Vice president of engineering and product development, Kitchen and Bath Americas, Kohler Co.
BSEE ’83, UW-Madison
Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Cynthia Bachmann is among the engineers we will honor in 2019 at an Oct. 11 banquet.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Cynthia took a position in the Pacific Northwest with Boeing. A serendipitous turn of events while waiting for security clearance netted her a chance to be part of a new company endeavor, an integrated product team. Made up of people at all levels, the team worked with aggressive constraints to conceive breakthrough avionics for an advanced tactical fighter known as the F-22 Raptor.
Her success on this interdisciplinary team subsequently opened the doors to ever-broadening leadership positions. After 12 years with Boeing, she moved back to Wisconsin to join Kohler Company toward the beginning of an aggressive growth period. Not long after, she was tapped to become director of engineering, and later, a vice president. As the company expanded, Cynthia drove rigor and created a culture focused on innovation that enabled Kohler to approach new product development more strategically and globally. Now, in more than 30 years of leadership, she has enabled countless teams to develop human-centric engineered solutions from concept to product.
We are honoring Cynthia as a respected industry leader whose optimism and positivity are infectious and inspiring.
Recently, we chatted with her about everything from her memories as a student at UW-Madison to her career and hobbies. Here are her responses to some of our questions.
How did you choose engineering?
I really owe it to a high school teacher who saw something in me that I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. I started as a chemical engineering major, made it through my first semester of organic chemistry, and realized chemical engineering wasn’t for me. My advisor pointed me toward electrical engineering. There were even fewer women in electrical engineering than there were in chemical engineering. Had I done some more investigation, I may have changed my mind, but I’m glad I stayed with it.
Which classes made the greatest impact on you?
The classes I enjoyed most were taught by Professor Willis Tompkins. I was really engaged by application of all the theory we were learning to biomedical topics; at the time, biomedical was not an undergrad major on our campus. I remember that as a time when I really got why engineering can be impactful.
As a student, how did you spend your free time?
I worked at the engineering library in Wisconsin TechSearch, which gave me a view into how the world of business was using technical information. I did some writing for Wisconsin Engineer. In my last year and a half, I became an officer in the Society of Women Engineers and was chairman of the regional conference. Through that experience, I learned that my problem-solving skills were transferable to a lot of different things, and that my passion was organizing and leading. I stepped off campus with a lot more confidence!
What advice would you give engineering students today?
People want to help you, and not everybody learns in the same way. Ask more questions, be curious, and get involved.
What are your hobbies?
We are renovating a cabin up north, which provides fun and work all at the same time and exercises our creative problem-solving skills. Also, improving my tennis game and challenging the university to be better.
I share my life with my husband, Jeffrey, and my kids, Kai, Nathan and Ben. None of this would have the same meaning without them.