Panasonic CEO Joseph Taylor, with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, celebrating the one-year anniversary of the company's move to Newark.
In joining the board, Taylor caps a partnership that began in the early 1990s when he helped found the Panasonic Creative Design Challenge, a robotics competition for New Jersey high school students that is held each year on the NJIT campus. Designed to draw energetic new talent to science, technology and engineering fields, the contest focuses in particular on encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The members of winning teams earn prizes and scholarships to be used for college expenses. NJIT student interns help develop the competition, while university staff judge the presentations and score the written reports.
“I first came to NJIT more than 20 years ago to start a design challenge and fell in love with the students and the campus,” recounted Taylor, whose regard for the university has been emphatically returned. Over the years since then, dozens of NJIT graduates have taken jobs with the electronics giant, some working closely with him. Taylor was awarded a doctorate in engineering honoris causa at the university’s graduation ceremony in 2011.
“One of the most humbling, great honors I’ve ever experienced was the time I spoke at NJIT’s commencement,” he said of the event. “This was followed by Joel (Bloom, president of NJIT) asking me to join the board.”
“Joe Taylor and Panasonic bring cutting-edge advanced technology and a myriad of applications to NJIT, as well as opportunities to engage our students and faculty, including in our two-decade-old partnership with the Panasonic Design Challenge,” Bloom said, adding, “As a trustee of the university, Joe challenges NJIT to prepare students to work in the very challenging and enriching STEM, design, and technology management fields. He is also vigilant about how we can partner in R&D fields as well. We are, after all, neighbors in Newark, a city beginning to emerge as a technology hub.”
Taylor noted in turn of the NJIT president, who urged him to join the board, “Dr. Bloom is one of the most persuasive and persistent people I’ve ever met.”
He called his relationship with the university as relevant today as it was in the 90s, noting that he is joining the board at a pivotal moment for technology-focused industries in the U.S., which “struggle to fill roles and jobs” amid the often difficult search for employees with strong skills in STEM disciplines, and in the case of Panasonic, specifically in manufacturing and design.
“We need to close that gap. We should have universities and businesses talking collaboratively to make sure we are training students for the jobs of the future,” he said, calling NJIT a key partner in this effort. “I can’t think of a better university in this region in STEM than NJIT and I feel the time is ripe for it to really take off. I also appreciate the university’s wonderful, rich diversity. This is hard to find anywhere else.”
He added that student internships “give us great insight into how kids learn and how they are taught. They are also instrumental in helping us close the gap between the jobs we have and the skills students have.”
Adding a further dimension to his longstanding relationship with NJIT, Taylor has become a neighbor.
Last year, he moved the company’s headquarters from its 50-acre corporate campus in Secaucus to a newly constructed office tower in Newark, as part of a broader effort to transform Panasonic’s North American operations into an innovation leader in green business. The company’s new home gives employees easy access to a major regional transit hub and incorporates energy-savings, water-savings and accessibility throughout its design. The building earned a LEED Gold certification, while it awaits the highest certification, platinum, for its interior.
“We just celebrated our one-year anniversary here with Celebrate Newark Day. Everyone got the afternoon off, but was told they couldn’t go home,” he said, noting that employees were encouraged to “do something to feel part of the city” by taking tours of cultural sites, such as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and the Newark Museum, volunteering at local non-profits, and ending the day with a cookout at company headquarters attended by the mayor, among other activities.
As a 30-year veteran of Panasonic Corporation of North America and a Managing Executive Officer of Panasonic Corporation, its Osaka, Japan-based parent corporation, Taylor brings both expertise and considerable experience in the vital and dynamic electronics sector to his place on the board.
“It’s become a much more complicated technological world,” he noted of the industry.
“But for us, it’s not so much what’s changing in the world of electronics – by definition change is happening – but that our focus is changing, from the consumer electronics to the business-to-business market,” he said, noting, “We’re now, for example, the global leader in areas such as inflight entertainment and communications in the avionics industry and in automotive infotainment systems as well.”
As part of this transition, the company is also moving aggressively into green energy markets, manufacturing highly efficient lithium ion batteries for energy storage and solar panels, among other products, often in partnerships with other businesses.
“To help smaller companies and municipalities who want to get renewable energy, we provide a complete convenient solution,” he said. “We sell solar panels, install them, service them and even share in the financing.”
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