With dozens of technical papers and several patents to his credit, Michael J. Hartnett ’69 is an internationally acknowledged authority in the field of tribology, the study of friction, which is essential for machine performance.
He credits Konstantine C. Lambrakis, UNH professor of engineering and later dean of the Tagliatela College of Engineering, for fueling his passion. “Professor Lambrakis had a big influence on me,” says Hartnett.“I found that I liked engineering very much, and I did well academically.”
After graduating, Hartnett served as a machinist in the Army’s Second Armored Division, which patrolled the Mexican border during the Vietnam War. After his tour, he earned a scholarship to Worcester Polytechnic Institute and began working at The Torrington Company, where his hiring coincided with the retirement of the company’s tribologist.
“It was not my field,” explains Hartnett, “but I wanted to do more associated with design, rather than just manufacture products. I liked working on the analytical side of engineering. In tribology there were lots of unsolved problems, and I saw a real opportunity.”
He dug into the subject and soon made himself indispensable to the company. That was in 1971, the dawn of a decade during which high speed digital computers were just starting to be developed to solve complex scientific and engineering problems.“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says.
When Ingersoll-Rand purchased The Torrington Company he remained there and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. He was promoted to director of research and development in 1981. In 1990 he left Ingersoll-Rand to purchase RBC Bearings, a company founded in New Jersey in 1919. Relocating it to Oxford, Conn., he set out to make RBC Bearings one of the nation’s leading producers of bearing products.
“I knew the business inside and out and I had many good contacts,” says Hartnett, who has been president and CEO since 1992 and chairman of the board since 1993. “I thought there were a large number of businesses in the industry that could be performing better.”
He acquired several companies and integrated them into RBC. Thanks to his leadership, RBC—with 24 plants in three countries—is one of the most successful and fastest growing companies in the machine industry. Some of RBC’s top clients include Boeing, NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Hartnett continues to be active at his alma mater as a member of the Tagliatela College of Engineering Advisory Board, as a benefactor of an endowed scholarship, and as a supporter of the Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Projects, which allow students to apply their skills working on projects for companies.
He encourages students to identify mentors, like he did with Dean Lambrakis. “He made engineering seem attractive, unique and of great value,” says Hartnett.
Posted Summer 2011