing his first year at Rolls-Royce as AE lease engine manager.

“The Purdue brand and my degree from the College of Technology have been key to my entire career,” he says. “It began with a valuable internship at Teledyne Continental Motors, which gave me an edge to be hired on at Boeing. That later enabled me to get a job with a major regional airline and eventually led me to a great position at Rolls-Royce.”

Rolls-Royce veteran Rich Sinks, who, along with Scott Baier, serves on the Industrial Advisory Committee for the Department of Aviation Technology, says future Boilermaker alumni can expect similar career prospects with the company.

“Our industry is more competitive than it used to be and hiring is more selective, but the College of Technology has kept step and been very responsive over the years understanding our needs,” Sinks says. “The caliber of students we see today is higher than ever before, and even our new hires from Purdue come into the company at management-level positions with a tremendous amount of upward mobility.”