66 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
How did you begin in industrial and systems
I had the good fortune of being at Stanford University in
the mid-1960s. They had a very interesting IE program at that
school, and that’s why the Air Force sent me there for a master’s
degree in industrial engineering. I met many faculty members
and they introduced me to the local Peninsula Chapter of, at
that time, AIIE. And so I became acquainted with a number of
folks that were involved in the profession, it intrigued me, and so
I joined in 1965. I quickly became involved in chapter activities
and in putting on the annual conference. So that was a good
way to become very involved in a hurry. I stayed very involved
with the chapter.
My Air Force assignment took me very close to Stanford
at the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, where the Air
Force assigned me to the plant representative office. I was in
charge of the industrial engineering branch of the production
division making Agena satellites. So right away I had involve-
ment in local activities of the chapter from a perspective other
than being a student. Because of that, a number of us got
together and formed the aerospace division of AIIE. We became
a very active division as the aerospace industry was booming
and industrial engineering was a substantial contributor.
How did you become executive director?
Toward the end of a tour at the Pentagon, AIIE at that time
happened to be undergoing a search for a new executive
director. One of my good friends from the aerospace division
was on the search committee and asked me if I was interested
and I said, “No, not really. I’m not planning to retire from the Air
Force quite yet.” And he thanked me and he came back to me
shortly afterward and said, “I really think you ought to apply for
the AIIE executive director job.” We chatted about it a while and I
thought at least I can see what the civilian world is like in the
search process, having never gone through that.
To make a long story short, at the annual meeting in May of
1976, I was interviewed by the president and several senior AIIE
leaders and offered the job. I said, “I really need a little more
time, I’m in a very opportune position in the Air Force and
perhaps this isn’t the right time.” They said, “OK we understand,
a big decision for you. How about taking a week and consid-
ering it?” During that week I talked to numerous senior officers in
the Pentagon where I was working and made up my mind to go
ahead and take the job.
We had never been to Atlanta. We didn’t really know how
With David L. Belden
David L. Belden, PE, served as the executive director of
the American Institute of Industrial Engineers (now
IISE) from 1976-1987. Under his leadership, the Insti-
tute grew its membership and and in 1981 transitioned
into the Institute of Industrial Engineers to reflect its
growing international influence. He then served as the
executive director of the American Society of Mech-
anical Engineers (1987-2002) and the United Engin-
eering Foundation (2002-2015). A retired colonel in the
U.S. Air Force, Belden served for 22 years in a variety of
acquisition management positions including the Pent-
agon office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force
and the Air Force representative office at the Lockheed
Missiles and Space Co. He also served as the Executive
Offi-cer of the 553rd Reconnaissance Sq. in Thailand.
His teaching experience includes graduate level
courses in operations and materials management at
the Air Force Institute of Technology and George
Washington University. He earned his doctorate and
master's degrees in industrial engineering from
Stanford University and an honorary doctorate from
Manhattan College. Belden joined AIIE in 1965 and
held several chapter and division leadership positions,
and was a frequent conference presenter as well as a
registered professional engineer. He recently took part
in IISE's 75th anniversary celebration by sharing his
thoughts on the Institute's history in an episode of
Problem Solved: The IISE Podcast (link.iise.org/
podcast_s4e16) and a video on the IISE YouTube
channel at youtube.com/iisechannel.
Everything has complexities that need
to be optimized and the industrial and
systems engineer has the opportunity.
December 2023 | ISE Magazine 67
the headquarters operated but I knew a lot of the people
there because of my involvement as a volunteer and
as an active member. I had a great sta down there and
we grew the organization, and we had a wonderful time
growing it and taking on new dimensions for the Institute.
Tell us about the Japanese industrial tours
AIIE helped organize.
At that time, productivity became an important word in
the business and industry world. Japan had woken up
and become a real competitor and we decided to lead a
tour of Japanese industries. We went on three dierent
industrial tours. The Japanese were very cooperative with
us. We went through some of their major plants with our
tour groups from the U.S. At the end of the day, we would
regroup and discuss what we had done from two dierent
perspectives. One was, “What did you see in here that you
were not expecting?” and the other perspective of “What
were you expecting, what did you observe and what were
your surprises?”
We had an interesting crosstalk from that experience
with senior U.S. business and corporate executives that
really got us into the productivity arena. We contributed
greatly to the establishment of the National Center of
Productivity and Quality of Work Life and we were able
to get several industrial engineers on the sta of that
The term productivity became a national buzzword.
In fact, NBC put on a program called “If Japan Can, Why
Cant We?” That was done in 1980 and it was such an
important program and it really turned on productivity
in the role of the industrial engineer. We promoted
a program in Washington and we recognized NBC’s
achievement and eort in promoting public awareness.
We invited the president of NBC television news and
the assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce
to come and receive an award. It was televised and
we made coast-to-coast national television based on
recognizing NBC. That was a major step forward in
getting the organization recognized because productivity
was such an issue. Not only was it the right thing to be
pushing, but it was very helpful to the Institute in terms of
recognition, membership and so forth.
Why are industrial and systems engineers
so vital to the world today?
It’s a complex world and industrial engineers deal with
multifactor problems all the time, going all the way from
manufacturing to any type of organization. An example of
that is your hospital and health services group. That was
absolutely an unknown to industrial engineering at one
time. But when you think of the complexity of the medical
world today, it’s a natural vocational area for industrial
engineers and what they do. As the world has become
more complex, folks like industrial engineers and systems
people are the ones who work through it and understand
it, optimize it. And so it’s a natural for the organization to
continue and prosper.
What are some of the biggest benefits to a
young ISE?
From the academic side, what you study and what you
learn can be helpful no matter what you do. Because
what the industrial engineer, the systems engineer
faces in his or her job is the very essence of what you’re
studying in preparing to do in your coursework. It provides
very broad opportunities. Theres no limit. The industrial
engineer is not tied to a specic industry or even a
specic sector. And everything has complexities that
need to be optimized and the industrial and systems
engineer has the opportunity.
What do you think the future holds for the
I think it’s not a limiting profession. I think it shows over
time, as the Institute has grown, that the professionals
in it have greater and greater opportunities in multiple
disciplines. I’m proud to see what the Institute is doing.
It certainly has a place at the table, no matter what the
table is, what kind of industry you’re talking about or what
kind of organization you’re talking about. The opportunity
for an industrial engineer to contribute is there.
– Interview by Frank Reddy
David L. Belden became executive director of the then-
American Institute of Industrial Engineers in June 1976.
IISE archives photo