David J. Parrillo, ’89, Inducted into National Academy of Engineering

For Dr. David J. Parrillo (’89), his recent induction into the prestigious National Academy of Engineering is as much about mentoring people as developing technically advanced products. “You have to know people and what makes them tick so they can accomplish more. That’s the piece that I love.”

“URI warmly congratulates David on this well-deserved recognition. Induction into the NAE is an honor and often the highlight of one’s career, signaling the acknowledgement of outstanding contributions to engineering—from research to practice to education. David is a leader in the field, nationally and internationally, and we are so pleased to have a URI alum join this prestigious group.” says URI President Marc C. Parlange.

Parrillo spent decades developing his career through corporations like GE and Dow Chemical Corporation, where he is Vice President of Research and Development. The journey led to an assortment of different products that he commercialized. “I started travelling all over the globe. There were massive analytical capabilities and lots of different businesses. Some of the products that I commercialized really, really hit.”

He traveled around the country and to places like India and China, learning more about aspects of the business that went beyond developing new products, but also learning about people. “I learned about industry and almost every aspect of my job, not just research and development but purchasing or manufacturing.” Parrillo worked on a wide array of projects. He calls his work with solar shingles for homes “a lot of fun”, and later went into Dow’s food packaging division, making thermoplastic resins for food packaging as well as industrial packaging. “That’s a little bit of science, a little bit of business, and a little bit of luck.”

The expansion of his teams meant he had to learn new ways of motivating people. “I really love being very, very close to the technology and I have been for quite some time. But at the same time, you go from overseeing 100 to 500 to 1,000 people. Developing their careers becomes much more important so that you can accomplish more than you could before.” Adapting to those changes required people skills he had learned earlier in his GE career.

“When I built my first business at General Electric, which was around $50 million or so, it was the first time I wasn’t just improving something. I created something with the team. It didn’t exist before I touched it. What I learned was that your team has to believe in you, but they also have to believe in the project or mission statement.

“What leaders do is not only motivate people, but sometimes they point in a certain direction. Once they point in that general direction, if it’s a good direction, their job is to get out of the front of the pack and move to the back of the team. And nurture the team from the back. That’s the picture that I always have in my mind and that we describe to people.”

Parrillo said that someone or a group of colleagues recognized the work he put into nurturing his team. That recognition from the National Academy of Engineering is about more than a plaque on a wall. “You’re not so much awarded as inducted, meaning you’re asked to serve with them as a body. To solve the nation’s biggest challenges and give direction or point the way. I have more influence. I have more fun. That’s where I am today.

“The people part of my job is the one that I like the most.”

Story by Hugh Markey