John Rinaldi

John Black White HeadshotI’m John Rinaldi and I like to call myself the Dr. Phil of Industrial Automation. Why? Well, I shoot my mouth off a lot, I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, and if I didn’t shave my head every day I would have the exact same hairstyle as Dr. Phil – a horseshoe of gray hair around my noggin.

You should know that I’m an engineer by training. I have a BSEE and a MSCS degree, but I wasn’t that good of an engineer. Luckily for me, I found that I had a knack for finding people a lot more talented than me and turning them loose to make our customers more successful. There’s no working hours in our shop and you can play pool whenever you want. There’s complete freedom to get the job done with whatever tools and processes work best for you. My only rule is no donuts when I’m in the office. That’s because my self-discipline quickly evaporates the way an Alka-Seltzer does in a glass of water. My only other rule is don’t bother me. Do what you think is best for the customer.

The reason I’m an engineer is my dad told me I was going to be an engineer. I didn’t know any better. Dad said I was going to be an engineer so much when I was really young that I honestly thought that people were born into jobs and I was born into engineering.

Dad was born and raised on a poor, hot, dirty, tobacco farm in the Campania region of Italy (that’s mountainous south Italy – we’re really Italian hillbillies). He only had two years of formal schooling because Mussolini declared in the 1920s that Italy’s citizens had to be educated and ordered all Italian kids to go to school for two years. I’m a lot like my dad. He worked hard, but he loved to laugh, enjoy himself and have a good time. He had a great disposition. He was also a great dancer (that didn’t pass on to me). He was really proud when I became an engineer. I was the first one of his entire family to ever go to college.

I bounced around early in my career. I would generally quit every job after two years. You can do that when you’re young and sans family. When I didn’t quit, they fired me. Shooting my mouth off and making jokes about management will do that. I thought I knew more than my bosses did. So after a while I ended up in the Engineering Group at Allen-Bradley. Interesting group. Fifty or sixty engineers and fifty or sixty managers. Top heavy doesn’t do it justice.

I picked the wrong job. With the overloaded management and highly compensated / under-worked engineering staff we were losing $1,000,000 EVERY MONTH. That was back in the time when a million was real money. Oddly, I was the only one concerned about losing money. Seemed to me that bad things tend to happen to organizations that burn through cash like that.

So I quit and took another wrong turn. I started a toy company. Not one of my smartest choices. In fact, a really bad choice. My toy company was a disaster. I started losing money. Fast. Only a few thousand a month, but when you’re only making 20K a year it starts to hurt pretty quickly.

There’s only one word when faced with a disaster like that: NEXT!

About that time I took a call from one of the guys at Rockwell (they had bought AB). He asked me if I would do some communications protocol work to connect some device up to a PLC. I told him I was in the toy business, but sure I’d do it as a favor. Once it was done, one of the AB sales guys calls and says, “Hey, you did that, can you do this?” I let him know that I was in the toy business, but that I’d do one for him too. And the phone kept ringing. Can you do this? Can you do that? I could. So I did.

Then one day, my wife announces that she had found me an office. “An office?” I said. Didn’t know I was looking for an office. Didn’t know I wanted an office. I like going to work in my pajamas (or even less on occasion). “My sister’s coming to visit,” she says, “and she’s staying in this bedroom so I found you an office.” Again I didn’t have a choice. My dad told me I was going to be an engineer. My wife told me I needed an office. Is there a pattern here?

Well, one thing led to another and I hired an engineer. Then an assistant. Then another engineer. And another assistant. And on and on it went. Today we have a bunch of engineers and some support people and some marketing people and assembly people and so on. About fifteen in total. I can’t imagine a better group of people to work with. They’re bright, fun, talented and more.

The company is like me. Odd, quirky, funny and unpredictable. Our most important driving force is the customer. That means two things; simplicity and taking care of the customer. From my short time as a control engineer, I know how lonely and frustrating it is to have a machine down or be under some deadline and really need help from someone on the other end of a phone line. Being there 110% to offer any help we can is really important to me and our company.

When we’re not taking care of a customer we’re having fun. That’s the 2nd most important activity at RTA. That’s one of the influences from my father. When you work – work hard. When you play – really enjoy yourself. And we do.

We grill out every Friday. We send customers odd gifts, we put surprises in our product boxes, kind of like Crackerjack, and we have some very strange hidden corners in our website. We have an Industrial Automation newsletter that doesn’t really focus on Industrial Automation. We have a blog that might be about the benefits of eating sauerkraut.

This is all a reflection of me. I’ve feared for my life in a wild motorcycle ride around Bangkok, been thrown out of a Buddhist temple, been swindled on the street in Italy, and rescued a friend from a Thai brothel. I’ve had a 12 foot sand shark looking at me like I’m lunch, slept in a 14th Century Venetian Palace and drank Irish Whiskey in Dublin. Life is surprising and wonderful, and we want our customers to have that same kind of experience when dealing with our company.

Nowadays I have a couple of roles. I write books, articles, newsletters, blogs and everything else. I also do company strategy. I think hard about what products our customers need today and what they’ll need tomorrow. I’m also sort of an evangelist for OPC UA – that’s some new technology that’s going to revolutionize the factory floor. Luckily for me, I can do that from anywhere.

It’s a wild ride, but I love it. We’re a unique organization with great people that is focused on delighting customers; offering not only products and services but a commitment to their success while putting a smile on their face. It doesn’t get any better than that.