A Conversation with Dr. Jude Runge

Dr. Jude Mary Runge is president of Comprehensive Metallurgical Consulting, and a metallurgical engineer and surface scientist whose career spans more than 35 years in industrial, government and academic settings.

Dr. Jude Mary Runge is president of Comprehensive Metallurgical Consulting, and a metallurgical engineer and surface scientist whose career spans more than 35 years in industrial, government and academic settings. She also authored a recent book on aluminum anodizing titled “The Metallurgy of Anodizing Aluminum: Connecting Science to Practice.” She received her master’s degree in 1982 under William Rostoker and her Ph.D. in metallurgy in 1997 under Michael McNallan at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

PF: Tell us about the process of writing your book.
JR: I first signed the contract with Springer Publishing to write my book in November 2013. I was in the middle of a large product development project and couldn’t start writing until I was through in May 2014. I was exhausted, but exhilarated, because I always wanted to write a book about the science of anodizing. I went home to Chicago, and after some time with my family, left for my other home in Germany. By now, it was July 2014, and although I’d thought about the book and what I would write, I couldn’t begin. As I continued to procrastinate, in October 2014, I received an email from my editor asking me when she could expect something; the longer I waited, the more intimidating the task became. It was over lunch with my neighbors in a little osteria in my town, Bad Wörishofen, that our neighbors, Roger and Britta, asked me why I was having such a problem to begin to write. I somehow felt judged as not good enough and doubted my capability. Roger is an architect, a successful horseman and former rodeo rider; he builds riding halls and stables for the affluent horse breeding and riding community all over the world. After much discussion about my insecurity and fear, he said to me, “Jude, you aren’t the kind of person who pets a pony and claims to be a horse expert.” It was then I realized that what I had to say was necessary and important—and valid. I went home and started to write Chapter 4, Metallurgy Basics for Aluminum Surfaces. And the book took shape from there, bouncing between chapters, because, as I was soon to learn, no book is written in the sequence of its chapters. In fact, I ended the book by finishing Chapter 1, the History of Aluminum.

Explaining the science of anodizing in terms of thermodynamics, diffusion and corrosion science was interesting and exciting, but researching the various topics and history was time-consuming and exhausting. I found that I couldn’t consistently think with such incredibly intense concentration. I needed to see my friends, go for a walk or ride my bike. I found it necessary to treat writing the book like a job, assigning fixed hours to writing time in order to balance my eyesight, my posture and my brain with the writing process. It took until the end of August 2017, after a summer of edits during which the individual chapters were reviewed, that I sent the final, complete manuscript in for complete book reviews. The final edited version went back to Springer on New Year’s Eve 2017, at about 8 p.m.  

PF: Can you shed light on your subtitle, “Connecting Science to Practice?”
JR: I set three goals for my book: first, to make a clear connection between corrosion science and the nucleation and growth of the anodic oxide; second, to show that the composition and microstructure of the base metal, as the source of the oxide, are inextricably linked to the process of oxide growth and development; and third, more than anything else, to show that the quality of the aluminum substrate defines the quality of the anodic oxide finish. The book does not teach one how to anodize, but explains what happens when one anodizes. Nevertheless, knowing the science of what happens during the anodizing reaction provides the means to understand the technology of oxide growth, changing it from an empirical set of steps to real engineering. This scientific knowledge enables the tuning of the oxide structure to yield characteristics unique to the engineering application.

PF: How did you get your start in the finishing industry?
JR: My first job after receiving my master’s degree in metallurgy was at Northrop’s Defense Systems Division in Illinois. They were the largest government contractor in the state; the chief products designed and manufactured were electronic countermeasures for the Air Force and Navy. Northrop was a wonderful place to put my education as a non-ferrous metallurgist to use. Printed circuit boards, surface-mount technology to reduce the size of electronics, hybrid microwave devices, electron tubes and infrared devices were all part of the final assembly. All required some type of surface finish—electroplated, metallized, conversion coated or anodized—in order to function as part of the electronics. The purpose of the surface finishes was conductivity, corrosion protection and/or bonding. I became familiar with all of these processes, as well as the various metals and alloys that were part of the assembly. I had the opportunity to analyze and learn about all sorts of interesting interfacial phenomena, and meet experts in the developing field of microelectronics, and wrote many reports.

