What are the tools for success? Some might say hard work, while others may attribute it to luck. For Bill Naumann, Caterpillar Chairman from 1975-1977, the tools that launched his successful career fit in a wooden toolbox.
William “Bill” L. Naumann graduated from Pekin High School in 1929. He wanted to attend college but couldn’t afford it. Instead, Naumann enrolled in Caterpillar’s four-year machinist apprentice program. He took chemistry courses at Bradley University at night and also enrolled in a three-year correspondence course in mechanical engineering.
While Naumann’s post-high school plans might be seen as nontraditional today, his humble beginnings as an apprentice were the start of his successful 48-year career at Caterpillar that culminated with his position as Chairman of the Board.
After graduating from the apprentice program in 1933, Naumann worked as an inspector at the East Peoria Plant for two years, then spent six more years as a foreman and general foreman of inspection, and eventually became factory manager in 1945. When Caterpillar opened its first new U.S. plant in 25 years in Joliet, Illinois, in 1952, Naumann was selected to manage the plant. From there, Naumann rose through the ranks. He became a vice president in 1960 and was named Chairman of the board in 1975, serving until 1977.
Outside of Caterpillar, Naumann was also heavily involved in the community. He was on the community advisory board at St. Francis Hospital and was on the Board of Trustees at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, among other positions.
After his death in 1995, Donald V. Fites, Caterpillar’s Chairman at the time, said, “Bill was an outstanding business leader – a man of dignity and strong convictions, with a penetrating mind. His extraordinary career spanned an era during which the company grew from its modest beginnings as the pioneer of earthmoving industry to a worldwide enterprise. His contributions have significantly shaped Caterpillar’s history.”
After his death, Naumann’s family donated his wooden tool box from his apprentice and inspector days to Caterpillar. The toolbox contained nearly 60 tools as well as a 4th edition copy of the American Machinist’s Handbook from 1927, a receipt for a $3 payment made on his tool account and a pair of antique safety glasses – proof that safety was just as important in the early days of Caterpillar as it is today.
Bill’s story proves that hard work, determination and the right set of tools can propel one on a path to success.