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Bob Wetterman started his career in the semiconductor industry, but after a series of industry and economic changes, he tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit he learned from his father. For more than 20 years, Bob has been leading and developing BEST, Inc., a PCB rework/repair service provider, solder training company, and stencil manufacturer. In this interview, Bob reflects on highlights of his long career, and we meet Nash Bell, who will be leading BEST through its next phase.
Nolan Johnson: Bob, congratulations on your retirement; we have much to talk about. Let’s go back to before you bought BEST. Tell me about your background.
Bob Wettermann: I’m an electrical engineer by training, starting out in the semiconductor industry. I worked in applications engineering for Advanced Micro Devices, but cut my teeth as a co-op engineer at IBM, learning the front end of the semiconductor manufacturing process. When the great PC bust happened in 1985, AMD CEO Jerry Sanders sent everybody home for four weeks. He said, “People are the most important thing and we're never going to lay anybody off.” Of course, he didn't say you would be home for six weeks without pay.
I realized I didn't want a career in the semiconductor industry because it was too cyclical, so I came back to Chicago, where I started my career with Eaton Corporation as an applications engineer in industrial controls. The company funded my master’s in business administration and with that, I wanted to be CEO and champion of the world. That dream was squashed pretty quickly (laughs). So, I switched gears.
My parents are both first-generation German immigrants and “forced” us to attend German school on Saturdays, which I hated at the time. But I searched for entrepreneurs in the Chicago area that could use my German language skills and found a startup in the secondary plastics processing equipment industry—working for a European-based plasma and corona treating and static control systems company. I did that for 10 years. I learned to love small business because you can make decisions rapidly as opportunities or problems come up. We had to package up our own products and send them out via UPS to customers, but it was a really fun job.
I was able to leverage my German experience again, this time with my MBA and some industry knowledge. as I looked for a new job. I traveled to Europe frequently, speaking German to my Danish and German counterparts. I really loved small business, but when the owner died, and his daughter took over, it just wasn't fun anymore.
Johnson: I think that’s when you started to pivot and BEST came into the picture. Tell me about that.
Wettermann: At first, I went to a publicly traded company, Woodhead Industries, where I learned all about corporate decision-making, decision by committee, and so forth. I stuck that out for five years, saved my nickels, then bought BEST.
My father was an entrepreneur, and I started my entrepreneur career with BEST which was right down the street from my childhood house, with eight employees performing contract rework and repair services as well as some solder training.
To continue reading the rest of this interesting article about Bob which appears in the April 2023 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.