“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Tucked in the back corner of Device Solutions’ inventory storage room, the company’s self-confessed jack-of-all trades, Rob Zeher, is engrossed in translating the wavy lines and square boxes sketched on a blue Post-It into a working circuit board. He is surrounded by racks of electronic components, shipping boxes and the tools of his trade – everything from a table saw and drill press to a microscope, soldering iron and multi-meter – all tucked neatly around him in his 8′ x 10′ workspace.
Despite being at the center of a steady flow of traffic as co-workers come and go, picking up parts, dropping off requests and asking for his advice on projects, it’s clear Zeher is in his element. “I call myself the last of the horseshoe and buggy whip engineers because my job is very hands on,” Zeher explains. “I build and test prototypes, take care of the phone system, Internet servers and plumbing along with anything else they ask me to do.”
To understand Zeher’s unflappable nature and devotion to his job, you need to know a bit about his upbringing and career. Born the oldest of three children in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, Zeher spent his childhood doing carpentry and repairing engines and small electronic equipment with his father and grandfather. “I grew up taking things apart and putting them back together,” says Zeher, “so I just assumed I’d open my own repair shop one day.”
In high school, Zeher focused on vocational classes, taking everything from offset printing and photography to woodworking and small engine repair. He even did a short stint as a projectionist, working alongside his uncle in a movie theater. When it came time go to college, he chose Devry University, a school known for its focus on electronics. “My classes were a mix of practical, hands on work and theory,” Zeher says. “I graduated with an Electronics Technology Certificate and went on to earn my General FCC Commercial Radio Telephone license, which allowed me to work on commercial radio, TV and radar installations.”
Zeher’s solid grounding in both the theoretical and practical side of electronics served him well over the next 30 years. His first job out of college was as a field technician troubleshooting and repairing industrial flow meters. When the company was sold, he accepted a position at Wandel and Goltermann where he worked for 20 years, initially testing and repairing telecommunications equipment, then becoming a senior service engineer overseeing the work of eight technicians.
Following the closure of Wandel and Goltermann, Zeher worked for a series of companies in rapid succession – Samsys, Sony Ericsson, Sensus Metering, HTC and SandersRF – finding new work, after each company folded, through the connections and friends he’d made over the years. Two of those connections were Wilson Lamb (father of Device Solutions’ Chris Lamb) and Rod Williams. The senior Lamb encouraged Zeher to speak to his son about picking up some work, and Williams introduced him to Bob Witter and Keith Anderson. “By the time Rod introduced me to Bob and Keith, I already knew Chris through his father and the ham radio community. They offered me work that looked very interesting, so I accepted a contract.”
Zeher became a full-time employee of Device Solutions in January of 2015, and couldn’t be happier. “I enjoy the diversity of the projects, the management style, the business ethics of Bob, Keith and Chris, and the fair way they treat people. It feels much more like a family to me than almost anywhere I have worked. Bob’s goal seems to be to keep good people employed while supporting the company.”
When he’s not busy helping prototype new projects or troubleshooting IT issues, Zeher can be found on the ballroom dance floor in Durham taking lessons, participating in showcases and even competitions. “Dance is social, physical and cerebral. It breaks down walls between people and makes it easy to talk to them,” says Zehr. “Plus it’s taught me not to be self-conscious. I’m way past being embarrassed anymore, and just focus on having fun.” By way of illustration, Zeher pulls up a video of his latest dance performance. “See what I mean?” he says with a smile. “Every day is a new adventure.” – Jena Ball