Roger Boisjoly, P.E. – Truthteller
This success story is a shining example for all consultants — not just engineers. Roger is best known for trying to stop the Challenger Space Shuttle Launch in January 1986 due to his concerns about faulty O-rings in the rocket boosters. Although often referred to as a whistleblower, Roger prefers the term Truthteller.
Roger never intended to become a consultant. As a mechanical engineer, he enjoyed working in the aerospace industry for 25 years, and probably would have spent his entire career doing what he loved.
But all that changed the day Challenger exploded!
At the time, Roger worked for Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid state rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle program. In July 1985, Roger wrote a memo to his managers warning of a faulty design that could result in a catastrophe. Due to program concerns, Roger’s warning was ignored. So were subsequent warnings.
Roger’s memo was based on an investigation that revealed failures in the O-rings used to seal sections of the rocket boosters. These failures were aggravated by low temperatures. Further investigations resulted in a warning not to launch at temperatures under 53 degrees.
With overnight temperatures of 30 degrees for the Challenger launch, Roger and his engineering colleagues tried to stop the flight. They almost succeeded, but were subsequently overruled by management. As a result, seven crew members lost their lives in a fiery explosion 73 seconds after liftoff.
A presidential investigation followed the disaster, and Roger was called as a witness. His testimony exposed the truth about senior management’s failure to heed warnings from him and his colleagues. Warnings about it not being safe to launch in freezing temperatures that would result in a disaster.
That testimony ended his career with the Space Shuttle program. Retaliation was swift and brutal. Roger lost his position and was blackballed from the industry. He paid a stiff price for simply telling the truth.
But Roger survived, and became a consultant. He passed his Professional Engineering (PE) exams 29 years out of college. Now licensed to practice engineering as an independent consultant, he started his own forensic business. That business gradually evolved into speaking engagements as he traveled nationally and internationally to lecture about Professionalism, Organizational Behavior and Ethics.
Roger is considered a hero in the engineering community. For his honesty and integrity, in 1988 he was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement for Science. He has received numerous other honors as well.
Roger retired from full time speaking requiring air travel in 2005, but still keeps semi-active driving to southern California several time a year to speak to selected managers about his experiences.
Integrity matters… Thank you, Roger, for yours.
Edit – It is with regret I report that Roger recently passed away. RIP, Truth-teller.
© 2011 – 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Gene K. Baxter, Ph.D., P.E. – Baxter Engineering
I met Gene a dozen years ago through a professional group in Phoenix. A mechanical engineer, Gene specializes in forensic consulting (accident investigations, product failures, etc.) Typical clients are attorneys or insurance companies that need a professional to investigate and assist in legal proceedings and, if it goes to trial, to act as an expert witness.
Gene had started a local professional group, the Forensic Group, composed of a range of forensic experts — engineers, accountants, nurses, and more. Since I had done some forensic work myself, he invited me to join and attend their monthly meetings.
Although curious about the Forensic Group, I was even more curious how Gene got into this particular business. His story was most fascinating.
It was Friday, February 12, 1993, and Gene was suddenly out of work. Intrigued by both consulting and forensics for some time, he hung out his shingle as a Forensic Consulting Engineer two days later — Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1993.
The good news is that Gene had very solid credentials — a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, and a Professional Engineer’s (PE) license. The bad news is that he had no prior experience in forensic work, although he had experience as a consulting engineer while employed by GE.
So what to do? Gene went to the law library at a nearby state university, picked up some law magazines, and reviewed the consultant ads in the back of those magazines. He then called several of the consultants to see how they got started in their business.
One of these forensic engineers was Roger Boisjoly, who you may recognize as the Whistleblower (Roger’s term is Truthteller) prior to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster in 1986. It turns out that Roger lived only a few miles from Gene, so they got together for lunch. (Roger’s story is so interesting we’ll cover it in a subsequent post.)
