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Bob Heimann - One of the "Good Guys"

Tuesday, December 30, 2003   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Larry Schmitz, CCP, CMC-Northeastern Wis. Chapter
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Bob Heimann is vice president of Information Services at The Boldt Company in Appleton, Wisconsin. Engineering News-Record ranked Boldt the 52nd largest At-Risk Construction Manager and the 104th largest general contractor in the United States. When I interviewed Bob for this story - even though I've known him for more than 20 years - I gained new insights into the man, his AITP dedication and what makes him tick. I believe you will find his story motivating and interesting.

Here is that interview:

What made you go into IT in the first place?

Bob: When I was in high school back in 1970, the guidance counselor was promoting going into computers as an area of new job opportunities. I had wanted to be a chiropractor but my father passed away when I was 14 and there was no money available for an extensive education so I went to Fox Valley Technical College and got my associate's degree in computer programming in 1973.

What was your career path after college?

Bob: I started as the second data processing employee at Boldt Company working as a computer operator/programmer and have worked there my whole career. As the company grew, so did my job opportunities. Currently, I am vice president of Information Services.

When did you get involved with AITP (DPMA) and how?

Bob: Shortly after I joined Boldt, Clark Safford, my boss at the time, started bringing me along to DPMA meetings. I was impressed with the people I met and the knowledge they possessed about this new field of data processing. Most were almost self-taught in those days because everything was so new and there was little formal education available in this field. Much of the education we received was through the DPMA meetings and conferences. And while there is certainly plenty of formal education available today, I believe some of the best things we learn today are still through our AITP meetings and the networking that results from our membership in AITP.

You've held a lot of different positions in AITP over your career. What were they, and which were most rewarding?

Bob: As I said, I've been attending meetings since the early 70s and finally became a member in 1980. Then in 1985, I was elected to the chapter board. I was given bylaws, which were a real mess but we got that straightened out. Then I moved up to treasurer, then vice president and finally president. I also served as chapter liaison and as co-chair of the '89 regional conference. (Editorial note: Bob and his co-chair, George Schmidbauer, were awarded the first ever Outstanding Member Award for their efforts in the 1989 Region 5 Conference.)

Then I came back on board in 2000 to take over membership. I have always been involved in membership in one way or another. A chapter's success relies on its ability to attract new members and, most importantly, to retain the members they already have. I guess I have always had a real passion about making that happen. That is why I have stayed so involved, either on the board or behind the scenes.

As far as which activities were most rewarding, I guess I would have to say the Region 5 Conference and my role in building our membership. The Region Conference was a terrific experience in terms of seeing a whole bunch of our chapter members coming together and working their butts off as a team to make the 1989 Region 5 Conference the most successful in recent history.

Our membership growth and our retention rate are things I am especially proud of. Even though our chapter geography doesn't have a city of more than 100,000 people, we have consistently been in the top two spots in terms of chapter size in the association for a number of years. That took teamwork and lots of dedication and I am proud to have been part of that.

It's no wonder we call you The Bloodhound.

Bob: That part is true. I've had some prospects I tracked for many years before I finally talked them into joining.

What made you get so involved?

When I was young, I discovered there were good guys and bad guys in the world. There were those who took and those who gave. When my father passed away when I was 14, a lot of people stepped forward and helped me in many ways to grow up to be the person I am today. They didn't have to help - but they did - they were the good guys. And that convinced me that I wanted to be a good guy and give something back to other people as well. This has led to my involvement here at Boldt in activities such as job shadowing opportunities for young people, internships in the IT area for high school and college students and my involvement through the Boy Scouts in the Exploring for Life Program. And, of course, my involvement in AITP.

How has AITP helped you in your career and as a professional?

