Staff Highlight: Wayne Delker, Executive Director of the Fung Institute

by Dione Rivera

In our monthly Staff Highlight series, a staff member at Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership shares insights about their job search experience and career journey with Master of Engineering (MEng) students and Fung Fellows.

This feature focuses on Wayne Delker: Executive Director of the Fung Institute. Wayne is responsible for the overall Fung Institute leadership experience.

We had a chance to sit with Wayne and ask some questions about his career.

Wayne Delker, center, chatting with MEng students and alumni at the 2017 Alumni Happy Hour.

What was the best career advice you received?

I was about 4 years out of grad school working at Union Carbide and trying to determine if I wanted to be a manager or stay as a scientist on the technical ladder. My manager at the time, John Lynn, helped me understand the difference. His advice was that if I got my job satisfaction and value from helping others to be successful I should consider management. However, if I got my self satisfaction from solving problems myself I should stay as in individual contributor. This made the decision much easier and I realized that I get more joy from helping others succeed than in doing things myself. I became a leader.

What was your most memorable job search experience?

My most memorable job search was probably my move to General Electric (GE). I was working for Union Carbide and doing a lot of college recruiting and there was a new restaurant that had opened in our area that was “off limits” to us as a place to host candidate dinners because it was so expensive. 
GE had been trying to get me to apply for a position, through a recruiter, but I was reluctant because of the reputation of GE with respect to people management. However, I got this call from the recruiter telling me that the GE R&D General Manager (GM) wanted to fly down from Albany to NYC to meet me. I figured this was a great way to go to the very expensive restaurant on GE’s money, having no intention of ever going to GE! However, the GM and I had a great discussion over the next 5 hours, (he missed his return flight) and I was off to interview at GE and had a wonderful 15 years there. I learned a couple things. First, not to believe everything you read about a company but investigate for yourself. The second, recruiting people is the most important role of any leader and you can’t let anything stand in your way!

Wayne Delker, left, chatting with Alice Agogino, Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering, at the 2017 Visit Day for admitted students.

When did you realize your “Aha” moment in your career?

I’m not sure I have had an “Aha” Moment. I suppose the biggest single moment was the decision to leave the bench as a working scientist, which I loved, and become a leader. I explained the circumstances above so I won’t repeat that but it was a decision that made a major impact on my career since it sent me down the path of becoming a leader, and then learning how to develop leadership in other. Fortunately, it appears to have been the right decision and is what has led me to the Fung Institute.

In retrospect, what is the career advice you would like to give to our MEng cohort and Fung Fellows?

For me what worked well was to keep a very open mind about my career options rather than have a very specific career plan. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but developed a philosophy that the best job for me was the one that I would enjoy and would create the most value to the organization. My objective was to do it better than it had ever been done before. I always felt that if I did that I would create a track record that would open other doors for me, and largely that is how it turned out.

Paul Ceralde, MEng ’19 (MSE), right, and Wayne Delker, left, at the 2018 Alumni Brunch.

Wayne is responsible for the overall Fung Institute leadership experience. He spent most of his career in business, with 15 years at Clorox as Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Vice President of R&D. Prior to that he worked with GE in several R&D and Engineering roles, culminating as General Manager and Director of R&D for the GE Silicones business. His experience in driving innovation and leading large R&D organizations provides a unique perspective that is valuable to students, faculty and staff as we help students become leaders. He also teaches Leadership and Teamwork classes in the Institute and coaches student teams. His academic interests include how leadership and decision making will change in the future. He holds a BS in Chemistry from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Columbia University. He enjoys cycling, gardening and spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. Connect with Wayne.