Dieter Weissenrieder emigrated from Germany in 1960 as a tool and die maker to work for his uncle’s tooling business. He quickly became the manager of the company, and after working for the family business for 10 years, the company was sold to a large firm. He then founded Weiss-Aug in 1972 with his partner, Kurt Augustin, while pursuing his industrial engineering degree at NJIT. Weissenrieder’s vision has led to the growth of Weiss-Aug Company and now The Weiss-Aug Group. On April 19, 2018, he will receive the Outstanding Alumnus Award at the 20th annual NCE Salute to Engineering Excellence at Nanina's In The Park in Belleville, N.J.
Do you think your NJIT degree helped you to pursue your career?
Although I did not complete my engineering education until 1976, the fine education I received definitely helped me when I started Weiss-Aug Company. Industrial engineering is based on running efficient processes and systems and that is the knowledge I needed when we started our manufacturing company. It definitely helped me.
Did you ever envisage doing this while you were at NJIT?
When I enrolled at NCE in 1968, I had no thoughts about starting a company. I worked for my uncle who had a similar business. I was challenged and happy and moved up the corporate ladder quickly. There were no family members to take over the company; consequently, there was an opportunity for me to possibly acquire the company.
I had acquired a solid practical foundation in Germany after completing a four-year tool and die maker apprenticeship and an additional year as a journeyman. I came to the U.S. in 1960 at the age of 19. It was my grandfather who encouraged me to come here. He bought me a one-way ticket and gave me $100. I had intended to come here for two years, learn English, get to know America and then return to Germany. But this all changed; the opportunities in America were just too great. By the end of the 1960s, I basically ran the company and I realized that an engineering degree would be appropriate, almost a must if my uncle’s company would continue growing and I would continue to be in a leadership position.
In 1965, the company moved from Parsippany to a new plant in Montville. In 1969, there were 55 employees at the time; my uncle retired and moved to Florida. The company became too large and the family decided to sell it. I stayed on, but once I had tasted the freedom of working independently and on my own, I couldn’t work for someone else. At the end of 1971, I decided to start my own manufacturing company with my former chief engineer, Kurt Augustin, who had become a very close friend.
Where did you live when you were a student?
Not only did I start evening classes at NCE in 1968, I also was married that same year. My wife, Eleanor, and I lived in Parsippany the first four years and then moved to Boonton Township, where we are still residing.
Did you enjoy your time at NJIT?
Absolutely. My life at the time was heavily focused on night school and building a business. We had professors who were hands-on people who could relate to our kind of life. The evening student body consisted mostly of people who were in their late 20s and older, who had full-time jobs and were mostly married. It was a different atmosphere than one would probably find today in day classes and I enjoyed it because professors and teachers would relate to you on a one-on-one basis.
What was your most memorable moment as a student?
In order to graduate in 1976, we were required to write a paper. I had two friends, Karl Haueisen and Mike Piacenza, with whom I was very close and we were divided into groups of four. We decided to write our paper on “How to start a successful company” and we chose Weiss-Aug Co. At the time, the company was 3-4 years old and we had 25 employees. After we handed in the project and graduated, about four months later, Karl called me and asked if I had an opening in the company for him. He felt the need to change jobs. I hired Karl who eventually became VP of manufacturing. He is still a part-time employee today. Five months later, Mike called me and told me that he talked to Karl who informed him that he was very happy in his new position. Did I have a job for him? I hired Mike and he became eventually the assembly plant manager. He worked for us for over 12 years.
What advice would you give to those considering a similar career path?
Part of an engineer’s education must be “hands on”; by that I mean he or she needs some practical experience before graduating. I strongly recommend that students use their annual summer vacations to work in an internship. Four years of academic life without “hands on” experience in the industry is not enough. Internships give students an exposure to the real world and they can start putting their learning to good use. They will be better engineers after they graduate.
The flipside to that is that the company which offers the internship has an opportunity to train and evaluate the student and if there is a mutual interest after the student graduates, offer the student employment. For years our company has hired interns from NJIT and other colleges and the program has been a huge success. In 2017, we had a total of seven interns, and we ultimately hired three who graduated that year. We anticipate hiring the same number of students this summer.