Fond memories, bright future facilitate alum’s generosity
“I played the trumpet in Marching Mizzou,” Jim Fitterling, a 1983 mechanical engineering graduate, said. “It was my freshman year, and we rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. Game day arrived, and we ‘ran on’ from the back of the end zone to form the big MU for the pregame show. In the south end zone, the tuba player wiped out right in front of me. I jumped over him and in the process lost my music. But I survived.”
It isn’t Fitterling’s fondest memory of time spent as an undergraduate student in at MU, but, he said, it stands out as something he will never forget — a sort of character-building incident. Overall, his memories of his time as a Mizzou Engineering undergraduate are much less traumatic.
“I came to MU in 1979 to earn a business and accounting degree. I’m from a farm background, and I joined the FarmHouse fraternity, along with a lot of men from ag backgrounds,” Fitterling said. “My first semester in accounting was not that exciting, and since many of my fraternity brothers were engineers, I switched to engineering. Steve Borgelt [MU associate professor of bioengineering] was one of my frat brothers.
“It was a great change. If I hadn’t switched, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he added. “It’s a big world, and learning how to solve problems and at the same time having the opportunity to get some financial training is one of the great things about Mizzou.”
Fitterling took a job at Dow Chemical Company in 1984 and is still there today. Last February, he was named the company’s president and chief operating officer.
“Dow is a large company. In 32 years, I’ve probably had several careers,” Fitterling said. “There’s a lot going on in the company. It’s an exciting place to be.”
The MU alum has been all over the world with Dow and said that he has worked with some of the best engineers anywhere and learned a lot from great people within the company, here in the United States and around the world.
“There’s a lot of responsibility in the business world — team accountability. That’s why the experiences you get [from MU engineering] are so great going out into the real world. Ours is a hero culture, but nobody solves a problem by themselves,” Fitterling said, adding that the culture in the Midwest is such that people look out for each other, something he experienced firsthand in the FarmHouse fraternity and among his classmates, many of whom shared the same rural background.
“In the business world, you have to be hands-on. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made, and you have to be there. You can’t abdicate. You can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,” he said. “We’ve taught more farmers and fishermen how to build and operate petrochemical plants than anyone in the world.”
Fitterling likes some of the recent developments at Mizzou, and earlier this year, he made a generous gift to MU in support of the College of Engineering. He singled out the Mizzou Advantage program on campus as a great example of a forward-thinking initiative that reaches across engineering and other disciplines to solve problems.
“The multidisciplinary approach is what we do in the world. It’s what society expects for solutions in such areas as agriculture, clean drinking water, sustainable food packaging, safer and lightweight automobiles. It’s so powerful,” Fitterling said.
He said he also is encouraged by where MU Engineering’s new leadership is taking the College and that he hopes his unrestricted gift will help Dean Elizabeth Loboa fulfill some of her goals.
“I wanted to make sure that Mizzou students in the future had the same opportunities as me,” he said.