Visionary leader of Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center intends to retire in 2020
December 5, 2019
Joe Meredith ’69, Ph.D. ’97 will retire in February 2020 and complete a 27-year run as president and CEO of the, during which time the research park grew significantly in size, influence, and economic impact.
Under Meredith’s leadership, the Corporate Research Center has grown to encompass more than 200 high-tech companies and research centers that employ more than 3,300 people in 36 buildings. The research center was named theand has won many other accolades during Meredith’s tenure.
The Corporate Research Center’s success has made it a model for other universities and for Virginia Tech itself. Building One @ Tech Center, the future home of the CRC-inspired Tech Center in Newport News, Virginia,. Virginia Tech is also using elements of the Corporate Research Center in developing the at National Landing in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.
“He's been a transformative leader at the Corporate Research Center,” said Virginia Tech Foundation CEO John Dooley. “Much of what we know as the Corporate Research Center today is a product of Joe's leadership and vision. Joe has also been a major contributor to the development of the innovation economy in the region. He has been a champion for innovation and technology transfer. He has been an empowering leader.”
Association of University Research Parks CEO Brian Darmody worked extensively with Meredith on the board of the international nonprofit organization.
"Virginia Tech is one of our most prolific members, and it all started with Joe,” Darmody said. “There are only a few research parks with such a long legacy. Virginia Tech is up there as one of the earliest and most successful parks."
Meredith is a member of Virginia Tech’s iconic Class of 1969, whose members, including former Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, former Vice President of Alumni Relations Tom Tillar, and longtime football coach Frank Beamer, played formative roles in the university’s advancement over the past 50 years. Unlike some other members of the class, it took Meredith nearly 25 years to get back to Blacksburg after graduation.
“The reason I have had a passion for the Corporate Research Center for all these years is because, when I left Virginia Tech, I really wanted to stay here,” Meredith said. “Back then, the opportunities for employment were very few and far between, so I saw in those early years the Corporate Research Center as being able to meet the need of people who loved going to school here and wanted to stay in this community. The research center could help meet that need. Now that we’ve got over 3,300 people here, you could say we’ve accomplished some of that.”
Meredith grew up east of Richmond and attended Virginia Tech as a first-generation college student. He graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering and went on to obtain a master’s degree in aeronautics, astronautics, and engineering science at Purdue University.
Meredith went to work for Newport News Shipbuilding as a research engineer and then computer systems department head. In 1988, he moved to Washington, D.C., to manage the shipyard’s engineering office. In 1991, he went back in Newport News to manage the Integrated Logistics Support Department. After three years, he became an entrepreneur working for IBM, DARPA, and other companies.
In 1993, Meredith finally got the chance to return to Virginia Tech as the president and CEO of the Corporate Research Center. At the time, the 8-year-old research park had reached a pivotal moment.
“What we thought initially was that the primary occupants would be research and development offices of existing corporations which had research relationships at Virginia Tech,” said Ray Smoot, former vice president for administration and treasurer at Virginia Tech, former chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation, and another member of the Class of ’69. “As it turned out, we didn’t have much of that, so the Corporate Research Center was going to have to take stock of where it was and perhaps reinvent itself a bit. Joe was at the center of doing that.”
One of his first jobs was to chart the park’s master plan for the future.
“The thing we learned from that over the years is that, number one, master planning is extremely important, and number two, you have to do it really well because it might come true,” Meredith said.
It turns out that plan did come true and along the way established a new model for the Corporate Research Center.
“We went from a focus on attracting R&D operations of established companies to working to attract and sustain small businesses and start-up companies here in the region, many of which were utilizing technology or involved faculty at Virginia Tech,” Smoot said. “That turned out to have worked very well.”
Smoot attributes Meredith’s success to an obvious but crucial element: hard work.
“He was focused, he was dependable, and he had a style about his relationship with tenants that made them comfortable,” Smoot said. “Plus, he had vision for where this could go. As he implemented this new business model, which turned out to be right on target, he was able to accurately assess the landscape — not just in Blacksburg, but what was going on around the country — and position the Corporate Research Center in a way that it could be successful far beyond where it had been before he arrived.”
Soon after returning to Virginia Tech as a leader, Meredith also resumed his life as a student and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering. He began teaching and spent 17 years as adjunct faculty.
Today, on the other side of 27 years, Meredith said he feels good how the park has grown.
“I think what I'm pleased with is the permanency of it,” Meredith said. “In my previous career, I was very much involved in software development, but it’s not like you can take the kids out and say, 'Well, I did that piece of software; there’s nothing to see. Being able to fly over the park or drive through the park, I’m impressed with something that’s going to be an important part of the Virginia Tech story for a long, long time.”
The Corporate Research Center’s success also has made it part of other universities’ stories as well.
“We are one of the more benchmarked parks in the country,” Meredith said. “Because our model is a little bit different than traditional research parks around the country, a lot of people have come here to see if they can understand it and why it worked for us and whether it might work for them. I’ve accused some schools of coming to benchmark us when they’re really coming to scout the football team, but it’s nice to have the appreciation of your peers.”
As leader of the Corporate Research Center and a board member of the Association of University Research Parks, Meredith graciously and skillfully shared information about his experiences with those officials.
"Lots of universities, large and small, want to start research parks. It's not like they just happen,” said Darmody. “Joe was very patient and would share his experience with universities just starting out."
“There have been many communities that have come to Virginia Tech, looked at the Corporate Research Center, and said, ‘We want one of those,’” Dooley said. “They think it could be a silver bullet to their economic challenges. Joe is very careful in helping those leaders understand there must be certain components in place for it to be successful.”
As Meredith prepares for life after leading the Corporate Research Center, his peers are taking stock of his legacy and influence on the university.
“Joe’s work has had a very beneficial impact on the entire region,” Smoot said. “The creation of more than 3,000 jobs, most of which did not otherwise exist, has provided economic benefit to regional businesses, and it’s given credibility to the university as a major research institution. Joe’s hard work and focus over an exceptionally long period of time speaks to his commitment and understanding of the importance of service in the continued development of the university. He embodies that service attitude and has incorporated it into the way he relates to people at the Corporate Research Center.”
Like others from the Class of ’69, Meredith’s commitment to Virginia Tech exemplifies the university motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
“Joe’s leadership style reflects servant leadership,” Dooley said. “There’s nothing over the years that Joe’s not been willing to do, no task too large or too small for him to attend to over the years. When he started, staff was him and one other person. He’s done everything from operations to business recruitment and talent recruitment, to the details of the building design and construction. He’s empowered those that work with him.”
For Meredith, he’ll take away pride in what he’s helped to build at the Corporate Research Center — and not just the buildings — but more importantly the people who make them come alive.
“The thing I’m excited about most is seeing young people who have such enthusiasm and intelligence and have a dream to accomplish something, and watching them grow through the steps of doing that,” Meredith said. “You watch these people grow from entrepreneurs into business people and it’s a delight to watch. It’s like watching your kids grow up.”
Virginia Tech will soon launch a national search for a new president and CEO of the Corporate Research Center. Updates on the search will be announced through Virginia Tech News.
— Written by Mason Adams