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Leadership Columbus: Joe Fuehne

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Joe Fuehne

Place of birth: Breese, Ill.

Date of birth: March 17, 1961

Title: Director and associate professor, Purdue College of Technology at Columbus/Greensburg.

Duties: Direct all marketing, curricular and student activities at Purdue Columbus. Represent Purdue Columbus in the community and responsible for teaching one class every semester.

Education: Bachelor of Science in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois and a Master of Science and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.

Family: Wife, Gail Guynn, is a VPI reliability manager for Cummins Emission Solutions. Son, Matthew, is a senior at Columbus East High School.

Came to Columbus in: My wife and I moved here from Houston in 1998 to work for Arvin Industries.

Community involvement: Economic Development Board, Community Education Coalition Board, C4 Regional Partnership Board, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, director of the FIRST Lego League Tournament and former assistant scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 555.

Hobbies: I exercise at least an hour a day, six days per week at Tipton Lakes Athletic Club. I love to read and am currently making my way through the Vince Flynn novels. I’m also a big Tom Clancy fan. My real passion outside of family and work is travel. I love to watch travel videos, read travel books, plan my vacations and, of course, actually travel to different places, particularly Europe.

What was your first job?

Flight test engineer for McDonnell Aircraft Co. in St. Louis. No, I never got to ride in a fighter plane during a flight test. Since all the test pilots were male, those rare opportunities always went to females.

What lessons did you learn from that job?

I would need a sex change if I ever wanted to ride in a fighter plane. Seriously, the best lesson I learned in my first job was that aerospace engineers have limited employment opportunities and are heavily dependent on government defense spending. That led me to pursue mechanical engineering in graduate school, and it paid off in 1991 after I earned a Ph.D. Our country in 1991 was experiencing the “peace dividend” that resulted from the end of the Cold War, and there were no jobs in the defense industry. I ended up in the oil industry in Houston, and that turned out to be a very positive experience.

How did your leadership abilities develop? How did you become the director of the College of Technology?

I had been teaching mechanical engineering technology classes for 10 years here in Columbus and wasn’t really looking to become the director and take on an administrative role. The only leadership training I had was participating in the excellent Leadership Bartholomew County program and reading books like “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “Keeping the Republic” by Mitch Daniels. The director position became available, but I was reluctant initially. I knew that becoming director would likely take me out of my comfort zone and be a challenging opportunity for me so I decided to give it a try. It has been challenging but also rewarding. It is enjoyable providing the right conditions to allow my colleagues to be successful.

What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

I believe that leading by example is still the best approach. Words sound nice but are meaningless when compared to actions. I’ve learned much about leadership by observing others, particularly those leaders I encountered in the Boy Scouts. It’s unfortunate that most publicity about Boy Scouts is negative because there are thousands of positive stories of young men who’ve become outstanding leaders through Boy Scouts. I’m very proud that my son Matt is an Eagle Scout and am grateful to the terrific leaders in Troop 555 who helped him get there. The other major leadership lesson I’ve learned is to try to remain positive at all times. Nothing seems to destroy motivation, momentum and cooperation like negativity.

What do you like best about your job?

I embrace the lifelong learning concept and enjoy any aspect of my job that keeps me learning. I still very much enjoy the technical aspects of my job particularly the work in the past couple years on metrology and the metrology lab. I don’t yet consider myself a good leader, but hopefully I’m taking the right steps to improve.

What do you like least?

Most of the administrative aspects of my job are a challenge for me particularly those dealing with budgets, but I’m learning to tolerate them as part of the job. When I struggle with leadership issues I only need to walk to the next office at the AMCE to consult with professor Julie Phillips who is our lead faculty in the Organizational Leadership and Supervision program. Professor Phillips has helped me a great deal and continues to help me learn valuable leadership lessons.

What advice do you have for people who are just now starting their careers?

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and try a challenging opportunity that’s out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a new job but could be a community or volunteer opportunity. One of my favorite phrases is that “someone who doesn’t make mistakes is probably not making anything.” Don’t be afraid to fail. And start saving for retirement early in your career.

What would you like your colleagues and the students at Purdue College of Technology to know about leadership?

I hope they understand how important leadership is for our community, businesses, and country. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had many more engineers than the United States, and they were likely just as competent; but their poor leaders basically lost the war. Manufacturing companies in our region need good leaders, and Purdue’s Organizational Leadership degree program can provide the proper instruction and training to fill those positions. We need to better communicate the importance of leadership to our youth and are working hard to accomplish this.

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