Stephen Hoover: Imagining the Breakthroughs of Tomorrow-Mechanical Engineering - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stephen Hoover: Imagining the Breakthroughs of Tomorrow

As Chief Executive Officer of PARC, a Xerox company, Stephen Hoover (M.S.1989, Ph.D. 1994) has a unique opportunity to envision the future of our everyday lives. Once the internal “think tank” for Xerox — charged with creating the office of the future — today PARC is now a wholly owned subsidiary that provides custom R&D services, technology, expertise, best practices, and intellectual property to a range of Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies, start-ups, and government agencies and partners.

If you can think of a technology breakthrough that has impacted your life over the past decade — from the graphical user interface to the Ethernet and laser printing — chances are good that breakthrough had its genesis at PARC.

“At PARC, we pick the most promising technology areas, then partner with commercial companies to create game-changing innovations in those areas,” explains Hoover. “As CEO, half my job is focused on advanced technology development, and the other half is aimed at selling our forward-looking ideas to our partners and customers. When you’re looking beyond the next generation, it’s critical to make sure everyone is aligned around the same vision.”

According to Hoover, his graduate work in the Department of Mechanical Engineering proved the perfect preparation for his current position. “I enrolled in MechE because I had so many diverse interests, from computational tools to artificial intelligence and robotics,” Hoover says. “MechE gave me the freedom to explore all these topics, to push the boundaries of mechanical engineering. Had I attended a more traditional program, I would not have the broad skills I need to manage everything happening at PARC today. While lots of programs call themselves interdisciplinary, MechE really means it.”

Hoover’s graduate research, which was focused on design synthesis, brought him together with Carnegie Mellon experts in Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Industrial Design, and the Field Robotics Center. He minored in Operations Management at the Tepper School of Business (then the Graduate School of Industrial Administration).

“I’ve always been interested not only in how you bring disparate technologies together to meet customer needs — but also in how you actually manufacture products and bring them to market,” notes Hoover. “The flexible nature of MechE allowed me to become well-trained in all these areas.”

Following graduation, Hoover was recruited by the Xerox Research Center in Webster, New York. There, he led the development of product innovations such as automated printer diagnostics, remote device management, and parallel printing. Hoover rose to become Vice President at the Center, managing  multi-million dollar R&D investments and product strategy in such areas as grid and cloud computing, nanotech, and mobile technologies. In 2011, Hoover moved to Palo Alto, California, to lead PARC.

Twenty years after leaving MechE, Hoover still uses the skills he learned as an ambitious, hard-working graduate student. “First, the Department provided me with a deep grounding in engineering, in understanding how things work, that helps me evaluate new product ideas,” says Hoover. “Just as important, MechE gave me the critical thinking skills to understand how a new technology can solve a customer problem at the root-cause level. Innovations have to work at the theoretical level, but also at a practical, everyday, hands-on level. MechE gave me the skills I needed in both areas.”