Bob: Two specific incidents come to mind. Early in my AITP membership, I went to a chapter meeting where the speaker asked us to write down our biggest shortcoming (mine was public speaking) and we had to turn in the paper with our name and address on it. He then challenged us to really work on our problem and do something about it and he would follow-up with us in one year. A year later, I got a personal letter from him asking how I was doing and I wrote back and said I was working on it. Well, his follow-up sort of jacked me up and I decided I really ought to work on it. So the next year, I ran for the AITP board and got my feet wet speaking in front of groups - and now I thrive on it. Would I have taken the same steps if I hadn't gone to that meeting? I don't know, but I do know I sure got my money's worth out of attending that chapter meeting!!

The second situation was when you (Larry Schmitz) wrote a letter to the president of our company when I was chapter president thanking him for allowing me the time to serve AITP. When he got your letter, he walked into my office, showed me the letter and said, "That's great, Bob. You're out there making a difference and we are proud of you." Boldt is a very community-minded company and that little recognition from AITP that I was giving back to my profession was very important to them.

The other thing AITP has done for me in my career was to give me the opportunity to serve in various leadership positions and to build a network of life-long friends and contacts. Even today that network is paying dividends as I have been able to put some of our members who have lost their jobs in this economy in contact with other AITP members who have unadvertised positions they are looking to fill.

What advice do you have for new members, burned out members and prospects?

Bob: For new members, it's the old story; you get out what you put in. Get involved! Participate! The value of AITP membership is there, but you have to get involved if you want to receive the maximum benefit.

I went through a period of burnout myself, and that's why I dropped off the board from 1997 to 2000. I needed a break because I was taking the loss of existing members too seriously. When that happens, you need to step back and let someone else carry the ball for a while - and that's OK - just DON'T QUIT. You can find a good replacement for yourself and quietly be his mentor - but in the background for a while - and it's easier to find a replacement if you are still around to help people learn the ropes.

For prospects, the question comes up, "Why should I join AITP?" and my response is, "How can you afford NOT to join AITP?" For the small amount of dollars and a couple hours a month, where can you get the education that will give you the edge in today's changing technology and shaky job market? We have a lot of people who, if they lose their job today, they use that as an excuse for not joining AITP or for dropping their membership. Nothing could be further from the truth. That AITP network is probably your best shot at finding another job. I know I have helped an awful lot of people find jobs because of my AITP connections.

The other component AITP offers to all three of the member categories you mentioned is education. Where can you go and conveniently, and at a very low cost, get the up-to-date technology education that is available at chapter meetings?

On top of education, the experienced members of AITP probably represent the best body of knowledge that is available in the IT profession today. And I believe we have a moral obligation to find ways to share that knowledge with the young people coming out of school so they can take that knowledge and make the world a better place through their efforts. And AITP is the vehicle to get that done. That is why we need to really promote the Interim Member Program at all levels of the organization.

"What advice do you have for chapters that are struggling?"

Bob: Usually, when a chapter is struggling, it is because they are in a rut. This can take on many forms from the same old people doing the same old things to the change in the makeup of your membership not liking the meeting time, location or content of your programs. Times change and we have to change with them. I know that when our Chapter found itself in a rut, as evidenced by declining membership and declining attendance at meetings, we held a brainstorming session with new and old members and board members and tried to figure out what our main problems were and what we could do about them. We were open to new ideas that could correct the problem. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't.

I think the important thing is to admit you're in a rut - and then deal with it.

Well Bob, you have certainly left your mark on AITP and our profession and helped and inspired a lot of people along the way. I remember someone asking Sherry Anklam, our mutual friend and perhaps one of the most effective presidents our chapter has ever had, who was her inspiration to get involved in AITP and without hesitating, she said, "Bob Heimann."

Bob: I never knew that. You're right; she was a great friend, a role model for the rest of us. Very few people were as sharp and as dedicated to doing their best as Sherry was (Sherry Anklam succumbed to cancer in 1995 at the age of 44 and our chapter scholarship program is named in her honor).

Bob, on behalf of our chapter and AITP members everywhere, I want to congratulate you on your career and thank you for your dedication and many contributions to AITP. You made it!! You truly are "one of the good guys."


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