Bob Bruggeworth ’83 Finds Success Managing and Motivating in High-Tech Industry
By Kelly Clisham ’12 MFA ’16
If you’ve sent a text from your phone, read a book on your tablet, used Wi-Fi on your laptop or even turned on the TV with a remote control, Bob Bruggeworth ’83 has had an impact on your life. He’s president and chief executive officer of Qorvo, a communications chipmaker headquartered in Greensboro, N.C.
While Qorvo may not be a household name, it specializes in RF, or radio frequency, solutions, manufacturing amplifiers, switches and filters that connect individuals, households and businesses all over the globe. “We’re in a great market that’s growing by double digits, being fueled by the consumers’ insatiable demand for data, which means you need more of the parts we make,” says Bruggeworth. “If you name a phone, we’re probably in it – or any of your access points.”
Bruggeworth’s access to technological know-how began in the engineering labs at Wilkes. “I would put my Wilkes education up against any other school,” says Bruggeworth. “The hands-on experience that I got, when I went out and started doing some of the engineering work, I had every bit of the fundamentals, maybe more.”
His road to Wilkes started in western Pennsylvania. Bruggeworth grew up in Pittsburgh, a devout fan of the city’s sports teams. “I love the Steelers, I love the Penguins and I love the Pirates. I bleed black and gold.” When he was a senior in high school, his family moved to Dallas, Pa., for his father’s job. “My dad promised us all this great skiing,” Bruggeworth jokes.
“This is the secret. I get really smart people to play well together. I really do mean it. That’s my job.”
The move to northeastern Pennsylvania was quite a transition. “Back in the 70s, I wore platform shoes, silk pants, silk shirts. I came here and switched to Dunham boots, blue jeans and flannel shirts to fit in.” Fashion choices aside, the relocation gave Bruggeworth a reason to examine his support group for the first time. “I moved my senior year. That’s a pretty tough time to move,” he says. “It’s when I realized I’ve got this network to support me at home: my family, my brothers, my parents. It’s pretty good.”
BECOMING A COLONEL
The oldest of three children, Bruggeworth graduated from Dallas Junior-Senior High School, where he played golf and basketball. When he began looking at colleges, Wilkes stood out for two reasons. First, the engineering department had both small class sizes and a great reputation, with a placement rate of close to 100 percent. Second, the Division III school would give him a chance to continue being a student-athlete. “I wanted to play sports,” he says.
He landed a spot on the Colonels soccer team as the goalkeeper. As a Wilkes senior, he played under then-rookie head coach Phil Wingert, who now serves as associate athletic director. “He had a great work ethic. To have a senior like Bob in the goal with his maturity and leadership helped my transition to college coaching,” says Wingert. The two men have stayed in touch over the years, trading notes after family accomplishments or a big win.
Soccer, and Wilkes in general, helped Bruggeworth adjust when his parents geared up for another move. While he was getting ready for soccer practice freshman year, his family was packing up to relocate to Harrisburg, Pa. “The day I left for Wilkes, the moving van was leaving our house. I had no one, and I remember being very lonely.” Then he remembered his previous move to northeastern Pennsylvania, and the fact that he would be surrounded by other students who were feeling the same way. “That was a life lesson, that first year here.”
Bruggeworth made himself at home on campus. As an electrical engineering major and physics minor, he could often be found in the lab. He remembers with special fondness the materials science lab taught by Gary Dolny on Thursday nights. The lab used equipment donated by RCA in Mountain Top, Pa. “That’s where we actually made transistors. That’s what really got me fired up about semiconductors.”
Dolny was not the only member of the Wilkes community who had an impact on the young engineering student. Bruggeworth’s mentor was the late Umid Nejib, chair of the engineering department. “He challenged us, but he also cared about us. He was pretty cool about that.” He also remembers physics professor Richard Aston and calculus teacher Richard Sours.
Bruggeworth also stayed busy outside of class. During his senior year, he was a resident advisor. “I needed a lot of attention outside the classroom, let’s put it that way. They probably figured it was better for me to be the RA than always stretching the rules,” Bruggeworth jokes.
Bruggeworth Gift a Lasting Legacy for Athletics
When Bob Bruggeworth ’83 talks about his most formative experiences at Wilkes, playing soccer is always among them. Over the years, he’s continued his commitment to the sport —and to Wilkes— by making sure the team has jackets, backpacks or anything else they need.
“Since he’s been out, he’s been an annual benefactor,” says Associate Director of Athletics Phil Wingert, who coached Bruggeworth in his senior year on the Colonels soccer team. “He’s never forgotten where he came from.”
