HomeWork features AHAM members’ insights on careers, success, life outside of work, and AHAM membership. This month, we spoke with Stephen Gatz, Lead Engineer, Codes and Safety, Whirlpool Corporation.
 
What personal and professional goals are you currently pursuing?
My personal goal is to spend more time cycling this year and to take more vacations. Last year, I started renovating my 1950’s home: replacing the siding, windows and electrical service. I have also added a puppy to my pack; so, it is time to slow down and enjoy life a little.
  
Professionally my goal is to alleviate and eliminate several difficult issues that I have been involved in various capacities within my daily work. I am thrilled to say, we are starting to make significant progress, specifically within the cooking category. This has been a very active category where I have been able to address challenges and make forward momentum on enhancing safety, advancing remote and interoperability capabilities and developing an energy test procedure. Resolving challenging issues, and more importantly, the problems they create for consumers, is the professional goal I am motivated to accomplish. It will take time, but I hope to be able to say that we have made it easier for appliances and houses to work together, made homes safer while allowing new features and did what we could to manage regulatory burden. 
  
How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
I’ve been fortunate to have had several remarkable mentors throughout my career and have found that a good mentor not only teaches valuable lessons but instills a sense of family within the organization. As an electrical engineer I developed a passion for plastic design from George Gallanis, “Papa Smurf,” a veteran of the appliance industry who was willing to spend time teaching the intricacies of part design and material properties to a young engineer utilizing colored pencils.
  
A few years later an external tooling engineer and I worked through some difficult designs that taught me about the tooling requirements and capabilities of mold designs. The knowledge they shared not only made me a better designer, seeing plastic part design backwards in 3-D for tooling considerations, but more importantly has allowed me to share this knowledge with others.
  
To be effective, a mentor must be able to guide others to understanding core principles and instill the confidence in them to continue the process of learning and build upon their knowledge. A mentor who is patient and responsive to requests for guidance or advice without taking charge provides confidence that support is there when needed. Like a favorite aunt or uncle, an effective mentor provides a strong model of behavior for the organization. At Whirlpool, the most visible use of mentors is within our Opex Black Belt program where Master Black Belts are engaged with all roles, providing a network of support, training, and guidance throughout the organization. 
  
What are your secrets to having a productive day?
Most of my work today involves developing requirements, requiring frequent committee meetings and internal position discussions. All my colleagues are domiciled in different locations, so we have most of our discussions in the morning. I then use my afternoon to work on specific tasks at hand. Promptly addressing internal questions builds relationships, helps me show support for others, and improves corporate efficiency which makes them a high priority. Many of my colleagues are located in Europe; resolving questions before their close of business is always my goal. When possible, I use time exercising my dogs to develop thoughts on a rationale or how to approach an issue without office distractions and with an abundance of fresh air. Making progress on significant issues, getting fresh air, and having a nice conversation with an associate are the elements to having a productive day. 
  
What is the best advice about leadership that you have ever received?
While attending a corporate retreat for Elkay many years ago, I listened to former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz speak. It is those principles to success that he spoke about that have guided my personal leadership goals: 
1) Can people trust me to do what’s right? 
2) Am I committed to doing my best? 
3) Do I care about other people and show it? 
This advice applies to the corporate landscape for leading effective and efficient teams. I believe them to be particularly important when developing safety requirements; where success can be measured in lives saved and homes destroyed, and the team represents several interest groups. We are often called upon to develop requirements or procedures with limited data and these principles help reinforce the attitude necessary to succeed in an imperfect world.
  
How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
As an appliance manufacturer, our customers encompass people in all segments of the population, and it is important that our organization does as well. Not only is it ethically responsible to ensure that everyone within the organization is treated with respect and free to work in an inclusive environment, but it also provides an internal view from multiple perspectives as to the product features that appeal to a more diverse group. Our outward support for marginalized communities shows support for the employees in those groups and provides a positive image for the company. 
  
What do you gain from your involvement in AHAM?
The breadth of activity and the depth of knowledge within AHAM provides a unique service to coordinate the work of appliance manufacturers in the regulatory space. As a participant in the Major Appliance Engineering Council, I have the opportunity to learn from those with more knowledge in their respective areas and the leadership opportunities associated with chairing committees in a global network of technical specialists. The research that is conducted undergoes critical peer reviews when establishing the criteria as well as analyzing the results, allowing the industry to make data-based decisions or arguments as needed. While we may have heated discussions on specific topics, the members remain professional and cordial while working out differences. We’ve even been known to celebrate the success of a well drafted proposal as part of an overall appliance team without our corporate associations. I consider it a privilege to be associated with the work of AHAM. 
  
Predict an innovation that will revolutionize the next generation.
Artificial intelligence and data tracking are becoming very embedded in our quest for technological advancement. While there are great opportunities for consumer convenience, they are often associated with new opportunities for risk that are difficult to identify or isolate. Managing the changes that allow safe operation of more convenient features without direct user interaction will be complex but there are convenience, energy and health factors that will drive personal automation. 
  
Outside of the appliance industry, what would be your dream job?
I accepted my first position as an engineer with UL so that I could work with consumer products and I now represent a major manufacturer in several product categories, so in many ways I have my dream job. If the clock were to be rewound, and financial considerations aside, I would try my hand at being an adventure outfitter. I have always loved the outdoors and have had a number of great wilderness adventures that have honed my skills to be something to teach our future generations. I suppose I could brew some beer or mead for the guests, something that goes well with stringed instruments around a fire but still allows for experimentation. I would still be in a position where I could provide service to others, continue to learn and be able to share my knowledge.
HomeWork headshot
Stephen Gatz
Lead Engineer
Codes and Safety
Whirlpool Corporation

Looking for past issues of HomeWork?

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