PF: What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
JR: When I was in 8th grade, my science teacher told me that, when writing a science report, my father ought to be able to read it with some understanding, otherwise it was not well-written. This taught me to take responsibility for my writing, especially for the content and the style.

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
JR: At a bakery at 14 in 1972. I scraped dough and flour from the floor, washed baking pans, washed the display cases, and sold baked goods, making $1.25 per hour. I learned to work hard at something that wasn’t very interesting or much fun. But, I learned to take pride in earning money for my hard work, which enabled me to help out at home. I worked there until my 16th birthday, when I left to start a job as a bank teller.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which would it be?
JR: I would give to Catholic Charities. This organization uses the money it receives for the causes that it supports—education, building homes, wells for water and feeding the poor— rather than for administration.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?
JR: A 1977 Chevy Nova. It was a beater, with rusted doors. My dream car? I don’t really know. I like my Volkswagen Jetta a lot.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
JR: Being open to others’ ideas and opinions. Holding others to the same expectations I have for myself. Being direct and being honest. And I am tenacious; stubborn to find the nature and cause for problems and dedicated to finding solutions.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?
JR: A writer.

PF: Night owl or early bird?
JR: Early bird.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?
JR: I am fortunate to have two homes that are wonderful. The first is my hometown, Chicago. My husband and I live in a lovely vintage apartment building on Lake Shore Drive. I love the environment and surrounding neighborhood. The second is in Bad Wörishofen, Germany, where my husband and I have a wonderful apartment that has a view to the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in the German Alps. We have great friends, our children and grandchildren in both places.

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?
JR: Apple. It is the only company willing to fund the analysis and research necessary to understand the nature and cause for the behavior of the materials systems comprising their products.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?
JR: I would love to be a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago and take classes of small children around to describe what they are seeing. In fact, this is my goal for after retirement. Until then, I would just love to trade jobs with one of the docents from time to time and to take the class that the docents take to learn about the various collections. I would also like to usher at the Chicago Symphony or at the Goodman Theater of Chicago.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?
JR: At home in the morning, at the lakefront in the afternoon, and at a movie, play or concert in the evening.

PF: What is the best way to keep a competitive edge?
JR: Study and analyze what challenges you.

PF: Personal heroes?
JR: Dorothy Day, Richard Feynman, William Rostoker, my parents and my husband (but don’t tell him).

PF: How do you motivate people?
JR: Ask them about their challenges, interests and passions, and then to listen to their answers. All three of these are connected, and if the answers aren’t part of what needs motivating, the people are probably in the wrong place. 

PF: How do you motivate yourself?
JR: I find the challenge, and then I treat it like a puzzle that needs solving.

PF: What are your three greatest passions?
JR: Understanding how things are made; interfacial phenomena in metals, ceramics and polymers; and solving puzzles.

PF: What is your most unique office décor?
JR: I have lovely posters from the Lyric Opera of Chicago in my office; they are beautiful. I’ve never seen anyone else celebrate opera in their office.

PF: Best business decision?
JR: At the advice of my husband in 2009, I gave up the efforts to sell licenses for my patented process for anodizing aluminum, focused my efforts on metallurgical consulting.

PF: Worst business decision?
JR: I’ve been pretty lucky over the years. I can’t look to anything and say that I regret having decided to change something or do something during my career.

PF: What is the biggest management myth?
JR: That a person can always be replaced. The space that a person occupies can be and is replaced every day, but a true expert and effective team member can never be replaced. Others must compensate the loss and hope to develop the skills that were unique to the person who created the vacancy. 

PF: What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
JR: Don’t give up! The best is yet to happen!

PF: What word best describes you?
JR: Analytical.