The Bagley Story
James Worth Bagley, executive chairman of the board of Lam Research Corporation of Silicon Valley, entered the working world as a newspaper delivery boy in Vicksburg.
His passage from one to the other has been marked by hard work, resolve, ingenuity and the influence of some key individuals.
Growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, Jim Bagley’s youth could have been that of many Mississippi kids. He rode his bike to deliver the newspapers, joined his three siblings on visits to their grandparents’ home in Jackson and shared a passion for cars with his father and brother.
“I grew up in an environment where everyone worked on a car. I learned a lot by taking things apart, putting them back together again and finding out they didn’t work as well as they had previously,” he recalls, laughing. “But I got better at it with time.”
Jim’s interest in the way things work seems to have come directly from his father. William Otis Bagley was self-educated after high school. In Vicksburg in the 1940s, he worked for an earth moving equipment company, which held wartime contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. There he developed a remote control for guiding graders and improved drive systems in the equipment. Later, he became involved in the electrical business, primarily providing electrical controls needed in Mississippi industries such as cotton ginning and food processing.
He also had a somewhat radical idea: that cars could be designed to utilize electric power. Years later, auto makers have caught up with Mr. Bagley, and the design of today’s hybrid-power cars is similar to the concept he conceived and discussed with his son.
“I was always interested in mechanical devices as well as electrical equipment because of my dad’s influence,” Jim says, noting that it was not electronics but the electric motors, transformers and switchgears of his father’s business that held his interest. “I would go with him on sales calls or calls when he was trying to diagnose a problem and recommend a solution. Because I was involved in that activity as I was finishing high school, I decided I wanted to go to an engineering school.”
During that period, Jim also worked at a service station, opening in the mornings at 6:30 a.m. and returning after school and football practice until closing time, about 8:30 p.m. A customer one day asked about his plans for college. On learning that money was a factor, the customer, an employee of Mississippi Power & Light (MP&L), sent Jim to apply for a co-op opportunity to attend MSU and work for MP&L. Successful, Jim started at Mississippi State in the summer of 1957. On his completion of the 2-year co-op, MP&L awarded him a scholarship through graduation.
“The opportunities I was given, unsolicited, by somebody who was interested in a high school student, made a huge difference,” Jim says.
His pattern of hard work continued at State. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in four years, graduating with more than 150 credit hours. Besides the MP&L co-op, he was employed on campus in research at the high voltage lab.
To this day, Jim is appreciative of the support and attention he received from the engineering faculty and administration at State. Hesitating to name influential professors because there were so many, he does mention those with whom he spent the most time. “I took a lot of courses, both undergraduate and graduate, under Bob Guyton, so he had a huge influence and took a significant interest in me. Paul Jacobs, who at the time was in power systems and was the head of the high voltage lab for years, also took a very personal interest and helped me in many ways. Billie Ball was somebody I could go talk to in undergraduate as well as graduate school.”
After graduation, Jim and his new bride Jean -- now his wife of 41 years -- moved to Houston where he worked for Texaco. He soon decided that a master’s degree would put him on a career track toward decision-making positions. Over the phone, Dr. Ball accepted him as a graduate student and offered an assistantship. Later, while Jim was writing his thesis, Dr. Guyton referred a recruiter for Texas Instruments (TI) to him, though he had not signed up for interviews. As a result, Jim and Jean spent 16 years in Dallas, with Jim working for TI.
In a 36-year career in the semiconductor industry, Jim Bagley (EE, B.S. ’61, M.S. ’66) has earned an outstanding international reputation as an engineer and a businessman. After his tenure at TI, he moved to Applied Materials, Inc., in California where he later became president, chief operating officer and vice chairman of the board. While he served in these positions, from 1987 to 1996, Applied Materials’ annual revenue grew from $175 million to $4 billion. He next took on leadership of a smaller company called OnTrak Systems, Inc. Seeing that it needed the resources of a larger company to compete successfully, he worked to merge OnTrak with Lam Research Corporation of Fremont, California, bringing him to his current position at the helm of Lam -- a global supplier of silicon wafer processing systems used to manufacture semiconductor integrated circuits.
So why this endowment for MSU engineering?
It’s not the Bagleys’ first gift in support of education. Jim got involved at State by contributing toward the Robert D. Guyton Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and soliciting support for it among other former students. He also endowed the James W. Bagley Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He and Jean have set up a series of scholarships at their three children’s alma maters -- Mississippi State, Texas Tech and Santa Clara University.
“I tell young people all the time: When you go to a good school, your undergraduate education will never hinder you,” he says. “Getting a degree from Mississippi State has always been a help.”
In discussing the vision for the College with former Dean Wayne Bennett, Jim helped develop the idea for a capital campaign, with a lead gift of $25 million. When asked if he would be the one to take the lead, “I thought, ‘there are maybe many people who could make this gift, but somebody’s got to step up and do it, get things started, commit to it,’” he says. The decision did require some contemplation, and consultation with Jean, who supported the notion.
“Jim had this great idea, and I certainly couldn’t disagree with anything he had to say,” she says.
But it wasn’t just because someone asked. “I grew up in Mississippi but have never worked a day, other than at the university, in Mississippi [professionally]. To pursue my career I had to leave the state,” Jim says. “There are a lot of kids with whom I can identify who I meet as part of the scholarship program. Many are in similar circumstances to what mine were: the first in their family to get a college education. I would like there to be enough technology in the state, enough opportunity, so that those kids, if they want to stay in Mississippi, can pursue their careers and still live there.
“I feel an obligation to the state for educating me. If it weren’t for the state, I couldn’t have gone to school. But Mississippi State was available, and I got a great education. So, I look at this opportunity as a way to further the goals and objectives of the College of Engineering and at the same time make a contribution to the state of Mississippi.”
With Jim Bagley’s gift to MSU engineering, the College’s horizons are burgeoning. And around the state, some of tomorrow’s engineers are hard at work on their paper routes, their futures holding more promise than ever before.