Walter Robb’s outside-the-box business strategies go back a long way. As a kid he made a .15-cent-per-week allowance. Wanting to earn more, he and a friend opened a lemonade stand that had to compete with one down the street. How could they gain the edge? Robb came up with a twist: Each cup of lemonade sold also would come with a tap dance and tune played on the trumpet by his friend.
Their stand became a rousing success. Taking a risk, he learned then, had paid off handsomely.
Flash forward to the 1970s. Robb, then head of GE’s Medical Systems business, pushed the company into the CT scanning business. But he knew unless it could design a better machine it would never become the dominant player in that industry.
Robb pushed his research team to come up with a faster scanner. In less than two years he and his team pushed through major technological advancements that sped up the time it took to create an image to a mere 5 seconds.
Years later, when GE entered the MRI market Robb would again lead the company’s research that would yield vast improvements in the technology. And under his guidance, GE would become the world’s leader in medical imaging equipment, a multi-billion-dollar business for the company.
Robb, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Penn State University and masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois, joined GE in 1951 and rose through the company’s ranks, leading a number of departments and initiatives. He holds multiple patents and has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Technology, and in 2014 published his memoirs, “Taking Risks.’’
By Robert Warren