Joseph Meredith, Jr.
Aerospace Engineering, Class of 1969, BS
Industrial and Systems Engineering, Class of 1997, Ph.D.
“Community – our goal for the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC),” as President Joe Meredith said, “is something that can and must be continuously cultivated.”
So Meredith arranges for events such as networking socials, pumpkin carving contests, and recreational sports leagues to bring people together – to make intellectual, introverted scientific employees share what they do in an open atmosphere. The end results are more business opportunities and satisfied employees, said the dedicated entrepreneur.
Meredith grew up on a farm in a rural Richmond community with the closest child to play with more than a mile from his house. As an only child, born to a bricklayer and a housewife, he was never treated like one, Meredith recalled. The expectation that young Meredith would attend college was steadfast and firm – his father saw to it. The senior had made it perfectly clear that his son would not follow in his footsteps.
During blistering hot summers, his father gave him the difficult job of working with bricklayers. It was the genius behind his father’s desire to have him go to college and hopefully have a much better life. At each week’s end, his father would hand him a small pay envelope. “I think he wanted to make me so miserable, I would beg to go to college,” Meredith recalled.
His skillful father was also a hunter who traded piano lessons in exchange for killing ground hogs on the piano teacher’s farm, so young Meredith could learn to play. “This began my exposure to music, which to this day is a large part of my life thanks to my father’s foresight into my future,” Meredith noted.
By 10, he developed another fascination – this time with flying after watching a neighbor build an airplane from scratch. Meredith was fortunate to have an uncle with connections to Goodyear who subsequently secured a flight for him on its infamous blimp. “From then on I knew I wanted to fly – that was my goal,” said Meredith.
Professionally he knew he wanted to be an engineer. “I was pretty good at math and very bad at English,” smiled Meredith. “So, my teachers assumed I had to be an engineer.” By eighth grade he was learning mathematics at an accelerated pace allowing him to take advanced placement classes.
At Varina High School, his basketball coach was also his math teacher. “I played basketball and I wanted to be like him so I tried even harder in his math class.”
Meredith became one of a small percentage of his graduating high school class to go on to college. “My father loved Virginia Tech without reason it seemed,” said Meredith, shaking his head. The senior Meredith had been a cadet at John Marshall High School and later accepted to West Point. However, fate forced him to go to work in order to pay for his younger brother’s schooling. That scenario would not happen to his son and much to his father’s delight, Meredith became first generation to attend college at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1965.
He enrolled in the aerospace program to better understand flight. “I loved Virginia Tech. I fell in love with the rolling hills, the challenge of academia, and being a part of making innovative ideas come to life,” said Meredith.
Upon graduation he went on to pursue his master’s degree in aeronautics, astronautics, and engineering science at Purdue, the home to many astronauts.
Meredith was drafted, but he was able to defer joining the service until he graduated. Then he entered the Air Force Officer Training School, where he later failed his flight physical due to allergies, crushing his dreams of flying the blue skies. He sadly returned to Richmond with a shaved head and no prospects.
When Newport News Shipbuilding called, Meredith jumped at the chance for an interview. He was hired as a research engineer in fluid mechanics. His computer skills led him to become a computer systems department head. Meredith’s impressive leadership skills soon earned him a spot in a general management development program. Subsequently, Meredith was promoted to proposal and marketing manager with responsibility for over $1 billion of proposals on cruisers, destroyers, and the reactivation of a battleship. He was also engaged in various entrepreneurial projects.
In 1983, Meredith was one of a handful of corporate executives to be accepted to the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC). Graduation from DSMC was a requirement to become a program manager of a major weapon system. The program was similar to getting an MBA, which proved instrumental in developing Meredith’s business knowledge.
In 1988, Meredith relocated to Washington D.C. to manage the shipyard’s engineering office. The office was responsible for the engineering work that the Navy wanted done locally. In 1991, Meredith was back in Newport News managing some 400 employees in the Integrated Logistics Support Department, which provided products and services related to the life cycle of a ship after construction.
After three years, cutbacks in defense spending forced a workforce reduction. After 22 years with the shipyard, Meredith was one of many laid off. “I was given 33 weeks of severance pay,” said Meredith. “In that timeframe I became an entrepreneur working for IBM, DARPA, and other companies. This period was invaluable in helping me understand the challenges that people face when starting companies.”
At 45, he accepted his dream job in Blacksburg – President of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
One of his long-term goals, to return to Blacksburg, a town where technology was thriving and new ideas abounded, was finally accomplished. Getting there had seemed unattainable, as Meredith had applied for several jobs at Virginia Tech throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
“Over a long career I have had the privilege of attempting to attract a good number of individuals into various positions at Virginia Tech. Joe was one such individual,” said Paul Torgersen, former president of the VTCRC and former president of Virginia Tech. Torgersen led the search for the center’s president and found the talented, driven Meredith to assume the position.
“I felt truly happy for the first time in a very long while,” said Meredith. “I told my wife and my three daughters that we were finally moving to Blacksburg. They couldn’t believe it after trying for so long.”
Today, the 230-acre park is home to over 150 research, technology, and support companies due to Meredith’s vision. Expansions on the northwest side of the park provide enough land to construct 19 buildings in addition to the current 29 single- and multi-tenant buildings. The mission of the center, in collaboration with the university, is to advance research, education, and technology.
At the for-profit, wholly-owned, private subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, the CEO and president explained he is continuously looking for good science and exceptional people who can execute their dreams. The biggest challenge, he said, is raising money to support good scientific ideas given the possible chance of failure. Today, the VTCRC is a successful community of over 2,700 employees and growing.
In 2008, the NewVA Corridor Technology Council presented him with the NewVA Leadership award. The award recognized one who “not only succeeds in the workplace, but also leads by example by contributing significantly to the community in which we live,” according to a statement by the council. Meredith has numerous accolades, including the 2011 Professional Leadership Award from the Christiansburg-Blacksburg Rotary Club and the 2001 Business Person of the Year Award from the Blacksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Because of Meredith’s innovative ideas with the VTCRC and ability to make his visions become reality, the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) honored the VTCRC with its “Outstanding International Research Park” award in 2010.
“I can think of no one who exceeded my expectations more than Dr. Meredith. He has done an outstanding job,” said Torgersen, a National Academy of Engineering member.
Meredith began another educational pursuit in 1997, returning to the classroom as a student. Twenty-seven years after he completed his master’s, Meredith obtained his Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech. “I might have studied too much during my undergraduate years. Not knowing if I could succeed, I kept my nose in the books with little time for fun things,” Meredith reflected. “As a result I wasn’t well-rounded. Returning to the classroom as a student, I was more able to enjoy extra-curricular opportunities.” He has been learning Chinese for the last nine years – just for fun.
The spring of 2014 will be the first in 15 years Meredith will take a step back from teaching Global Issues in Industrial Management in the ISE department. Instead, he is concentrating his time on developing a $250 million research, retail, and residential 100-acre campus in Newport News in a partnership with W.M. Jordon Co. and the Virginia Tech Foundation. The end-goal is to mimic Virginia Tech’s CRC facility and incorporate additional space where people can live, eat, shop, and exercise – creating an integrated community environment.
“I don’t plan to work forever,” Meredith smiled, “but I do intend to stay engaged in entrepreneurship and community building in Blacksburg. It took me long enough to get here and I’m not leaving.”
Class of: 1969 (AE), Class of: 1997 (ISE)
Year Inducted into Academy: 2014