Soon after the lunch with Roger, Gene contacted another local forensic engineer, and had lunch with him, too. Both engineers were very gracious in sharing ideas and encouragement. They did not see Gene as a competitor, but as a potential colleague.
Gene thought likewise. Since he enjoyed meeting both, he suggested a third lunch with all three of them. One of them brought along a fourth friend who did forensic accounting. Over lunch, they decided to meet once a month to discuss their mutual interest in forensics, and thus, the Forensic Group was born.
Gene’s first consulting job came from this network. A few months after their first meeting, Roger asked if Gene was interested in a job related to a hospital HVAC (heating, ventilating & air conditioning) system. Thanks to that referral and the help from his group, Gene’s business was off and running.
Over the years, Gene has received several referrals from this network. Likewise, Gene has steered many jobs to others in the network when they were better qualified to handle the job. It has been mutually beneficial for everyone.
Gene pursued other avenues too — always a good strategy. There is no “silver bullet” when marketing a consulting practice. As one example, Gene started calling insurance companies to see if there was any interest in his services.
Although it took a number of phone calls, Gene hit pay dirt with one automobile insurer. They retained Gene to review rear end collisions. He became their “low-speed rear-end” expert, which resulted in dozens of consultations for this client alone.
By end of the year, Gene was making almost as much as he had as an employee. While not usually the case for a startup, it shows what diligence and determination can accomplish. That, and the help of some newfound friends.
Although semi-retired, Gene is still active, and the group he formed still meets monthly. If you are interested, you can visit Gene’s web site at www.forensicgroup.com. You can find Gene’s information there, too.
A quick disclaimer. I no longer pursue forensic work, but I’ll discuss forensic consulting in a future post. As Gene says, it can be both intellectually and financially rewarding.
Do you have a success story to share? If so, please send it in.
© 2011 – 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
A retired engineer does the math…
Every time I tell Karl’s story, it bring me joy. My engineering colleagues always love it, too. You see, when some big company bureaucrats (BCBs) tried to stick it to Karl, he struck back and won.
Karl didn’t intend to consult. Nearing retirement, he alerted his company that it was time to find or develop a replacement. His expertise was soon going out the door, and he planned to do a lot of fishing. Of course, BCBs dragged their feet, and one day, Karl retired. As planned, he went fishing.
After about three months, however, Karl was getting bored. Not only was he fished out, but he had made all the household repairs he had put off for so many years. Winter was on the way, and he wasn’t sure what to do next.
About that time, BCBs realized they needed Karl’s help. So they called him, and offered him a part time contract. But there was one small catch. Since he received a pension, any contracting fees would reduce his pension by $1 for each $2 in fees. Well, as Karl put it, “You didn’t need to be an engineer to do the math.” He politely refused their offer.
But since he already had his PE (Professional Engineer) license, he decided to form a one man consulting firm. He incorporated, and then asked the BCBs if “consultants” subject to the same pension cuts. “Well, no” they replied. So he quickly said, “Fine, we can do business. And here are my rates.” The rates were about four times what they originally offered him as a contractor.
It turns out they needed Karl — badly. They swallowed hard, and brought Karl in as a consultant. He enjoyed it so much, he started consulting for other local firms too. When I met Karl, he was actually starting to wind down. A professional colleague, he became a friend who graciously shared advice and even sent referrals our way.
After hearing the story, it finally explained his aging Cadillac. I’d always been curious, since Karl just didn’t seem like a Cadillac person. Well, he needed a new car anyway, so he took his first consulting proceeds and bought a Cadillac. He told me he did it for the BCBs — whenever he came to consult, they got to watch him drive up in that Cadillac!
Karl finally did retire, but he had greatly enhanced his retirement funds. He and his wife traveled around the country in a motor home , plus they made several trips to Europe. All this, plus the Cadillac, courtesy of his unintended consulting business.
Do you have a success story to share? Please send it in…
© 2011 – 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.