Hobart A. Weaver
Class of 1950, BS
In 1979, Fortune Magazine designated Western Electric of Richmond, Virginia, as one of the 10 best-managed American factories. The facility was just one of the many that are listed on Hobie Weaver’s resume garnering great success.
From orchestrating the blueprint of a new plant to leading his teams to dramatic sales increases in the production of printed and multi-layered circuits, Mr. Weaver, a 1949 mechanical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, was sought after for his vast consulting knowledge and managerial skills.
During the first six years of his professional career, from 1950 to 1956, with Western Electric in Greensboro, North Carolina, the manufacturing arm of AT&T, Mr. Weaver held a manufacturing engineering position. This was the beginning of a long, prosperous relationship with the global company and his prolific career.
“I was engaged in building military equipment for the U.S. Navy, like navigation and fire control systems for naval guns, or rather big warfare systems for fire control on navy battleships,” Mr. Weaver says.
From 1957 through 1962, the Virginia native participated in groundbreaking work on Project Nike, developing a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The missile’s first-stage solid rocket booster became the basis for numerous rockets, including the Nike Hercules missile and NASA’s Nike Smoke rocket, used for upper-atmosphere research, which ultimately led to Nike Zeus, the Anti-Ballistic Defense Missile (ABM) System.
A new challenge was presented to Mr. Weaver and his team when AT&T informed the government it no longer wanted or needed to build military equipment, as numerous other companies were replicating their products. Instead the company’s management wanted to provide telephone equipment, including a new technology of printed circuits. Bell Laboratories, another subsidiary of AT&T, would be the brains of the operation with Western Electric, the manufacturer of the goods, and with Mr. Weaver managing this innovative venture.
He was promoted to plant manager in 1971, supervising some 1,600 employees. He led a smaller group to research printing circuit technology, which was the chemical process of reducing wiring diagrams on copper sheets to individual wiring of copper circuits for application in products for AT&T.
Mr. Weaver and his team soon found the Greensboro plant was too small for the high demand of printing circuit technology. Consequently, in 1973, AT&T built a new plant in Richmond, Virginia, naming him as the manager. Nine years and $80 million later, the Richmond plant, originally a 225,000 square foot facility was increased to 400,000 square feet.
While living in the Richmond area, he was very active in community affairs. He was elected to two terms as chairman of the board of the Richmond Metropolitan YMCA. He served on the board of directors for the Bank of Virginia and the Richmond Memorial Hospital. At the request of President Gerald Ford, he served as chairman of the National Alliance of Businessmen for the greater Richmond metropolitan area.
At the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) annual meeting in the fall of 1974, Mr. Weaver was awarded the impressive Edwin F. Church Award, for distinguished service to mechanical engineering education in activities other than teaching, research, and administration in an educational institution. The philanthropist was recognized for devoting his time and efforts to aiding his alma mater as well as other engineering schools.
In 1978, AT&T transferred Mr. Weaver to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to manage three plants, one in Winston-Salem, one in Greensboro, and one in Burlington. These three operations were employing approximately 12,000 people, including approximately 450 engineers.
During his time at Western Electric, Mr. Weaver met F. William “Bill” Stephenson, founder of the Academy of Engineering Excellence and the college’s electrical and computer engineering advisory board, as well as past dean of engineering. Then, Stephenson was an untenured faculty member, “begging for equipment from industry and government,” in developing what is now the Hybrid Microelectronics Laboratory in Randolph Hall, Stephenson recalls.
“Hobie responded to my plea to Western Electric by visiting my fledgling facility, [used] his extensive knowledge of flexible circuitry to assess my most critical needs, and then [searched] the company’s surplus equipment lists until he located suitable items, to be donated and used at the Virginia Tech laboratory. I will always remember the special care Hobie took to help me succeed,” says Stephenson, now retired.
Mr. Weaver also found additional equipment for the establishment of Virginia Tech’s vibration lab.
And, during his visits to Virginia Tech, Mr. Weaver had the opportunity to meet professor Leon Arp who wanted to show his latest research project. “As we were walking through the lower floor of Randolph Hall, I saw a cage with two beautiful white rabbits, asked if he were starting his own bunny club, and if he was, he should count me in,” jokes Weaver.
Arp explained he and his wife had recently had a child born with a respiratory defect. The professor had sadly learned there wasn’t a respiratory system sensitive enough to aid this type of problem in newborns. But, he did find rabbits have a respiratory system similar to infants. He needed the funding to continue to conduct research. Within the next 30 days, Mr. Weaver had successfully obtained a $50,000 grant from the Western Electric fund with the assurance that he would also get a grant the following year.
With Mr. Weaver’s continuing aid, Arp made successful progress with his project, and soon he was presenting the success story in several conferences around the world. Mr. Weaver was so enthusiastic about Arp’ s efforts that he arranged for the AT&T medical director to visit Blacksburg for a demonstration of the project. Consequently, he was able to acquire an additional $100,000 grant for Arp’s research.
In 1982, Bell Systems started to break down its operations as a result of an anti-trust suit. Mr. Weaver was quite honored when the legal department of AT&T asked him to serve as a technology witness for Western Electric at the congressional hearing. In the reorganization plan, Mr. Weaver was asked to relocate to company headquarters in New York. He didn’t want to move north to a cold climate and had offers to consult, so he chose to retire for the first time.
Later that year, when consulting for Tropical Circuits in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a company desperately needing help managing the operation, Mr. Weaver was offered the position of vice president of sales and marketing. He reentered the work force and moved his family further south to the Sunshine State. He became an active part owner of the company and eventually wanted to buy out the business. He was turned down and left shortly thereafter, but not before he led the company to increase sales from $9 million to $33 million in four short years.
He thought he would finally settle down and enjoy his second retirement, but within two months of leaving his position with Tropical Circuits, came an urgent phone call from Bill McGinley, chairman of the board for Methode Electronics in Chicago, Illinois who he had known from previous business dealings. The company wanted to merge nine separate divisions into one entity and it wanted the advice of the former AT&T manager. After spending only one week at the locality, Mr. Weaver was offered the position of vice president of marketing and sales. He accepted, but only on the condition he would not have to relocate to the north.
The firm agreed; and, in 1986, Mr. Weaver moved his family to their beach home in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. While working for the Windy City company from his home in the Tar Heel State, Mr. Weaver knew where the electronic industry was truly booming. He suggested to McGinley that Methode Electronics establish an office in one of the most prominent high-tech research and development centers in the U.S. — Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. And so they did. From 1986 to 1992, Mr. Weaver once again led his crew to a dramatic sales increase, from $45 million a year to an astounding $400 million annually.
The third time was the charm, and Mr. Weaver retired for good in 1992, and although he has “retired” three times, the Virginia Tech graduate is still generous with sharing his knowledge to troubled companies and continues to consult from time-to-time.
He and his wife Mollie of 41 years currently dwell in a golfing community in Glen Allen, Virginia, to be close to family and their children. They have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One grandson is a Virginia Tech graduate, with honors in the communications program and another is working towards obtaining his master’s in information technology, also at Virginia Tech. Mr. Weaver often recalls, “the good ole days of past when I first came to Virginia Tech as an aspiring baseball player, ready to save the struggling team. To my dismay I didn’t make the team. Instead I became a drum major for the Highty-Tighties, and then later head cheerleader, cheering on the single-game-winning season football team of 1949.
“It was tough to cheer on a crowd when you can’t win a football game, but I still had a good time.” With determination and a positive outlook, Mr. Weaver is always looking forward to the next challenge.
Class of: 1950
Year Inducted into Academy: 2012