Paying it Forward

David Roberts sitting in a race car

David A. Roberts

(BS ’74) chairman, president, and CEO of Carlisle Companies Inc. and his wife, Susan, are creating change on campus.

While he was growing up, Dave Roberts, the chairman, president, and CEO of Carlisle Companies Incorporated, didn’t give too much thought to the idea of going to college. In fact, when he graduated from Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights, IL, he became an apprentice at a tool and die making firm. “It was the best thing to happen to me,” says Roberts. “I was working six days a week, 10-hour days on the night shift, and all of my friends were having fun while I was at work.” As the first three months of his apprenticeship drew to a close, and his friends were all preparing to leave for college, he saw the world in a new light and enrolled at Murray State University in Murray, KY. “I had a lot of uncles, aunts, and older cousins on both sides, and none  of them attended college, so I was the first  in my extended family to go to college. At the time, most of my relatives after graduating from high school got a job at the Ford Stamping Plant, in the mills, or at one of  the other big employers in the region.”

After one semester at Murray State University, Roberts enlisted in the Marines, where he served time in Viet Nam before being honorably discharged with the rank of corporal.

When he returned from the service, he started working at the Gary plant of the Budd Company, now ThyssenKrupp Budd. “I think it was my summer job and my two semesters of college that helped, but regardless, I’ve always loved factories,”  he explains. His childhood also formed this interest: as a boy, Roberts would accompany his father, a truck driver, on steel and aluminum deliveries. “I was probably in more factories by the age of 10 than most people are in a lifetime.”

Roberts, who has always had a natural talent for fixing things, and spent many hours in the family garage watching and helping his father and uncle repair anything and everything, chose technology as his field of study when he returned to school, enrolling at Purdue University Calumet. He was still working full time. “I was working seven days a week at the Budd Company and carrying 12-15 hours of credit each semester,” he recalls. This was long before online classes, but by attending school  12 months a year and getting little or no sleep, Roberts graduated  with a bachelor of science degree in technology in 1974.

Dave and his wife, Susan (circa 1971)

During that time, his wife, Susan, took a position at Purdue University Calumet’s registration department. She started as a clerk, quickly became a supervisor, and was managing full-time and student employees.  About halfway through her pregnancy with their son, Jeff, she left her position to focus on family, and Dave then earned his MBA from Indiana University Northwest in 1978.

“What Purdue University Calumet offered me was the opportunity to round out my skills and refine my leadership roles,” Roberts says. “I particularly remember taking courses in accounting and industrial psychology, because I wanted to be able to read and understand financial reports and to have a grasp of behaviors that occur in the workplace. I received a well-rounded education.”

Roberts took what he learned during his undergraduate and graduate studies to forge a successful career that started during his days at Purdue University Calumet. He has held various manufacturing, engineering, and general management positions since 1969 with the Budd Company, Pitney Bowes, and FMC Corporation, and has served as a group vice president with the Marmon Group LLC, and chairman, president, and CEO of Graco Inc. He has been the chairman, president, and CEO of Charlotte, NC-based Carlisle Companies Incorporated since 2007 Roberts credits his career success in part to having applied his Purdue University Calumet education to diverse and challenging manufacturing, engineering, and management opportunities.

Roberts’ firm belief in American manufacturing led him and Susan to make a donation toward the development of a manufacturing center at Purdue University Calumet, which will be housed in the university’s emerging Manufacturing and Commercialization Center. This gift was matched by Carlisle.

Taylor Allen (BS ’12)

Taylor AllenEach spring, the College of Technology hosts Technology Day, an event which epitomizes the experiential learning promoted by the university. It highlights research, academic opportunities, and senior student projects. In 2012, one of the professionals in attendance was Dave Roberts, who visited his alma mater to see what current technology students were working on. He was particularly impressed by the student work of Taylor Allen (BS ’12). The project Allen presented featured new machined castings for Offenhauser engines. Roberts was intrigued that Allen knew so much about the Offenhauser, an auto-racing engine first popularized in the 1930s and not in use since the 1970s. He was impressed by the then-25-year-old Allen’s ingenuity in choosing the project, and his obvious talent. Allen went on to land a job with the Brake & Friction division at Carlisle, and he is part of the company’s pilot management training program.

“We are losing top engineers to careers in research or to Silicon Valley-type positions,” Roberts declares. “We need engineers who are willing to work in factories, designing products and automation to make these facilities more productive or more efficient. I hope our contribution helps engineers develop an idea and put it into practice.”

Photo of Dave Roberts with two other workers in a plant

And he hopes that schools like Purdue University Calumet, which value experiential and hands-on learning, will continue to train the next generation of engineers, engineering managers, manufacturing managers, and executives who want to work in factories.

Dave Roberts wearing a safety vest and another worker examine a component

“When I was at [Purdue University Calumet’s] Technology Day in 2012, I saw what was being accomplished on campus, and I was excited to see so many creative and involved student projects,” Roberts says. “This is the road to our future, and I am glad that the donation Susan and I made, as well as the contribution from Carlisle, will help perpetuate this type of education.”

–By Megan Summers