Each week, Paul Wood interviews a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet TROY KOLLMANN, an expert in marine engines and the site director for i-Jet Lab, a cutting-edge innovation center for the Brunswick Corp. and its divisions based at the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign.
Brunswick has created a think tank through its Business Acceleration program. The corporation could have gone virtually anywhere in the U.S. Why did it choose Champaign?
The Research Park at the UI is fairly unique among large universities. It offers corporations a collaborative environment to exchange operational ideas with other companies that operate in the innovation space. It also offers the ability to tap into world-class partnerships with university resources such as the College of Business, College of Engineering and the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications). It also helps that the UI is technically one of the best universities in the U.S. for software and engineering.
How many interns do you have?
We are at 20 student interns for the summer. Over the last 2.5 years, we have had the opportunity to work with more than 50 UI students overall in our program. They are from a diverse set of majors and backgrounds, including business, informatics, design, software and mechanical and electrical engineering.
Also, you’re teaching and designing a new look for the company with the help of a program at i-Jet. Can you give us a hint about that new look?
Brunswick will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2020 and has reinvented itself many times. We believe in taking a fresh look at pain points associated with our industry and creating a multitude of solutions using a process called design thinking. It’s a method for putting the customer front and center and creating quick, innovative projects around delivering the best consumer experience.
I imagine young interns’ sponge-like ability to acquire data is perfect for a company that has changed its priorities using robotics, artificial intelligence, coding, circuit design and generators. Are you a mentor in many of these aspects?
I would say that being a mentor for these students is my main role. Guiding projects, overcoming roadblocks, helping step through solutions are all part of the day-to-day interactions we have with the students. I can’t do it completely alone; I have a team of colleagues that also helps interface with students, providing detailed project guidance in electrical engineering, design, software and business strategy. At Brunswick, our motto is not just to participate in the marine industry, but also to define it. We feel the same way with i-Jet and our partnership with the university — to redefine how we are able to collaborate and curate resources to achieve success.
We used to think of Brunswick for bowling, billiards or fitness. In what direction is the company heading now?
Brunswick is focusing its resources on the recreational boating industry. We have recently completed the sale of Life Fitness (our only non-marine division) and are now 100 percent marine focused. We then looked at acquisitions of Power Products (under Mercury Marine) in the electrical-components space, and Freedom Boat Clubs in the services space. Our ACES strategy (Accessibility, Connectivity, Electrification and Shared Access) is prevalent in all of our companies and future acquisitions.
You’ve been part of Mercury Marine, the largest part of Brunswick. It’s the engine company. How did you become an expert in marine engines?
Engineering has always been in my blood. I grew up fixing engines and learning how mechanical systems worked in cars, ATVs, snowmobiles and boats. It was a natural progression and a great opportunity to work for one of the premier engine manufacturers in the U.S.
By the way, are you a recreational boater yourself?
I absolutely am. I have owned several boats in the past from ski boats to cruisers. I think it’s a great way to spend time with family and friends.
Did you ever make any mistakes that you have learned from?
Communication is key. Constant communication to all the project leaders, executives and students is what is needed to keep projects moving along smoothly.
TECH TIDBITS ... from TROY KOLLMANN
What's your favorite app? Camscanner. It’s a brilliant scanning app that I have used for a long time. Have converted lots of colleagues to using it.
On Facebook, I follow ... I refuse to use Facebook and become one of their products; it’s probably the Gen X in me. I use Flipboard to follow Techcrunch, Engadget and Gizmodo. I pull a lot of useful tech news from there.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Kindle; “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.”
Do you have any wearable electronics? I have tried quite a bit of wearable tech, and the accessory that is most amazing to me right now is the Apple Airpods.
Do you have an entrepreneurial hero? I may not agree with everything Elon Musk says or does, but I like his entrepreneurial spirit. He has really learned the art of marketing his innovative ideas.