College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

The vast opportunities of an engineer

Finding success in the energy industry and now pursuing a career in the audio industry, David Slump’s determined attitude and need for constant challenge demonstrates that engineers can find opportunities in non-traditional places.

Growing up outside Chicago, Slump knew he wanted to attend a university that offered a hands-on engineering experience. Iowa State offered him just what he was looking for: a co-op at Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), work at the Electric Power Research Center (EPRC) on campus, and a BS in electrical engineering. “Iowa State really helped form my career,” Slump says. The opportunity to work at OPPD and the EPRC gave me insight into the industry, helping me decide what I wanted to pursue as a career.”

Slump, DavidFollowing graduation in 1991, Slump was anxious to move back to a larger city. He returned to Chicago, accepted a position with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), now owned by Exelon, and earned his MBA from the University of Chicago. Before too long, however, even Chicago wasn’t big enough for Slump.

“I realized I wanted to be more global than most utilities were at that time, so after about five years with ComEd I went to work for the ABB Group,” he explains. After a few years in North Carolina, Slump packed up his belongings and took off for ABB’s headquarters in Switzerland, where he, his wife and 3-month-old daughter lived for over two years until a promotion to president of ABB’s U.S. utility business brought him back to the U.S.

Slump’s career with ABB was marked by several accomplishments, including a patent for a universal control interface used by distributed energy resources to interface with a power grid, and the 2002 Iowa State University Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Equally important as these accomplishments of Slump’s, he formed a friendship with his manager at General Electric (GE), Dinesh Paliwal, which would result in yet another growth opportunity years later.

Feeling the need for a new challenge, Slump left ABB after six years to work for GE as chief marketing officer of their Energy business. The idea of operating his own business was creeping upward on his priority list; Slump felt GE was a good place to apply some of the lessons learned during his MBA studies, and for amassing more ideas about business in general.

After five years with GE, he received a phone call from Paliwal, who had recently taken over as CEO of HARMAN, a global provider of premium audio and infotainment solutions. With HARMAN’s consumer business in a state of disrepair, Paliwal immediately thought of Slump as the best candidate to turn the situation around.

Slump, delighted by the offer, plunged into the challenge of an unfamiliar industry despite the fact that a majority of his career experience was in energy related fields. Even a year away from the industry working in private equity was not enough to prepare him for the challenge that awaited him at HARMAN. “Working in consumer electronics and marketing was a huge change for me because it was such a deviation from the 20 years I spent in the energy industry, but I found it to be a thrilling experience,” says Slump.

With the company in trouble after many years of what Slump equates to sloppy management, he began utilizing the precision he learned in engineering to bring stability to his division. After a great deal of time, energy and effort by Slump and his colleagues, the business turned around successfully just two years later.

After helping revitalize the company, David knew it was time to explore new options within HARMAN. In July 2011, he took on his current role, Executive Vice President of Corporate Development, where he is responsible for strategy, mergers and acquisitions, as well as global procurement across all divisions of the company. “As I approach this new position, I think I am going to find the most challenging aspects will be the corporate financing side of closing deals and understanding how to get the best opportunities that will be beneficial to our shareholders,” Slump says.

Even with a steep learning curve that comes with this new position, Slump is looking forward to a vastly different working environment. As an engineer, he was directed never to take risks because people’s lives were at stake. Now that he is in the consumer business, the industry is all about going fast and taking risks, which Slump says is exciting.

Slump family
Slump and his family

He adds that his attention to detail, combined with the passion of his co-workers, has proven useful in making a difference within the company, especially when it comes to the atmosphere. “It’s a culture of people who love music and want products that recreate music the way that artists intended it to be heard,” Slump says.

Being a part of this culture requires a commitment on his part that results in late hours and frequent travel. His wife, Christine, who also graduated from Iowa State in 1991, his thirteen-year-old daughter, and his ten-year-old son use their common interests, such as their love of exploring all kinds of music, to keep their family close. Slump also makes every effort to support the family’s activities, like attending weekend games or bringing them along on work trips. “Our lifestyle may be different, but we still have a very fun and close relationship,” says Slump.

Slump also finds it helpful to set aside Saturdays for his personal time. His typical Saturday starts with a brisk cycling workout that often serves as training for an upcoming event, which in the past has included RAGBRAI and riding Tour de France stages. After his workout, he enjoys cooking before he and his family settle down for a movie. These may seem like small things to some, but to Slump, the time he dedicates to himself and family is vital.

The drive and ambition he has shown throughout his career and in his personal life is, in part, a byproduct of his Iowa State education. Slump admired the passion the faculty had for the engineering industry and its educational aspects. Those with whom he was closest taught him the value of doing something you really like because it is a driving factor for success.

Slump’s journey truly serves as an example of the varied experiences available to young engineers. His aspirations have led him to great opportunities and he encourages new engineers to also be ambitious: “The world is an uncertain place, so make sure you seize the moment, and don’t over think it, because you’ll learn and accomplish something valuable with every opportunity.”