A person of many roles, Jim Umpleby has, for some time, been anything but a typecast player in San Diego or within Caterpillar Inc.
With the arrival of the new year, Umpleby — a 30-plus year veteran of Caterpillar’s Solar Turbines — will take the role of group president for Caterpillar’s Energy & Power Systems business. The appointment comes just two years after he was named a Caterpillar vice president and the president of Solar Turbines.
When his appointment was announced in October, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said in a news release that as Solar Turbines’ leader, Umpleby demonstrated results in a global business.
“Jim understands the highly complex and global nature of the customers we serve,” Oberhelman said.
But the leadership earning him praise from his corporate CEO extends beyond the workplace. Umpleby’s roles outside work range from service on the boards of directors for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and the nonprofit business accelerator Connect to his role as an executive committee member of the board of directors of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Foundation.
In his time at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., Umpleby has drawn appreciation from Mark Cafferty, SDREDC’s president and CEO, who considers Umpleby a true leader.
“Jim has the respect of his peers in the … energy, rail and power industries, as well as among his peers in our region,” Cafferty said recently by email.
While the two were colleagues at the EDC, Cafferty watched Umpleby become one of the early sponsors of Cali Baja, the group’s bi-national economic development strategy. Regarded by Cafferty as a forward-thinker for San Diego’s business community, Umpleby was also a major supporter of the machinist training program in Imperial County created to address regional workforce skills gaps.
“Jim is a true leader with exceptional vision and foresight,” Cafferty said.
Umpleby’s history with Solar Turbines dates back to 1980, when he started as an associate engineer. He worked his way to become involved in several of the company’s manufacturing, engineering, sales, marketing and customer services positions.
During a six-year span in the late 1980s, he held positions in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before becoming manager of Solar Turbines’ project applications engineering department in San Diego. In 1994, he became director of power systems operations and plant manager at the company’s Kearny Mesa packaging facility.
His vice presidential roles followed in Solar Turbines’ customer service, turbo-machinery products and power generation operations.
A two-year stint as general manager of global services for Caterpillar's Product Support Division had Umpleby leave San Diego from 2005-2007, but he later returned to Solar Turbines as vice president for its oil and gas business before the Caterpillar Board of Directors elected him president of Solar Turbines in 2010.
A 1980 graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Umpleby holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and completed an executive leadership program at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1996.