A man who spent nearly 40 years as a leader in the U.S. auto industry is returning this month to the University of Kansas, his alma mater, to offer advice and inspiration to students in the School of Engineering.
Former Chrysler CEO and 1963 mechanical engineering graduate Bob Eaton will speak to engineering students, faculty, staff and special guests at 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Spahr Classroom in Eaton Hall.
Eaton will be in Lawrence to serve as the grand marshal of KU’s homecoming festivities. He’ll ride in the parade and receive special recognition at halftime of the Oct. 23 football game against Texas A&M.
“It’s going to be a conversation,” Eaton said. “I’ll give a little background about myself, then open it up. I’m going to try to convince them that I’m not any different than they are, and they can do whatever they want to do in life.”
Eaton spent nearly 30 years with General Motors, rising to president of GM Europe. He left GM in 1992 to become chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corp. In 1998, he oversaw a $76 billion merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz and spent the next two years as chairman of the newly formed DaimlerChrysler, before retiring in 2000.
“I really want these students to see they can be whatever they want to be — a great researcher, a great production engineer, a great business leader, whatever they want,” Eaton said. “These are young, bright students with a tremendous future in front of them, and I want them to realize how bright the opportunities are.”
In 2003, Eaton gave $5 million to the School of Engineering to help with completion of an 80,000-square-foot building that now bears his name and houses numerous classrooms, computer labs and offices for the school as well as the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
“Bob Eaton has made great contributions to the School of Engineering over the years, and it’s an honor to have him back on campus to share his knowledge on what it takes to succeed in today’s business world,” said School of Engineering Dean Stuart Bell. “He has an inspiring story that illustrates what’s possible with hard work and a solid education.”
Eaton said he thinks KU students will be well-equipped to succeed after graduation.
“There’s no better bachelor’s degree than engineering,” Eaton said. “That background is critical because it teaches problem solving, whether in business or engineering. Engineers take a unique approach to a problem — viewing them as a good thing, not a bad thing, and seeing it as a chance to resolve an issue and make things better.”
The KU Alumni Association awarded Eaton the Distinguished Service Citation in 1994. The School of Engineering honored him with its Distinguished Engineering Service Award in 1995. He is a life trustee with KU Endowment.