Now Bruggeworth is making a gift that will touch the lives of generations of Wilkes students and make a lasting impact on the University athletic program: a $1 million gift will establish a new field at the Ralston Athletic Complex. He says he is establishing Bruggeworth Field in honor of his mother.
“Whether speaking to Wilkes students as a guest in my leadership seminar or providing his on-going support for our athletic programs, Bob Bruggeworth clearly conveys an enduring commitment to Wilkes University,” says Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy. “We are grateful for his leadership gift — a gift that will bear testimony to that commitment for years to come. It will aid us in our goal of creating one of the finest Division III athletic complexes in the northeast.”
The new multipurpose field will be located adjacent to Schmidt Stadium and will be complemented by bleachers, lighting and a scoreboard. This additional surface will dramatically improve playing and practice conditions for not only Wilkes soccer teams, but also for football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, field hockey, and the marching band. The construction of this new field is a key component of Wilkes’ multi-million dollar renovation of the Ralston Athletic Complex.
Paul Adams ’77, MS ’82 now Wilkes vice president of student affairs, was the director of residence life at the time. “Bob probably knew what everyone was going to try to get away with,” says Adams. “All kidding aside, Bob has a dynamic and engaging personality. As he grew through his years at Wilkes, it was clear that his leadership would be an asset to the residence life program.”
One of Bruggeworth’s most memorable moments at Wilkes came from his time as an RA. The first night the freshmen were on campus, flames broke out in Sullivan Hall. The resident assistants had just been through fire training, and they made sure the residents were safe before the fire department even arrived on scene. “We got everybody out successfully,” says Bruggeworth. “I had a lot of smoke inhalation. I couldn’t play soccer for a while.”
His other memories of campus life are more light-hearted. In his freshman year dorm room, he and his roommates built a three-stool bar that doubled as a great study spot. “We built it from scratch for about 30 bucks. That was all we could afford,” says Bruggeworth. “We actually did a lot of study work there for engineering labs. That’s where we’d go to work.”
Always the planner, Bruggeworth and some pals organized a pig roast near Harveys Lake, about 15 miles from campus. They rented buses to transport guests and hired bands. Local businesses—even the campus cafeteria—donated food and beverages. Attendance grew to more than 500 people, including faculty and administrators, and the event was immortalized in a two-page spread in the 1983 Amnicola. “That’s something I’ll never forget,” says Bruggeworth.
Even then, he showed a passion for innovative thinking, making sure his dorm residents had a range of beverage choices. The vending machine in his hall featured root beer and birch beer, but a touch of those buttons also dispensed cans of Genessee and Pabst Blue Ribbon. “I’d leave an extra $10 in the machine for the soda guy and he never said a word,” Bruggeworth says with a laugh.
Bruggeworth held jobs both on and off campus. He was known as the Wilkes DJ, playing tunes for events in the gym, student union and campus dorms. He worked in the admissions office, giving tours to prospective students, often athletes like himself. He sold stereo equipment, and took shifts at a downtown store and hotel. “I learned I was no good at sales when I worked at the gourmet cheese shop on the Square. I was a decent bellhop though.”
His years at Wilkes were a lesson in time management and priorities, teaching him to focus on the task at hand. The lessons have served the CEO well throughout his career. “I worked the whole time. Between sports, studying and work, I didn’t sleep much,” he says. “When I was studying, I was all in. When I played, I played hard. I made the most of every minute.”
EXPERT IN ‘THE PEOPLE BUSINESS’
Bruggeworth gained professional experience while still a student through internships and summer work with AMP Inc., a connector company in Harrisburg, Pa. He started working second shift on the factory assembly line, then moved into the engineering department. After graduation, AMP offered him a job in North Carolina. “I’ve pretty much been in North Carolina ever since.”
At first, Bruggeworth thought he wanted to be a design engineer, but his employer had plans for him in manufacturing. His previous experience helped him to relate to the workers on the factory floor and develop mechanical improvements for production methods. When he was only 26 years old, his boss offered him the position of plant manager. Bruggeworth considers that the big break in his career. “I was an individual engineer, never led anybody, and he wanted me to be responsible for 350 people who worked 24/7, 365 days a year. I remember saying to him, clear as day, ‘I can’t lead myself. Ask my wife. She’ll tell you that’s true.’ ”
He remembers his boss telling him, “When I get done with you, you’re gonna forget everything you knew about engineering and you’re gonna understand the people business.”
To this day, when Bruggeworth talks about what he does, it’s not chips and circuits that dominate the conversation, but people. “This is the secret. I get really smart people to play well together. I really do mean it. That’s my job. Secondary to that, I hire really smart people. I don’t design it, I don’t make it, I don’t sell it. I do get to decide who does.”
