Gone Fishin': Bob Bagby's Dream Job Is No Tall Tale

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Bob Bagby with fishing pole.

Bob Bagby

Speed Lake, in the heart of campus, has seen its share of uses. Since Rose-Hulman's relocation to the hilly acreage along U.S. 40 in 1922, students have swum, paddled, and pranked in its waters countless times. But for Bob Bagby (ME '80), the pond provided a place for fishing and dreaming. An avid hunter and angler, the Evansville native spent hours at the water's edge during his time at Rose-Hulman, casting his line in hopes of making a catch.

"I wore that lake out fishing by the Union," he recalls with a chuckle.

Bagby, like many alumni, planned to put his degree to work in industry after graduation. And that's exactly what he did, taking a job as a design engineer with John Deere's Industrial Equipment Division in Dubuque, Iowa. Of course, he continued to spend much of his free time in a deer stand or with tackle box in hand. But Bagby says he often found himself dreaming of meshing his passions with his profession.

"I have always been a passionate outdoorsman, both hunting and fishing. I always found myself saying, 'Gosh, if I could ever get that dream job in the hunting, fishing, or golf industry, how cool would that be?'"

In those pre-Internet days, job searches were limited mostly to the classified sections of newspapers and magazines. Finding his dream job was no easy task. In fact, the idea remained no more than a fleeting notion when Bagby was among 500 employees who lost their jobs in a plant downsizing in 1982. He landed instead at Ford Motor Company's Connersville, Indiana, facility.

A few short years later, while thumbing through one of his favorite outdoor recreation magazines, Bagby noticed an employment ad. An unnamed sporting goods manufacturer was seeking candidates for a design engineering position. Could this, he wondered, be the job he'd always wanted?

Bagby remembers the first time he visited Zebco's Tulsa offices for an interview.

"All of the engineers' offices had rods and reels around," he recalls.

He was hooked--he knew he'd found the perfect place to combine his engineering skills with his passion for the outdoors.

Zebco's roots in the fishing industry stretch back to 1947, when watchmaker R.D. Hull took his idea for a revolutionary fishing reel into production, with the help of the Zero Hour Bomb Company, makers of electric time bombs for oil drilling. Hull's spincast reel design made casting and retrieving fishing line much easier, and its appearance on the market helped increase the sport's popularity.

Bob Bagby -fising -article Image

Bob Bagby says that when people find out his job, they often exclaim, "Must be nice to fish all the time!"

Facing an uncertain future as safer oil extraction processes were being implemented, Zero Hour Bomb Company would switch its focus to production of the spincast reel, changing its name to Zebco in 1956. Zebco Brands has grown to include one hunting line and eight fishing product lines, from inexpensive, beginner-level gear to high-end salt water fishing equipment.

Bagby went to work at Zebco as a design engineer in 1987. But it was his move to a role as product manager a few years later that allowed him to tap even deeper into his creative side-something he had always wanted to do.

"The engineering job got my foot in the door, but that truly was that dream job," he said of the change. "Product management here is kind of cradle to grave," he adds, and in that role, Bagby enjoyed being involved in all aspects of bringing a new product to market.

As vice president of marketing Bagby is less involved in product engineering and development. These days, his duties include overseeing the company's web presence, media relations, pro staff, branding and marketing.

Still, he says his engineering background comes in handy from time to time. His mechanical engineering roots give him a firm grasp of the manufacturing processes required to produce the company's products.

"I'm probably more plugged into the technical side of what we're going to do because of that background," he notes. When manufacturing engineers talk to him about methods such as die-casting, injection molding, or carbon fiber, he says, "it's not like they're speaking a foreign language."

Throughout the past 28 years, Bagby has had the opportunity to build on Zebco's storied history and help enhance its reputation. Along the way, he's had a hand in the development of some of the best-known products in the industry.

"Everybody is looking for those iconic product lines that stick. I've been here so long now that I've had my fingerprints all over some of the most iconic products we have," he says.

Bagby's afternoon dreams on the banks of Speed Lake have come to life, not by some grand plan, but by a combination of desire, chance, and hard work.

"I guess I just sort of said that was what I was going to do, and I had the right opportunity to do it," he reflects. "I'm proud that I could turn a hobby and a passion into a career."