Engineering expertise and entrepreneurial drive do not often go hand-in-hand. Typically, engineers bring their skillset to large, established corporations and join in on helping make the founder’s vision a reality. It is not often that an engineer, particularly one fresh out of college, will reject a multinational corporation and head out on their own; but that is exactly what Peter Sieve did almost 35 years ago.
After earning his PHD from the University of Washington, Zieve was approached by Boeing with an offer to join the company. Unfortunately for Boeing, that offer was contingent upon Zieve signing over the rights to the low voltage electromagnetic riveting technology that he had developed during his studies at the University of Washington. This was something that Zieve was unwilling to do and with the encouragement of his mentor Jens Jorgensen he rejected the offer and embarked on his own entrepreneurial journey.
It can be incredibly daunting to stand up to a mega-corporation in the way that Zieve did. In addition to the David vs Goliath aspect of such a decision, a graduate student who is just entering the workforce can struggle with having enough faith in their own concept to pass up such a payday.
Zieve was very much in the throes of that struggle and credits Jorgensen’s encouragement as a major factor in the way he began his impressive career. He explained that dynamic by saying, “When you’re just getting started in the industry, it can be tough to stand up to a giant like Boeing. Jens helped me see that I didn’t have to give in to huge corporations – I could carve my own path.”
Emboldened by his mentor, Zieve started his own company which he appropriately named Electroimpact. Unlike some serial entrepreneurs, Zieve has stuck with his company since its founding in 1986. He built the firm because he believed in his invention and his tech, and he has stuck with it because he created a company culture that he thought the engineering world needed.
The vision for Electroimpact was for it to be an “engineer’s haven” and he has certainly achieved that goal. Zieve knows from first hand experience that a motivated engineer who has pride in their work and ownership of their ideas will be the one to yield the best results. That is why he modeled his company in a way that empowers its employees and makes them feel as though they are part of something bigger.
One of the ways he achieved that was by sharing profits with engineers. That bonus not only offers a financial incentive for employees to contribute their best efforts towards the company’s success but also allows them to see how their work directly affects Electroimpact’s bottom line, allowing them to understand their value in a way that is not common in the industry.
Another way that Zieve has created an aerospace manufacturing and tooling firm for engineers by engineers is by granting all of his employees access to the same tools and resources. This makes everyone at the company feel as though they are equally valued regardless of their position in the corporate hierarchy.
Zieve also gives engineers more responsibility than they would have at other firms. The increased scope of an engineers role is explained on the Electroimpact website as such, “At Electroimpact an engineer is involved in the full scope of a project from inception, negotiations all the way through warranty and spare parts provisioning.” That ethos drives the company’s founding belief that “engineer pride of achievement [is] the driving force toward technical and commercial success.”
Zieve was ahead of the curve when it came to understanding how employee freedom can translate to a company’s success. Steve Jobs learned that lesson the hard way after being forced out of Apple. Jobs rejoined the company and it still took years for him to come to that realization and break his habit of micromanaging. Only after Jobs had that epiphany for himself and restructured Apple’s hierarchical structure did the company’s valuation begin approaching $1 trillion and fully cemented its status as the tech behemoth we know today.
Dr Peter Zieve’s career and Electroimpact’s success shows what having faith in one’s own ideas and the drive to see those ideas come to fruition can do. Zieve also knew that if he felt how he felt about how engineers are valued in a major corporation, other engineers would surely feel the same. Because of that, he chose to create his own company with a culture drastically different from the status quo to bring in the best talent possible.
Rather than use his entrepreneurial spirit to jump from project to project or focus on his own success, Zieve created something that he believed in and did it for the good of engineers in general.