You’ve probably never heard of my guest on this episode of the podcast. I’d never heard of Galen Powers either until Jeff Johnson of ChatLab in Chattanooga Tennessee introduced him to me and the three us got on Zoom to talk. Jeff had said that Galen would be reluctant to talk about himself but I found otherwise, given sufficient prompting. There was much to learn from talking to Galen.
Galen grew up not doing well in traditional classes but he was lucky that his high school in rural California had a plastics workshop and he did well in that program as well as engineering graphics or drafting. He went to junior college but didn’t stick. He found an entry-level drafting job instead. Like the line from the movie “The Graduate”, Galen’s “future was plastics.”
Today, Galen has 57 patents to his name, mostly related to the fabrication of lens for eyeglasses; he’s been president of several companies and continues to do product development in the medical field. He’s been involved in the LVL1 makerspace in Louisville, KY and helped some of the members find meaningful jobs.
Galen had an unconventional path to find success, and that’s what I enjoyed learning about him. At the root of it, Galen developed the ability to do things and he also became passionate about his craft. He saw that in himself and he could see it in others, and those were the people he wanted to work with.
That’s why he is a maker’s maker. I’d like to think of Galen as a valuable prototype for a person who learns by doing, figures things out along the way and become successful in business and life, in part because he’s also a good and kind person. I wish I knew the secret of how to create more people like Galen, people who are passionate about their craft.
I hope you enjoy what for me felt like a very personal conversation with someone I just met but felt like I already knew. It’s an interesting conversation that I didn’t want to end. I’m glad to be able to share it with you.
- My dad was just a gifted guy that was not always good at everything, but never afraid of anything. As a kid, I watched him tackle things that he didn’t know how to do and find his way through them. He just demonstrated to me that if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to apply enough energy and thought you can find your way through it. And I think that really shaped a lot of my behaviors.
- We got together and decided we were gonna build a dune buggy. And so he recruited the guys out of the auto shop to build the chassis for it. A bunch of the students donated stuff to it, loaned wheels and tires for it. We built a body for it. So it was a little fiberglass Manx dune buggy. The auto shop built an engine for it. Ag did a lot of the welding, but we built a full-on dune buggy and it was quite attractive. Took it up there and it stole the show at this fair. I’m like, wow, this is what it feels like to be on your game here.
- I did a lot of homework in plastics class and I also did a lot of homework in the engineering graphics classes, which were two of the only classes I had that didn’t assign homework. All the other classes I didn’t do the homework for. I was one of those kids, I don’t know whether it was non-conformist or what, but did the homework in the classes that didn’t have any and then didn’t do it in the ones you’re supposed to.
- Fortunately I got a call on like a Saturday from this engineering manager and he is like, “Hey, we’re shorthanded. One of our guys got hurt in a car accident. I have an opening, but it’s temporary.”
- I spent an hour a day trying to memorize the McMaster-Carr catalog. I literally read that thing from one end to the other during lunches.
- I knew I had to earn a living. I wanted to get married. I thought highly of my wife and I realized I had responsibilities and I didn’t have the pedigree to really do anything of any significance. So I just had to figure it out. One of the reasons I like the maker community is there’s a lot of the same thing in the maker community.
- You see these other guys that, you know, have got challenges but they’re talented. And in most cases, they’re more talented than most people in one vertical. So I call these people the people that are passionate about their craft. I’ve spent my career trying to only work with those people. If somebody isn’t passionate about their craft, I’d rather have ’em go work somewhere else.
- I did a bunch of work on this system that cured radiation-curable polymers. So we would basically take two glass molds out of a giant library, mix and match them and we’d use these spacers that were injection molded to hold them the right distance apart, fill the space in between with a UV curable resin, and turn it into a solid. And when you demolded that lens, it was already made directly to the patient’s RX.
- What I was doing is I was apologizing for my inadequacies every time (that I was working with those who had academic credentials). I would start the conversations with this meeting’s been interesting and I’m really not qualified to contribute here, but here are some thoughts. I’d done that, I don’t know, 5,000 times or something, and Nigel, my confidant, senior partner in this business, took me aside and said, ” I think it’s about time you quit apologizing.”
- I recruit out of makerspaces though, by the way, and it’s a little opportunistic and sometimes I feel guilty about it.
- The candidates were told in advance that they couldn’t show up without a portfolio, and so you had to bring something. The rules for a portfolio were lenient. They’re like– pile of paper, pile of pictures, pile of old drawings. You got three of us interviewers in the room and maybe most of them are academically solid, with the exception of me most of the time, but they don’t know my story. We’re trying to kinda keep it low key. So we’ve got a casual setting, couches, bottled water, and we’re just trying to get the person loosened up so they can talk. That’s not always real effective. But what was effective was to start picking through their portfolio and go, oh wait, what’s this right here? Tell me about how you guys pulled off this one thing.
- During Covid, I stuck a work stand out in my garage and just fixed every kid’s bike that went by under the premise that I’ll only fix it if you’ll help me do it. And you have to learn something. And ideally you have to teach me something. It’s funny how easy that stuff is and it seems like in the big scheme of things, it’s not that important. But if you could rubber stamp that enough times, kinda like you have with makerspaces, it becomes incredible.