Frank Pavlis

Frank  Pavlis
  • BS Chemical Engineering 1938


Frank Pavlis got his first lesson in leadership before he started grade school.

"I had the good fortune to be born on a farm," he tells the inaugural group of Michigan Tech students enrolled in the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership.

It was harvest time, and his mother needed to be out with his father bringing in the crops. She had three very young children, but her four-year-old son, Frank, was the least young of the bunch.

"Mom said, 'You're the oldest. You need to take care of the little kids,'" he remembers, some eighty-five years later. "Suddenly I was in charge."

With greatness thus thrust upon him, Pavlis absorbed some profound truths about leadership before he could read a single word in a management text. "I had position, authority, and imagination," he says, qualities that he used to keep his siblings entertained and out of trouble for hours on end. Those attributes, which made him a successful surrogate parent at an age when most children are not allowed to cross the street, kept him in good stead years later, when he took his first job.

Pavlis worked his way through Michigan Tech during the Great Depression and in 1938 graduated with a BS in Chemical Engineering at the top of his class. He was awarded a fellowship at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's degree. After graduation, he turned down a steady job with Shell Oil to sign on with a young man with an entrepreneurial spirit who thought he had a good idea.

Why would he do such a thing? asks one of the Pavlis Institute students. "That was when I learned the value and the risk of making a choice," Pavlis tells her. To go with Shell would have been prudent and a low risk. "But I had the courage to choose the young man and the vision."

Pavlis was selected to receive the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Excerpted from Michigan Tech Magazine, Winter 2006-2007

Learn more about the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership.