Robert “Bob” G. Wilson
Vice President, Marketing
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Born on a U.S. Air Force base in Nebraska, raised in Biloxi, Mississippi, educated in Okinawa, Japan, I grew up as a multicultural kid in a multicultural environment. No surprise that my professional life would be multicultural too.
I was always interested in science and technology – particularly chemistry – and how people used it or how businesses made it useful. So, after graduating from Michigan Technological University with a chemical engineering degree, I joined Shell Chemical Company as a technical sales representative.
In addition to selling resins to adhesives, paints, and coatings, I began helping customers develop new applications. One was a spray-up molding for airfoils on trucks. My customer was having shrinkage problems with polyester molding, so I helped them switch to epoxy. Soon after, I began helping with larger, more complex applications, such as aerospace and transportation composites.
Although I was young and just learning how to sell, I knew I liked helping customers solve problems and creating value for them. I enjoyed thinking about new and novel ways of helping them get things done. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was my introduction to marketing.
Years later, after earning an M.B.A. and a master’s in Asian studies (to learn more about business in my mother’s native Japan), I joined Arthur D. Little as a global management consultant. My work included operational diagnostics and improvements, segmentation, portfolio management, and valuation for mergers and acquisitions. For one project, I spent a year in Korea, working with two large petrochemical companies, learning their business practices and doing valuations to prepare them to merge.
It was a good experience for my time later at W. R. Grace, where I participated in acquisitions. That work took me around the world to China, Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Russia …. Eventually, I helped the company acquire three businesses globally.
I left my business development role to serve as global marketing director of the company’s packaging technologies division. It was my first marketing leadership position, and it reinforced the importance of customer focus. According to can and bottle manufacturers (our direct customers), we were in the sealants business. But according to beverage brand owners (our indirect customers), we were in the “taste control” business. And, ultimately, brand owners were the decision makers. To be “taste neutral” and to ensure beverages stayed “fresh tasting,” we made product and process improvements. That not only secured our relationship with brand owners but also positioned us to enter adjacent markets.
Some may call it marketing, but fundamentally it was the same thing I’d always done: study applications and figure out how my business or products could add more value for customers.
That’s what I do today as vice president of marketing at Swagelok. I want to lead our sales and marketing teams to look deeper into our customers and their applications and find new ways to provide value for them – and then focus on the industries and technical challenges that fit best with our values and capabilities. We need to constantly push the boundaries and provide better products that take customers where they need to go.
The role of marketing is making connections – between need and solution, and between supplier, distributor, and customer – so we all win together.