For Ronald K. Leonard, incoming president of the Society of Automotive Engineers 1998-1999, the view has been worth the climb. And climb he has. Mr. Leonard, a recent retiree from the John Deere Co. has been making the climb since 1956, shortly after graduating with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from Iowa State University. He also has a master's of science from Michigan State University.
Mr. Leonard joined the Deere organization in 1956 at Des Moines, IA, and has held several key engineering posts there between 1956 and his retirement a few months ago as director of Worldwide Agricultural Tractor & Component Engineering at the Waterloo John Deere Product Engineering Center. "Forty-one years with the company," he says, "just a fascinating experience."
In addition to his positions at John Deere, Mr. Leonard is a registered professional engineer in Iowa, has written several engineering articles, has been a speaker at numerous technical society meetings and holds six patents. "Actually, I think there are a couple more than that. Most are on the mechanization of cotton harvesting, equip-ment, re-applied new technology to a lot of the conventional things that were going on with the cotton harvesting machines."
"With this job," Mr. Leonard says of his appointment to SAE president, "I've walked off one stage and onto another one. I don't intend to sit around and vegetate. I've had a very satisfying career and worked in many phases of the company and business and it's time for me to do other things."
Those "other things" include sustaining the solid growth patterns for SAE membership, which now stands at 74,000, up by 3,000 since outgoing president David Holloway began his term as SAE president a year ago.
Says Mr. Leo-nard: "I think that growth and opportunities are still ahead for us, and portions of growth will be greater than others. Maybe they've changed a bit year by year, so we won't see the exact same amount, but I think that we're going to see continued and steady growth in appreciable numbers."
He also plans to focus on increasing global membership in SAE. "Certainly globalization is one of the key things that is going on affecting business in the world today," Mr. Leonard says. "I see us in SAE needing to continue to develop our plan and member support and our whole delivery of member services to the international-based membership."
He says global membership growth will continue to be one of his objectives as well as support of the organization. "During David's term, a number of memorandums of understanding have been signed in India, Korea, China and Austria," Mr. Leonard says. "So, during the course of the year, we'll probably have the opportunity to do that in one or more new countries. You initiate new activities, but then once you've started with that the previous year, you need to follow up and implement plans to make those markets more robust. Globalization is still going to be a big part of our presidency."
Though more industrialist than educator, Mr. Leonard will continue to be very involved in student-related projects within SAE. "I intend to play a very active and vigorous role in participation with the Baja's and World in Motion projects. Those design competitions and student clubs are a very vital source of new members for our organization," he asserts.
"The development of the bridge between industry, the university, the sponsorship, tutoring and mentoring that goes on with the industry reps who come into those student clubs and universities are all part of the process of enabling a young person to learn what industry is expecting and how they go about doing things. And likewise, industry gets acquainted with the student and how they function and obviously this leads to job opportunities. So, it's all related to the whole process of engineering education and employment.
Mr. Leonard and his wife, Liz, have a son (also an engineer) and two daughters, the eldest a professional musician in Austin, TX, and the youngest a teacher in Milwaukee, WI.