2019 Spotlight on Philanthropy
These articles originally appeared in the 2019 Engineering @ Northeastern magazine.
A Lifetime of Resilience, Innovation and Generosity
Growing up in Braintree, Massachusetts, in the 1940s, Bob Goodale (E’55) dreamed of becoming an engineer. He also knew that college represented a huge financial challenge.
“My dad died when I was six years old. My mother, brother, and I had to move in with my grandfather and bachelor uncle,” he recalls. “My mom was a single parent and worked as a bookkeeper. She had to commute to Boston from Braintree, and that involved both bus and train transportation. Maintaining a house and working every weekday was a physical challenge.”
Prior to his graduation from high school in 1950, Goodale was lucky to get a job at Blue Hill Cemetery for $1.00 an hour. Initially he pushed a lawnmower, then progressed to digging monument foundations and graves. It was hard physical work. This exposure made him realize that he had to succeed in engineering school. Goodale logged a lot of overtime, earning enough money to pay board at home and meet the first-year tuition requirements for Northeastern University.
Northeastern’s co-op program provided the perfect solution for Goodale, allowing him to work 10 weeks to earn money for tuition, then attend classes for the next 10 weeks. “Without the opportunity to work as a co-op student, I couldn’t have earned an engineering degree,” says Goodale. “Not only was I able to pay for my own tuition, but I learned the importance of having a degree in entering the corporate world.”
Upon graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, Goodale accepted a job at Firestone’s home office in Akron, Ohio—first as a trainee in textiles and adhesives, then as a technical salesperson for Firestone Plastics. One day, while Goodale was attending a meeting at competitor BF Goodrich, a young secretary named Betty brought coffee into the conference room. Goodale later asked her to a dance, and the rest is history. The couple married in 1960 and have two daughters, Holly and Jayme.
From Firestone, Goodale moved on to General Electric’s Silicone Products Division, based on experience he had gained working with silicone-based coatings during a Northeastern co-op.
An Entrepreneurial Idea Takes Flight
While working as a product planner for industrial liquid silicones, as well as medical and dental products, Goodale met with a doctor at Harvard Medical School who was looking for a liquid silicone that could replace blood in animal studies.
Goodale purchased a used paint mill for $1000 and made the product himself. Several months later, Goodale launched his product— Microfil™—with the first order going to Harvard Medical School. The product is now over 50 years old and has proven an effective research tool to measure the effects of diet, medication, and disease on research animals.
While at GE, Goodale also introduced a high-strength liquid silicone for industrial applications. The product, called RTV-630, became the division’s highest-selling product. When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon in 1969, his shoes were actually made from RTV-630.
While Goodale made a huge impact at GE, he wanted to start his own company. He read a marketing study on future applications for silicone in the laboratory, which led to an idea for a new business venture. He partnered with a GE technician to manufacture and make high-temperature seals for gas chromatography samples. While existing seals were made entirely of silicone, Goodale’s solution added a thin film of Teflon to minimize the risk of contamination. This product, Microsep™, was an instant success. It allowed their company, Canton Biomedical Products, to market products to key instrument sellers including Hewlett-Packard, Varian, and Perkin Elmer.
High Risk, High Reward
In 1970, Goodale and his young family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where they bought a house. Goodale used the basement as an office and manufacturing space for Microfil production. “My goal was to earn $100,000 in annual sales, with a potential salary of $15,000,” explains Goodale. “I did all the manufacturing, and Betty did all the invoicing and bill paying. It was a team effort.”
Twenty years later, when the business was sold to Loctite Corporation, sales were over $4.3 million.
Today, at age 87, Goodale is not slowing down. He now owns a company, Monic (www.monic.com), that makes a product near and dear to his heart: fly-fishing line. He began working on this product back in 1988, using new polymers rather than polyvinyl chloride materials. By combining his passion for materials innovation and his love of fly fishing, Goodale has developed a product that he says is environmentally friendly and offers significant benefits over traditional line designs that have been in use for 60 years.
Paying It Forward
While Bob Goodale has forged an incredibly successful career as an entrepreneur, he has never forgotten his roots in Boston or his struggle to earn a college degree. For that reason, he has donated generously to Northeastern’s College of Engineering, including gifts to the Engineering Dean’s Fund, Financial Aid, and the Chemical Engineering Department.
Goodale’s donations have enabled the creation of the Robert H. and Betty Goodale Engineering Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition support for chemical engineering students from New England with a demonstrated financial need. Recently, Goodale enhanced the future of this scholarship via a $2 million charitable remainder unitrust.
