December 5, 2016
Shiley School of Engineering alumnus Mark Pillers ’83, ’86 never imagined he would spend the better part of his successful engineering career, going on 35 years, in the “frigid Midwest.” The University of Portland graduate (bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering 1983, master’s degree in mechanical engineering 1986) is the Vice President for Cab Sales and Marketing at Crenlo, Inc., in Rochester, Minnesota, a company best known for designing and manufacturing industrial and agricultural vehicle cabs for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) clients such as Caterpillar and John Deere.
Pillers chose to attend UP because of its small size, access to professors, and opportunities to build community and stronger relationships with other students. An academic scholarship helped equalize the cost of a state school which according to Pillers, “made all the difference.”
After UP, Pillers was hired at Hyster Company as a design engineer. During his five years with Hyster, Pillers gained his Professional Engineer (PE) license.
“Hyster did a really nice job of emphasizing the importance of a P.E.,” Pillers said. “That became important as we get into the later phases of my career.”
Pillers married his wife Ivy, and the couple moved to the Bay Area where she completed her medical residency at Stanford University. Pillers was hired by Peterbilt Motors as the company’s rear axle suspension group leader. Peterbilt provided Pillers with his first exposure to management.
“I see UP has having done a nice job of giving me a combination of communication skills and a broader outlook that had me focus more on strategic items rather than simply day-to-day activities. That’s part of the broader focus that UP provided, and still provides.”
In 1991, the Pillers moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where his wife took a job as a physician at the Mayo Clinic. Mark Pillers became the trailing spouse once again.
Crenlo was conducting a national search for a cab engineering supervisor with a P.E. and a background in structures. Pillers applied, and was hired immediately. He started as an engineer working collaboratively with (OEMs) that Crenlo supplied -- OEMs like John Deere and Caterpillar.
“The structures are designed custom, to a customer, to a vehicle, to an end product application, which makes us kind of unique," Pillers said. "We have technical sales -- a lot of joint visits with an account manager and an engineering person. We use our engineers to sell, if you will.
“It truly is-old fashioned engineering. We have a tag line on our website: ‘daily our engineers create something from nothing’.”
Over the last 25 years at Crenlo, Pillers moved from engineering to sales and marketing. He credits his UP experience as giving him the tools to continually adapt.
“I think a strong technical background combined with a strong liberal arts education created a different profile for me than a lot of engineers in managing people, understanding people’s motivation, and communication,” Pillers said.
Currently Pillers spends much of his time at Crenlo’s company in Brazil, Siac do Brasil in Minas Gerais, which expanded Crenlo’s current North American OEM supply partnerships into the Brazilian market.
Pillers’ fondest UP memories include campus activities, study groups, the tight-knit campus community and Professor Miroslav Rokos, now an emeritus associate professor at UP.
“We had a good core of four to eight of us that would study together and help each other. Ken [mechanical engineering professor Kenneth Lulay] was in the class right behind mine so those study groups sometimes included Ken.”