• United States

Interoperability’s own General Patton

Dec 22, 20036 mins
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium BusinessWi-Fi

Fred Wettling, a top network executive for Bechtel, has a knack for rallying the troops around his favorite standards cause, the Network Applications Consortium.

For relaxation, Fred Wettling zigzags his Yamaha sport-touring motorcycle along a serpentine stretch of North Carolina Highway 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon.

The 11-mile route, stuffed accordion-like into 318 corners with such names as Hog Pen, Little Whip and Gravity Cavity, is as much a spiritual recharge as it is a metaphor for Wettling’s IT career – a journey filled with twists and turns where he’s always been at the controls with his hand on the throttle.

As infrastructure architect for San Francisco global engineering and construction firm Bechtel, Wettling dissects the future and extracts the technology that drives the company forward. A self-taught computer fanatic, he also chairs the Network Applications Consortium (NAC), a small group of like-minded network executives from corporate giants such as Bechtel, Boeing, Disney and Nike that promotes integration, interoperability and vendor collaboration.

The NAC politely pins big-boy vendors such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft up against the schoolyard fence and convinces them to play nice. “The level of trust and the competence we’ve established in the NAC allows us to exert our influence,” says Wettling, who joined the group in 1997 after wandering into a meeting to check out the agenda. “It’s something individual members couldn’t do on their own.”

Midwestern influence

The NAC’s gentle-but-determined influence mirrors Wettling’s powerbroker style. He gets General-Patton-like results using a warm smile, a firm handshake and a knack for rallying the troops.

The 56-year-old, an amateur ham radio operator and sculptor of bonsai trees, attributes that style to his Midwest upbringing during the 1950s and early 1960s by a father who worked as a human resources manager and a mother who sold real estate and dabbled in amateur theater. “I inherited it from my folks, who were easy to get along with,” he says.

Wettling says moves between Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota as a child and four schools between the ninth and 12th grades gave him the skill to thrive on change.

“Part of my approach is to talk to people about what is important to them. It’s getting organizations engaged; it’s getting people engaged. Part of success is getting people to share in that success,” he says, citing the NAC as one example.

He started as an accounting major at the University of Houston in 1967, left in 1969 to work in Gulf Oil’s accounting department before returning to night classes at the University of Houston in 1976 and graduating in 1981 with his accounting degree. His only formal computer training was a single Fortran class, with the rest of his knowledge derived through “a lot of elbow time with experts.” In turn, many now turn to him as an IT authority and subject-matter expert.

“It amazes me how much Fred knows about everything out there, every standard, every protocol, every mechanism and what is going on with them,” says Mike Beach, a NAC member from Boeing.

Leading by example

Wettling amassed a portion of that knowledge while helping build Bechtel’s IS and IT architectures. He started with Bechtel in 1980, tasked with performing the same accounting magic he had finessed for MW Kellogg, another global engineering and construction firm. He lists his work overhauling MW Kellogg’s accounting practices and systems among his greatest accomplishments and says his computer fascination took root there.

After joining Bechtel, he helped move the accounting system to the mainframe. Then he successfully completed a six-month mission impossible to create the company’s first accounting system for the IBM microcomputer – a project he began by teaching a three-hour course on accounting fundamentals to his programmers.

This characterizes Wettling’s style, which shuns company politics and hidden agendas to focus on leading by example and education.

“You go in to ask him a question about technology, and before you know it you’ve had an hour discussion,” says Tim Carmichael, a systems engineer in Bechtel’s infrastructure engineering group. “He goes to the whiteboard in his office and draws it out for you and shows why it will be important to Bechtel. He gets real excited about technology.”

In 1984, Wettling became an IT manager. In that role, he helped upgrade Bechtel’s mainframe environment, integrated the mainframe with a network of PCs, and built or maintained data centers and IT infrastructure for offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Oakridge, Tenn. – where he is now based.

With the completion of each task, Wettling sought new challenges. In 1997, that desire to do more landed him his current job as infrastructure architecture manager. His greatest challenge now, Wettling says, is closely tying IT with Bechtel’s engineering and construction work by pursuing the right technology trends and standards.

Qualifications: Accounting degree from the University of Houston, but mostly self-taught on all things IT.
Career goal: Drive standards into as many IT infrastructure products as possible.
Previous employment: Financial systems development at MW Kellogg.

Standards are Wettling’s passion. They are essential ingredients to managing a global IT infrastructure, he says.

He champions the fight on many fronts, including public forums. For example, the NAC has high-profile involvement with Burton Group’s annual conference, and he helped pull together the Open Group, the Distributed Management Taskforce and the NAC for delving into issues related to mobility and directories (MAD). The trio calls this attempt to solve identity management issues for mobile devices the MAD Challenge.

Participation in such events help move Wettling toward his goal of increasing the NAC’s visibility. “One problem we have is name recognition. We are going to grow our membership beyond 30 companies,” he says. But he won’t let the group grow too large and risk losing the intimacy that spawns productive discussions.

Then he’ll start again to educate and engage.

“I want to become more of an influencer on the outside so that I can benefit Bechtel on the inside for the long term,” Wettling says. “Progress is incremental, and I think I am promoting change at the right pace.”