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Center for Professional Development
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Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755
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Alumni Stories:  Marlow Hicks '79

Engineering A Plan for Success by Lisa Birzen '03

"When you find your passion, you will know," Marlow Hicks says reassuringly, speaking from his own experience.

Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1979, Hicks has been helping enrich people’s lives by employing his engineering background in a variety of meaningful ways.

Attending high school in Gary, Indiana, Hicks played football and basketball.  Being that he was a "likeable person with an ability to communicate," his high school math teacher and athletic coach suggested he consider attending an Ivy League college.

Looking at the different schools, he discovered that "Dartmouth offered the best combination of athletics and academics."

Hicks played sports during his first two years at Dartmouth and, he says, "having achieved my purpose -which was to play - I then stopped."

"I wanted to be an engineer from day one," Hicks affirms.

Despite his interest in English as well, he admitted to thinking, "I couldn’t write as well as all the other English majors in my English classes."

"I had a good math and science background from high school and engineering was the natural thing to gear towards," he says.

"The Dartmouth Engineering degree teaches you how to solve problems," and Hicks found the school to be an "excellent academic training ground."

"There was never any question about the education I was given," Hicks says.

Outside academics, he enjoyed expanding his interests by kayaking and taking part in activities at Moosilauke.  To this day, he still maintains close relations with those "life long friends" he made while on campus.

Hicks particularly appreciated the "access to faculty" Dartmouth offers its students.  He cites Engineering Professors Francis Kennedy and Hans Grethlein for "making an impression on me."  English Professor Bill Cook "was just dynamic and made English and literature come alive," he adds.

Hicks always knew that he wanted to obtain advanced degrees in engineering and, while at Dartmouth, he also realized that he wanted to do that someplace else.

"I wanted to put myself in a situation to increase my chances of finding someone to marry," he says.  Considering the small size of both the College and Hanover, he opted to continue his studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Enrolling in a program for Civil Engineering Project Management, Hicks didn’t waste much time looking for his future spouse.

Meeting Julianna during the second quarter, he "zipped through the Master’s degree."  "I am outta here. I gotta grow up and get married," he remembers thinking.

To achieve both of those goals, Hicks first had to find a job.

Completing graduate school in 1980, Hicks embarked on an engineering training program with Exxon.  For a period of eighteen months, Hicks learned about the business from his various rotational assignments.  His program covered areas of estimating, designing, contracting, administrating and plant managing.

"I was arrogant and asked them to give me something challenging," Hicks laughingly admits.  Exxon responded by sending Hicks to a refinery in Singapore for nine months.

"After I had done the things I set out to do, I realized that I wanted to manage and run the show instead," he says.  While designing and building products, Hicks became interested in the second part to the procedure: hiring and managing people.

He enjoyed contributing to the operations aspect and not just to the support side of the process.  "Technical support doesn’t get the glory," he admits.

In 1983, wanting his "responsibilities to expand faster," Hicks turned to Merck & Company to fill that void.  "Here, I was looking for assignments that would build my skills," Hicks says.

In the capacity of this healthcare company, Hicks worked as a lobbyist, focusing on "putting the company’s rules and regulations into place" and communicating with the state legislature.

This job required him to use, and consequently improve, his communication and interpersonal skills and writing ability.

"At a time when drug testing and animal testing issues were not household names," Hicks had to work to figure out if his company would "take a direct position on an issue or go through a lobbying group," he explains.

Having enhanced his skill set, Hicks hoped to return to production and plant management.  Hicks’ request, however, "couldn’t be worked out" and he concluded, "it was time to leave."

Hicks cautions anyone interested in pursuing a similar line of work to his own.  "If you want to get involved in Operations, you are going to move," he says.  Since starting out in the business, Hicks himself has had to relocate for work a total of eight times.

Given an opportunity to reunite professionally with two of his former Dartmouth classmates, Hicks left his job at Merck in 1986 and moved his family from New Jersey to Illinois.

Together with Lafayette Ford ’79 and Felix Laniar ’79, Hicks spent three years working on a start-up company called Sales Tools.  Here, Hicks got the opportunity to work in the capacity of plant management, overseeing the company’s production of binders.

Sales Tools manufactured decorative and specialized binders of any variety.  "Whatever you wanted, we could get it done," he says.

The company eventually "progressed to a point of making a profit" and attained a worth of ten million dollars.  At the same time, however, Hicks says, "I had my fill," sensing that it was again time to move on.

Abbott Laboratories offered Hicks his next set of experience in a variety of different contexts.  He began his tenure as Department Manager of Abbott Diagnostics Division (ADD), following suit as Plant Manager of the Clinical Chemical Business department in South Pasadena, CA., and then as Director of Manufacturing in the Medicines Division in Bedford, MA.

Switching locations once more, he became Plant Manager of Abbott’s Hospital Product Division in Abbott Park, IL.  Currently, he works in Corporate Engineering as Director of the Lake County Site Employee Services.

Today, he oversees fourteen cafes, which serve 17,000 employees daily, and campus mail delivery services.  In addition, he handles executive services for corporate officers and manages furnishings for vice presidential offices.

Hicks jokingly comments on how, in the engineering field, "you can start out as plant manager and end up making food.  Go figure!"

"For a Computer Science major, working at Microsoft is like Nirvana. But what you do at Abbot Laboratories saves peoples’ lives," Hicks emphasizes.

As a Plant Manager, Hicks’ work has affected everyone from toddlers to elderly people, with products such as Savanta, which treats premature babies’ underdeveloped lungs.

"What more satisfaction is there than knowing that what you do is meaningful to people?" Hicks asks.

Hicks clarifies a common misconception about the business world.  "Having ‘good people skills’ and being able to communicate does not mean having to sell yourself," he says.

Instead, a manager’s performance depends on the ability to "motivate people towards common objectives."

"While you are moving through a career, people will tell you that you’ve got to get a mentor and you’ve got to do networking, but I truly believe that with good communication skills and leadership ability, you will be successful in whatever your chosen field," he concludes.

He emphasizes the importance of having a "firm understanding of what you like to do."  "If you don’t know exactly, then start talking to people on that same career track you’re thinking about," he advises.

"If you do what you like, you’ll tend to do it well and then people will pay you handsomely," Hicks says.

Hicks wholeheartedly believes that by choosing the right profession for the right reasons, you will ultimately achieve fulfillment and secure happiness both for yourself and for those whose lives you touch.

Last Updated: 6/21/12