Rediscovering Tucson, with an Entrepreneurial Spirit
Brendan Snyder, Eller Economics ’10
Financial Consultant, AXA Advisors
By Liz Warren-Pederson
After he graduated from high school, Bert Schneider entered the Air Force ROTC program at the Virginia Military Institute. There, many times, he passed under a quote by Stonewall Jackson inscribed on a stone archway: “You may be whatever you resolve to be.”
It was a message that resonated with Schneider then, and that he has shared with his two children many times. His own parents, friends, wife Peggy, and siblings gave him a firm base of support as he navigated his early career.
Schneider graduated from Virginia Military Institute as a second lieutenant with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, and after his first assignment, earned his master’s degree in the same field from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.
“I spent 17 years in the U.S. Air Force in a variety of roles,” he said. He started in Southern California, where he managed a high-energy battery production program for Minuteman missile silos. Several assignments later, he joined the U.S. Air Force Academy faculty in Colorado Springs as an assistant professor of aeronautics. He directed the Aeronautics Laboratory for two years, then moved to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to direct the Kinetic Kill Vehicle Hardware-in-the-Loop Simulator test facility.
When a promotion decision didn’t go as planned, he said, “I took an early retirement. But one thing I’ve learned is that when one door shuts, another opens.”
Schneider decided to focus the second phase of his career on the defense industry, and happened to give a tour of his test facility to a couple of vice presidents with then-Hughes Missile Systems. They were impressed and offered him a position in Tucson.
“At that point I was living in a resort,” he said. “Florida was a hard place to leave, and never did we think we’d move here.” But when he and his family visited Tucson, they were impressed.
Shortly after joining Hughes — which was acquired by Raytheon six months into his tenure — Schneider began assessing opportunities for continued education. “I said to myself, ‘I have two technical degrees, but I could really use a foundation in management and leadership.’”
In the military, he said, he was a high-level program manager, a role that was more focused on getting capabilities into the hands of war fighters, but he didn’t have the appreciation of private sector operations. “There were a lot of behind-the-scenes decisions that the MBA revealed, that helped me fill in the gaps,” he said.
At Raytheon, he’s launched an educational initiative to help fill those gaps earlier for students, while calling on his teaching experience at the Air Force Academy. For seven years now, he has headed a summer research program that involves cadets from the Air Force Academy and West Point. The program is designed to give future leaders of the military a chance to work on some cutting-edge projects and acquaint them with industry side of the defense business.
“They take on a five-week summer project focused on an area, such as advanced weapons concepts or unmanned aircraft or lasers, and make recommendations to senior Raytheon leadership from the results of their research,” Schneider said. “The students walk away with their eyes opened to the attention to detail and thoroughness that goes on behind the scenes in the defense industry.”
Schneider said that the program is just one more way that Raytheon engages with students and the academic community. The company has many collaborative projects in place at the University of Arizona.
This program and other contributions have earned Schneider peer and managerial recognition over the course of his career. This fall, Raytheon acknowledged his outstanding individual technical contributions and leadership as part of the Raytheon Technical Honors program.
“Looking back at my humble beginnings, I never would have thought I would have accomplished so much,” he said. “I feel lucky that I had significant, positive role models my entire life: my parents, teachers, coaches, and some very good bosses and leaders. I feel obligated to help and mentor others, to lend a helping hand, set high expectations, and then watch them achieve incredible results!”