A Conversation with Michael Bagwell

Bagwell is a manufacturing design engineer for Apple and one of Products Finishing’s 40-Under-40 for 2018.


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Michael Bagwell is a manufacturing design engineer for Apple and one of Products Finishing’s 40-Under-40 for 2018. After an internship at Atotech, he ran a plating shop for at Technetics Group and worked at TE Connectivity before joining Apple. We caught up with Michael before he headed to Taiwan on a five-week business trip.

PF: What fascinates you about surface finishing?
MB: Many things fascinate me and keep me interested in surface finishing. We make products that enhance people’s lives and even protect them. For example, the start of my career had me plating nuclear reactor seals. The plating is essential to the safe operation of a nuclear reactor. The plating I’m doing today allows people to take their electronic devices to places never imaginable before. It’s all very exciting. I also love how challenging plating can be. I tend to get bored easily, so working in this field is perfect for me. Plating is ever-changing, and we’re constantly being challenged to do increase our capability.

PF: Tell us about the knowledge you gained in the reel-to-reel plating sector?
MB: I think the most interesting thing I learned in reel-to-reel plating is just how selective we can be with plating multiple layers. From part-specific tooling to more traditional controlled-depth methods, we can plate a metal exactly where we want it. Because of the speed at which we plate in reel-to-reel, and often times the number of plating layers, I had to learn how to keep up in an environment that’s always challenging. From the electrical, mechanical and chemical aspects of the plating line itself to the waste treatment and water recycling, there is so much happening at once on a reel-to-reel line, and I love it.

PF: How different is corrosion resistance for smaller parts compared to larger ones?
MB: Generally, larger parts need corrosion resistance for cosmetic needs. Typically in this case, galvanic corrosion can be capitalized on to provide sacrificial layers. On the other hand, smaller parts generally need corrosion resistance to maintain functional needs, like the ability to charge a device while under corrosive conditions.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?
MB: My high school chemistry teacher told me that I was good at chemistry and that I should pursue it in college. It may seem small, but letting a teenager know you believe in them and that they can accomplish anything means everything. It definitely changed my life.

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
MB: My very first job was as a digital ink and paint artist at a small animation studio. My big sister was the boss, so I had to learn very quickly how to separate the personal from the professional!

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?
MB: I’d give it to The Humane Society. I love animals. In fact, I paid my way through college as a veterinary technician.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?
MB: My first car was a 1988 Ford Escort GT. At the time, in high school, I wanted a car so badly. Now, I don’t like driving any more than I have to, so I’m happy to take a train or a bus as often as I can.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
MB: I’ve learned to treat people the way they want to be treated, not necessarily how I want to be treated. Being able to adjust your approach for an individual’s needs will gain you respect and build trust.

PF: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
MB: I wanted to be a lawyer. In elementary school, a cafeteria lady asked me what was my least favorite subject in school, and I replied “science.” She told me that meant I’d grow up to be a scientist. I wished I could find her and tell her she was right.

PF: Night owl or early bird?
MB: I would say I’m an early bird these days. I really enjoy being outdoors in the sun.

PF: Favorite place you’ve lived?
MB: I love where I live now, in the Bay Area of California. The weather is fantastic, and there’s so much to do here. On the other hand, I loved living in Columbia, South Carolina, too. I really miss the people and the food.

PF: What organization or company aside from your own do you most admire?
MB: Probably Nintendo, for sticking to their values, for innovating and for their insistence on delivering a quality product to the market.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?
MB: You would either find me walking through a park, eating at a pub or playing a video game.

PF: Best way to keep a competitive edge?
MB: Innovate. Don’t be afraid to fail. Always believe that you can overcome anything.

PF: How do you motivate people?
MB: I take the time to explain “the why” to people. I truly value what other people bring to the table. Giving people ownership allows them to take pride in their work.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?
MB: Honestly, it comes naturally for me. Do something you’re passionate about. It makes it all the easier to stay interested, curious and motivated.

PF: What are your three greatest passions?
MB: Family, travel and video games. In that order.

PF: Best business decision?
MB: Taking a risk and leaving a secure job I had been at for over a decade. That decision got me noticed and led me to where I am today.

PF: Worst business decision?
MB: I can’t say I’ve had one. I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason.

PF: Biggest management myth?
MB: Sometimes pride and ownership in one’s work can be mistaken for hard-headedness. It’s important to be able to recognize the difference. Most people care greatly about their work and take great pride in their craftsmanship.

PF: What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
MB: I would’ve told myself that all the carbon on my hands and the holes in my clothes would be worth it one day.

PF: What word  best describes you?
MB: Resourceful. I don’t consider myself to be particularly smart, but I’m highly resourceful.