“My gifts to Northeastern and its students are based on profits from my business ventures,” states Goodale. “I’ve been very fortunate, and I believe it’s only right to give something back—and ensure that others have an opportunity to attend Northeastern and achieve their own success.”
“I’ve been very fortunate, and I believe it’s only right to give something back—and ensure that others have an opportunity to attend Northeastern and achieve their own success.”Bob Goodale, E’55
Committed to Helping the Next Generation of Engineers
For Akira Yamamura, a 1967 meeting with the late Professor Arthur Foster, then chairman of Northeastern’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, turned out to be a life changing encounter—one that set him on a path to professional success and with a commitment to help future engineering students succeed.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Keio University in his native Japan, Yamamura travelled to the U.S. to find a university where he could continue his studies. His close high school friend, also studying in the U.S., introduced Yamamura to his aunt, who was the owner of a Japanese grocery store in Cambridge, Mass. She, in turn, encouraged him to visit Northeastern where he met Foster. Impressed by the young man’s potential and drive, Foster offered Yamamura a teaching assistantship, and the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
In Yamamura’s view, “It worked out quite well.” That turned out to be an understatement. Today, he serves as president and representative director of Ferrotec Holdings Corporation, a successful international technology company which he founded and has led since 1980. Based in Tokyo with customers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, Ferrotec is a pioneer in magnetic fluids and a key supplier in the electronics industry.
Finding success, giving back
Looking back at his two years at Northeastern, Yamamura chuckles as he recalls the day he learned that Japanese and U.S. students were a bit different. Unable to teach a class because of illness, he assumed his students would be happy for the break. “In Japan, they would welcome a day off to play mahjong or something,” he says, “but my students were upset they were missing class, and a few of them demanded a refund.”
Yamamura persevered, and when he graduated from Northeastern in 1969, Foster steered him towards the thermoelectric field. Yamamura soon joined Cambridge Thermionic Corporation where he wrote the first thermoelectric handbook. The job sparked Yamamura’s lifelong interest in the field and eventually led him several years later to establish Ferrotec whose core technology is thermoelectric modules, which today represent 25 percent of the company’s sales.
“I am a very lucky man,” he says, “and I am grateful to Professor Foster for pointing me in the direction I was meant to travel. I learned not only thermoelectrics. I learned what I should be doing.”
His decision to give back by funding the Akira Yamamura Fellowship for PhD students in mechanical engineering, as well as an engineering scholarship in his name, is an expression of the gratitude he feels for the opportunities he had at Northeastern. “I have been given many things because of the teaching assistantship Professor Foster gave me,” he says. “I am happy to do as much as possible to support those students.”
Yamamura returned to campus in 2018 for a brief visit. “I was impressed with Northeastern when I was a student, and I’m impressed now, particularly by how much the university has grown,” he says. While visiting the school, he was especially gratified to meet one of the students who benefitted from his generous support. “The student thanked me for his scholarship and told me he was able to start his own business,” he says. “I’m glad what I’m doing is helping Northeastern students.”
“I was impressed with Northeastern when I was a student, and I’m impressed now, particularly by how much the university has grown...I’m glad what I’m doing is helping Northeastern students. ”Akira Yamamura, ME’69
Giving Deserving Students a Chance
At age 22, Stanley Kovell, E’55, landed an impressive first management job: overseeing more than 100 military and civilian personnel at Sandia Special Weapons Depot, the U.S. Department of Defense’s nuclear weapons installation in New Mexico. Kovell credits his success to his own fortitude—and to a scholarship from Northeastern, where he studied chemical engineering during the Korean War.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college,” says Kovell. “My scholarship made it possible for me to afford my education, get experience, and study my interests.”
At Northeastern, Kovell made the most of his co-ops and the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which prepared him for opportunities that followed. His first post-graduation job at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft required a top secret security clearance, an advantage when he was later drafted by the Army and assigned to Sandia Special Weapons Depot. There, a seasoned Air Force major mentored him and helped him quickly hone his leadership and decision making skills.
“I learned not to ask for something, but instead say what’s needed,” he explains. “That was a big life lesson.” Kovell carried those experiences with him throughout his career in the aerospace industry.
Grateful for Northeastern’s support of his academic pursuits, Kovell wants to do the same for today’s students. Through a gift in his estate plan that will set up an endowed scholarship, he hopes to give chemical engineering students the chance to study free of financial burdens and stress.
“When you give a deserving student a chance, they will accomplish great things.” Kovell says.
"I've been lucky my whole life, and it began at Northeastern."Stanley Kovell, E'55