In High Gear
Patrick Bass is adapting well to his role as CEO of thyssenkrupp North America.
When your author sat down to speak with thyssenkrupp North America CEO Patrick Bass at thyssenkrupp’s regional headquarters in Chicago recently, Bass had just returned from a week of executive training at Harvard Business School. Bass, an engineer who has become known for his R&D achievements and now oversees a region with approximately 20,500 employees and US$10 billion in sales, considers himself a lifelong student. Bass states:
“I think one of the keys to leadership is humility. You can’t be humble and keep your finger on the pulse of progress without continuing your education. I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to a lot in my career, be it diversity of product, diversity of opportunity, companies willing to invest in me, great people and great staff. I’ve spent extensive time traveling and living abroad. I lived in Germany for three years and Switzerland for a year and a half.”
Bass’ international background reveals itself in his accent: Great Lakes with a touch of German. Raised on a dairy farm in Burlington, Wisconsin, Bass worked several years under thyssenkrupp Elevator CEO Andreas Schierenbeck, whom he came to know well. Bass says he misses focusing some of his time on elevators and treasures the experience, but, after being in his CEO role for a year and a half, looks forward to continuing to lead the company and its numerous business units. He states:
“I get asked all the time do I miss elevators. I can honestly say, I miss some of the people I worked with on a daily basis in elevators, because we grew up professionally together, but now there is so much more I can be involved in and am ready to experience. I was very fortunate to be involved in developing MULTI (ELEVATOR WORLD, February 2015), moving it forward and bringing it to the market and the world. MULTI would have never happened within just thyssenkrupp Elevator. It happened because of overall thyssenkrupp competency that was available to take that significant leap in technology.”
Expected to have a full-scale model operational in thyssenkrupp’s Rottweil, Germany, test tower by early 2017, MULTI is the result of collaboration among thyssenkrupp’s elevator, maglev and components-technology divisions.
Bass’s diverse experiences date back to when he was a child, growing up on the farm and at his mother’s business caring for the developmentally disabled. Bass believes these experiences helped open his mind to unexpected learning opportunities. He states:
“One of the things I learned spending time with my mom’s staff and in her group homes is that you can learn things from everyone. I was very fortunate to be a guardian for one of the people my mom had with her for 27 years. I still enjoy getting on the phone and talking with him, because it’s amazing what I can learn. You can learn from people all around you.”
Bass’s father was an engineer and welder at a glass factory, and his stepfather was an electrician who ran his own business. He got a lot of hands-on training both on the farm and with his father and stepdad. Bass has had a lifelong love of automobiles, so, when he went to college to pursue a Mechanical Engineering degree at Marquette University, his focus was on automotive accessibility design. He figured that was the field he would end up in, but, because an electrician’s license was required to inspect elevators in Wisconsin and Bass had such a license, he ended up taking a job as an elevator inspector’s helper because he could sign the permits. At first, he admits, after having dreams of designing cars, “It was a shock to the system.”
After working as a helper, Bass became an elevator mechanic and then an elevator adjuster before going on to design elevator systems for various companies, starting his career with thyssenkrupp in 1999 as a mechanical engineer based in Horn Lake, Mississippi. He furthered his studies in Systems Engineering Research at the University of Northampton in Northampton, U.K.
He served as lead engineer on a number of significant projects, such as the design of the vertical-transportation system in 1 World Trade Center in New York City and the development of MAX, the preventative maintenance, cloud-based solution born of a partnership with Microsoft. In 2013, he was named executive vice president, R&D, for thyssenkrupp, headquartered in Essen, Germany.
In his roles with thyssenkrupp, he has lived in numerous places in the U.S., including Hernando, Mississippi; San Diego; and Peoria, Illinois. Upon being named thyssenkrupp CEO in early 2015, Bass and his family — his wife and children, ages four and six — relocated from Germany to a bucolic area on the outskirts of Chicago. Their acreage adjoins a horse farm, but Bass jokes that he is more interested in “horsepower than horses.” To that end, he has returned to his passion for automobiles in the form of restoring classic cars. Of the nine he has, his pride and joy is a 1969 Chevelle Supersport.
In their spare time, the Bass family enjoys vacationing to see well-known landmarks. Now that they are based in the U.S., they plan to visit Niagara Falls, New York, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota. “We are trying to focus on the places that we haven’t been, but are clear places someone from Europe or elsewhere would want to visit and experience if they came here,” Bass states.
Whether away from work or at home, he can usually be found trying to figure out systems — the engine of a classic car or an organization, for example. He states:
“I love reading technical publications, car magazines and business books about leadership, organizations and influence. Believe it or not, I love reading case studies. When I was an engineer, I loved the hands-on work and designing. I have the scars and bumps to prove it. When I took the opportunity to go into management, I struggled in the beginning, wondering how I could go from the fulfillment of designing and creating something to this kind of unwieldy position. What I quickly realized is that I like systems. I wasn’t the engineer who would grind through the nitty-gritty detail of the components; I liked how systems worked, and I realized that organizations and companies are just like systems, and being involved in such systems — comprised of people — can be more fulfilling.”