21 April 1941 - 7 May 2020
Bill Shiner joined IPG in August 2002 as head of Industrial Laser Sales, at first, primarily focused on the U.S. market. At that time IPG’s worldwide revenue was only about 30 million dollars and IPG had not established itself in the industrial laser world. This was a difficult time as the company was just starting to emerge from the telecom downturn and transition to industrial applications. He was a well-known industry veteran who brought knowledge and problem-solving abilities to customers helping IPG to grow sales from that small base to well over a billion dollars today. Ultimately, he spent almost 18 years with IPG.
He was a sounding board and very trusted advisor to me as well as providing guidance and advice to many other colleagues. A couple of years after joining the company and close to the company’s initial public offering he was promoted to Vice President, Industrial Sales, taking on more global oversight. In 2006, as a member of the road show team that flew around Europe and the U.S. to meet with investors and promote the company prior to its listing, he was directly involved in IPG’s debut as a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.
Bill had a keen eye for identifying new technologies and trends. It started nearly 50 years ago as a member of the American Optical Research Lab. He worked with the eminent scientist and inventor of the fiber laser, Dr. Elias Snitzer, in its Laser Products Group. Many years later, he teamed with me and our IPG team to apply the novel fiber laser technology, which then only generated much lower output power, to large scale industrial applications, using his deep knowledge of the laser industry from both technical and commercial perspectives.
Bill was a recognized leader in the laser community and Bill was elected President of the Laser Institute of America. Through his strong and enthusiastic leadership, the LIA organized a number of high-attendance events that advanced laser processing technology. Bill received the LIA’s President’s Award in 2009 which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the LIA and enabled the growth and prosperity of the society.
Bill was a person that could listen, understand, and then propose the best solution to meet the customer’s needs. His honesty, knowledge and approach to balance the needs of the end user, application and laser manufacturer were special.
Valentin P. Gapontsev, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO, IPG Photonics Corporation
“The Power to Transform” is a phrase that resonates in our minds and hearts as a truth that we all would want to be associated with in some way or another - to change for the better, influence, direct, invent or revolutionise. To have known William H. Shiner, also known as Bill or Billy, is to appreciate this phrase.
On 7 May 2020, Bill passed in a sudden and untimely way from the midst of family, loved ones, colleagues and friends. However his legacy of inspiration, positivity, leadership, love for family, zest for life and the transformation of an industry that he passionately impacted for the better, will go on unblemished. Bill had that unique ability to ‘powerfully transform’ lives and everything else he put his heart and mind to. One may say he had the “Midas touch” and there may be some truth to this, however, those well-acquainted with Bill know that not everything he touched instantly turned to Gold. His success came after long hours of toil, numerous brave attempts with adjustments here and tweaks there, reattempt after reattempt, never giving up, staying the course and having that indomitable spirit of staying true to a vision that he had set his heart and mind on. For me, a more apt description of Bill would be “cometh the hour cometh the man”.
I first met Bill at a sales conference for Convergent Energy in the mid 90’s (1995/6) where another industrial laser leader, Joseph “Joe” Leece introduced me to him. Bill was later to become the Chief Operating Officer of Convergent Energy in 2001/2002.
I was immediately impressed with Bill’s warm welcome and charming smile that helped everybody feel completely at ease. He shared his in-depth knowledge for the technology he was discussing or explaining with enthusiasm. It’s hardly surprising that when Bill was in front of an audience, or customer, it was as if you were witnessing a magician work his magic - with one significant difference, there was no slight of hand! Bill was real and sincere in sharing hard facts and expressions of ‘what could be’.
My introduction to Bill may have started our relationship as acquaintances but it soon grew into a marvellous friendship that I hold dear to this day.
Bill achieved a lot in his life both personally and as a loving husband and father. Working hard in those admirable qualities of education, he encouraged his children in their goals and aspirations, provided for his sweetheart wife Nicki, and established with her a safe haven and home for his family.
Professionally his achievements were numerous, innovative and pronounced. If you are flying in an aircraft, shaving, going places in a car, enjoying the benefits of renewable energy or communicating on your mobile phone you will be connected to Bill. The Laser technology and approaches used in today’s manufacturing process, for some of the most significant and key industries, have some of Bill’s genius woven into them in some way or another. Many won’t know this, but under Bill’s guidance the company Convergent Energy, laser cut the first trials on a new invention (by South African company Kolbenco) - a spring steel specially shaped to be what we know today as the self-spring-loaded windscreen wiper blade that does not require those complicated spring mechanics to hold it against your windscreen.
From his early beginnings at American Optical into co-founding Laser Incorporated and eventually selling that company to Coherent where he excelled as V.P. of Sales and Marketing, on to Convergent Energy and finally, what was to be one of the most significant accomplishments of his career, joining IPG Photonics in 2002 to help transform the fiber laser industry in his role as V.P. of Industrial Laser Sales and Marketing, Bill was part of, and central to, a revolution in laser technology development. His deployment into the fibre industry grew IPG from humble beginnings under CEO, Dr Valentin Gapontsev, to a Nasdaq listed company with a net sales over a Billion USD and with global reach and impact. No doubt he was part of a great team, however what we see today has a lot to do with the vision that has been opened before us from standing on the shoulders of greatness, such as we find in Bill Shiner.
Bill was honoured by the LIA to receive the President’s Award from the organisation after serving for over 40 years on its board and being part of its origins as one of its founding members.
