For decades, George Halow worked closely with the University of Michigan to recruit the leaders and best for Ford Motor Company. Now he is a faculty member of practice in the College of Engineering to teach students what he’s learned.
Q: Can you speak to your experience working with U-M over the years? How has that changed now that you have transitioned to a leadership and teaching role on campus?
A: My experiences working with U-M have always been outstanding. I’ve loved interacting with students and faculty. They are top notch people, really accommodating and easy to work with, and so intellectually strong. My engagement across campus was broad, working with the College of Engineering, Ross School of Business, Tauber Institute for Global Operations and Executive Education programs. These were really engaging relationships.
Now I get to interact more with faculty and I’m building relationships with them across schools. This has been intellectually super powerful, and what I’ve found is that most faculty have welcomed me with open arms and want to integrate me more into what they’re doing on technical side.
Q: Tell us about your new role as a professor of practice in Aerospace.
A: I’m here to infuse a curriculum that is already technically one of the best in the world with leadership and professional skills gained from my decades of experience in industry.
I’m teaching leadership development for the Aerospace enterprise. As we look at the Introduction to Aerospace Engineering curriculum, we want two pillars: one scientific and one enterprise pillar. I’m tasked to build the second pillar.
The idea is a pilot program in the Aerospace department and if it works, we’ll make what we’ve done available to all departments in the College of Engineering. The intent from day one is to build a model for the entire college to use. This is a controlled experiment with full transparency in what we do. We will find a way to make this successful. Our Industry Advisory Board (IAB) have suggested they have been seeking something like this for years; credit to Tony Waas for recognizing it, establishing the vision, and bringing me on board to execute it.
As to the details of the program, our first class this fall is a mandatory requirement for Sophomores. It consists of nine lectures on topics like ethics, technical and business communication, developing and leading teams, sustainability, and other leadership and ethics topics.
At the Junior and Senior level we’ll create an optional set of classes to build skills to be leaders in those areas. This will ultimately lead to a minor or certificate in leadership in engineering. We want our students to be able to do research and be industry ready.
Q: How did your career in industry help shape what you bring to U-M today?
A: My career path began with a cautionary tale for students. I had narrowed my job search to Rockwell International and Ford Motor Company. Rockwell would have been path for a UCLA PhD and Ford would have led to the management track, an MBA, and the executive ranks. Being the Aero freak that I was, Rockwell was my main choice, and they had a position ready for me. The hiring scientist said just send us the formal application and we’ll get you started asap.
From across the country, I basically went to the library, found a manual and addressed an application to the Rockwell HR department – and I got a rejection. I was devastated, considering my contacts were so excited to hire me. I didn’t know what had happened, so I accepted the Ford offer – and my Rockwell contacts followed up the SAME day wondering why I never applied.
I was heartbroken, and I learned a lot about asking the right questions and following up. Integrity is everything to me, so I honored my commitment to Ford. Now, to come back to aero after thirty years in auto – I’m so grateful for the chance to be working with my first interest. I never knew if this would be possible.
Q: What’s the goal of an enterprise pillar?
A: Good question. I sought advice from the Aerospace department’s industry advisory board this summer, and they were intrigued by the idea of creating an enterprise program that works with the academic curriculum. They recognized that having someone with my credentials teach what I directly learned over the course of an industry career is very relevant to students and their ability to succeed in organizations.
In five years, we’d like to have a fully developed curriculum in Aerospace with mandatory sophomore classes running like clockwork. We’d like the Junior/Senior Aerospace leadership minor classes finished and to have other departments in the College of Engineering begin to adopt this model.
Ideally, the feedback from our industry advisory board and organizations that hire our students is overwhelmingly positive with regards to how prepared graduates are and how they are excelling in their roles.
If this helps the College of Engineering’s national rankings and reputation, that’s the ultimate sign of success.
Q: What excites you when you come to campus?
A: Everything. I’m so excited to come here every single day. I love the energy, enthusiasm, intellect, and being a part of an institution with U-M’s capability. It is an honor and a privilege to do this here. The fact that I can touch so many lives here is awe inspiring.
I’ve already seen some of that start to happen even though I’m not yet teaching. Over the summer I advised a student group on leadership and professionalism in their efforts to launch a small satellite. I helped the students get organized, test, evaluate, set up a project management plan, and create executive presentations, etc.
They ate up the advice; it really helped them build upon their academic experience and connect it to enterprise systems that they will deal with as they move into their careers. I loved having the opportunity to see these students so engaged and so excited.
I’ve had a great career at Ford but this is really energizing for me. I’m so thrilled to have made the move over here. I feel like a kid. It is that amazing of an opportunity for me here.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A: How extremely competitive of a swimmer I am. I’ve done a 10 mile race in Utah four times and placed in the top four each time. My son Colin, a U-M Biomedical Engineering grad, has always been my dedicated support kayaker. In the water, we were on parallel paths when he kayaked alongside me. Now we find ourselves going in opposite directions: this summer, he left U-M for a job at Ford, and I left Ford for a job at U-M.