Bruggeworth worked with AMP from 1983 to 1999. A highlight was the time he spent as the vice president of global consumer electronics, based in Hong Kong. When he and his wife Michelle were still dating, he told her one of his goals was to live in Asia, where technology was experiencing rapid growth in the early 80s. “The industry I was in, even semiconductors, was moving big into Asia.”
The family spent four years in Hong Kong. “You move over there and you go to work, and no one else there has your experience. You do find little networks of ex-pats over there,” says Bruggeworth. “That was tough, but it was really tough on my wife.” During that time, they grew to a family of four when their youngest son was born. “We joke that he was made in China.”
A new baby was not the only change. A layoff left him and his family with only weeks to pack and move back to the States. “My friends called me keyless at that time in my life,” Bruggeworth says. “I had no office key, no house key, no car key, nothing because I was living in Asia and had to regroup.”
At his wife’s request, they returned to North Carolina, where Bruggeworth accepted a position as vice president of the wireless products group for RFMD, a small, public company. For the first time in years, he wasn’t responsible for a 24/7 workforce spread out around the world. “I told my wife, ‘I have this great, small job. It’s gonna be fun.’ ” He spent 15 years with the company, serving in leadership positions including president of the wireless products group and president and chief executive officer of RFMD.
A NEW CHAPTER
In 2014, RFMD merged with the Oregon-based semiconductor company TriQuint to form Qorvo. Bruggeworth counts this successful merger of equals among the proudest – and most challenging – moments of his career. “Mergers are hugely distracting. People are worried about their jobs, who’s going to be the boss. You’re working on getting to know each other and the industry’s still moving. You need to be making decisions.”
Bruggeworth turned to his expertise in the people business as he brought two different corporate cultures together. He held staff meetings around the country to help them get to know each other, and he made sure the Qorvo name was on everything from shirts to memos from day one, so everyone could see they were on the same team. As a result, employee turnover has been incredibly low. “This is what an engineer I am. I keep our employee turnover on a control chart just like you do for a manufacturing process, so I can see if it’s out of control or in control. But I think everybody believed in the vision, and you know, we put together a really good team.”
Becoming CEO of Qorvo has meant he’s gone back to managing a global company. Though his typical day is hard to define, a typical week involves time at the airport. “I travel almost every week. I travel a lot. When you run a global business, when 80 percent is outside of the U.S., you have a lot of customers there. More than half of our employees are outside the United States.”
Part executive, part entrepreneur, Bruggeworth looks toward the future and advances in 5G technology, bioengineering, nanotechnologies, additive manufacturing and biosensors. “We try to expand and grow outside of what we’re doing today. We’re a very innovative company.” Innovation is not synonymous with success. “Part of innovation is failing,” says Bruggeworth. “What I mean by that is, I’m okay with failure. Just fail faster. I define innovation as having an idea, creating something and making money with it sooner than your competition.”
“Part of innovation is failing. What I mean by that is, I’m okay with failure. Just fail faster.”
Bruggeworth relishes the competition, staying on top of the game in a rapidly-evolving and aggressive industry. “Every day someone’s trying to put you out of business with something new. The fear is very motivational.” Perhaps even more than the challenge, Bruggeworth enjoys the people around him. “I’ve never been surrounded by such a bright group of people with such a great attitude. There aren’t many companies in the world that do what we do. There’s only a handful. So being one of the best in the world at what we do and working with all these bright people is a blast. That’s what makes it fun.”
When Bruggeworth’s not having fun at work, he catches Pittsburgh sports on TV or goes to the games, plays some golf, indulges in good red wine, or reads books on business and leadership. He vows to finish his MBA, which he put on hold when he and Michelle started a family. “It’s the only thing in my life I can remember quitting, and it’s the one thing I know I’m going to finish. I was one of those guys who took my business law and organizational development book on my honeymoon. My wife has not let me forget that.”
The CEO is a firm believer in learning, whether it’s in the classroom or on the job. “Your education doesn’t stop when you graduate. You should continue to invest in yourself. We’re the only asset that appreciates in business. We become worth more over time if we keep investing in ourselves and bringing more to the party.”
Bruggeworth is grateful his investment started at Wilkes, resulting in a successful career full of innovation and global connection. “I really appreciate what Wilkes did for me. I get emotional about it. The faculty, the professors, they were fantastic to me. I think of the administration. I think of my fellow students. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college. This place got me excited. It taught me a lot of life lessons. It means a lot to me.”