The adjectives used by colleagues to describe Bill include mentor, generous, humorous, friendly, worker, leader, visionary, supportive, smiling, engaging, interested, energetic, enthusiastic, greatness, integrity, intelligent, knowledgeable - but of all these, for me the word ‘humble’ fits the best.
In spite of all he achieved in every aspect of his life, his most endearing quality and characteristic was his unassuming humility.
His achievements earned the respect and adoration of many business leaders; even those who may have opposed his ideas respected him as a person of integrity.
After retiring in 2018 from mainstream activities within IPG, Bill remained close to the helm of leadership by appointment of Dr Valetin Gaponstev as his Special Projects Consultant. This is testament to the great respect and validation from the head of IPG for Bill and all he did to help build what is today a formidable listed corporation.
One of the highlights of that journey was the day in 2006 when Bill was part of the opening of the Nasdaq Stock Market by ringing the bell for trade to open after its initial public offering. I recall sitting at my desk and experiencing firsthand the excitement and buzz of what was unfolding as the share price of IPG grew. In another challenging time, Bill helped protect IPG’s position against a company who threatened patents held by IPG, the summum bonum decision of the jury took under an hour to conclude IPG was innocent, Bill was a very credible witness in the case.
There are of course many other examples and thousands of stories to be told about Bill and I am confident many will surface in time from family, friends, colleagues and loved ones.
I have reflected on, perhaps, the unfairness of his untimely passing after his brave fight against cancer of the vertebrae. He was optimistic that he would overcome this, writing words of thanks to the medical facility and support staff who were working with him and keeping close colleagues updated on his progress and position with optimism... but sadly that fatal bell tolled, that shining light was darkened and Bill passed and returned home to his Creator who knew him best. Sadly, the global pandemic limited access for visitors at the hospital where Bill was being treated.
Perhaps, selfishly, we feel a little cheated about not having the opportunity to say our goodbyes, not being able to gather together and reflect and share stories of love and appreciation. However, I have asked myself: is there a room or building that could honestly hold all who would come to pay their last respects? I believe not.
I am reminded of his humility and I reflect that there is possibly a lesson here that each of us could benefit from.
Bill leaves behind precious relationships but this is not where his life ends - his story and legacy live on through those whom he influenced, encouraged, mentored, taught and loved, through the lives of those he touched and gave power to transform.
Rest in peace Bill, we will never forget you and the difference you have made in this world.
I came to know the mighty duo of Bill Shiner and Prof Valentin Gaponstev in the mid 1990s during the pre-dawn glow of the age of the high-power fibre laser. This incredible twosome were about to grab the laser world’s attention - they were a perfect combination; Valentin, with one of the finest minds in optics and laser technology and Bill, with his legendary understanding of how and where to apply this beautiful light, his tenacity, acute business mind, and supreme salesmanship. By early 2000, the dawn had well and truly broken and the sun was rising for all in the laser industry, and it was largely due to the transformational impact of Bill and Valentin’s work.
As a young ‘independent’ academic working in the field of industrial laser technology, I was asked by Peter Baker, President of the LIA, to present a keynote paper on the comparisons between high-power fibre lasers (IPG) and high-power disc lasers (Trumpf). The competition between these two companies, was (and is) incredibly strong. As a new boy on the block I was fearful of misjudging the talk and my normal self assurance was ebbing away as I prepared my thoughts. After many sleepless nights of worry, I decided on my approach and was aided in my new direction by the kindness of my young son, then aged eight, who offered me his large blue shield and integrated water pistol, “just in case I need it”. It was risky and perhaps verging on ridiculous to use this prop but it helped me to develop a somewhat comical, lighthearted and self-effacing presentation to compare the might of the two technologies. The day arrived, the room was packed, I was nervous as hell. Front row left, IPG seniors. Front row right, Trumpf seniors. Crikey. But, as I was introduced to the audience, Bill who was seated with Valentin, caught my eye and flashed me a smile and a wink. To have the encouragement of one of the titans of the industry, applying his usual kindness and care for others put me at ease and off I went. I didn’t need the water pistol after all.
I was incredibly sad to hear of Bill’s passing. We are all the poorer for his loss but I will always remember Bill with great fondness. He was a man of immense character, great intellect, keen insight, boundless curiosity, and above all unfailing kindness. He blazed the trail of industrial laser development and applications for more than 50 years and was a key figure in the development of one the most important global technologies the world has ever witnessed.
We will miss him.
University of Cambridge
I struggle to remember exactly when I first met Bill but it must have been shortly after I joined Lumonics in 1987 as a young engineer. He seemed ever present in the laser industry even then, his was the name everyone knew.
We met at many trade shows over the years and what always struck me was how he was involved across such a broad range of applications and if there was a new hot topic or application you could be sure Bill was on it. An evening out with Bill after a tough day on the stand was always something to enjoy.
His enthusiasm coupled with his breadth of experience and technical knowledge made him a very impressive persuader which he did with an easy charm and a smile. His achievements in establishing our industry and building various laser companies over the years are well known and stand as a testament to the breadth of his talents and how willing he was to support all the areas of laser applications.
I last met him in the UK a few years ago when he came to visit me on behalf of Professor Gapontsev and IPG. We had been talking about aerospace applications and I explained what we wanted. Bill as ever understood it immediately and championed our cause and “things happened”.
He was truly one of the laser industry’s founding fathers, an influencer, an inventor, a teacher and we have much to thank him for as we go forward in these uncertain times but times which I think he would have attacked with gusto, searching out the next “big thing”.
Farewell and thank you Bill.