When he was a boy, Adrian Hillmann’s family moved around a lot – from Argentina to New Zealand to Canada to the U.S. One of the constants in his life was his affinity for repairing equipment, a trait he may have inherited from his grandfather, who was a mechanic in Argentina. “I was always mechanically inclined,” he recalls. “I always had an interest in equipment.”
By the time he finished high school, he had realized that his passion for working with equipment could develop into a good career. The traveling man began a personal journey to become an equipment technician. It started with Caterpillar’s ThinkBIG Technician Education program, a two-year program in which a college and a Cat dealer partner to train techs to use state-of-the-art diagnostics and tools to repair Cat equipment.
After graduating from the ThinkBIG program at Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina, Hillmann extended his education by enrolling in the ThinkBIGGER program at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, where he added heavy equipment certification courses to his curriculum.
During his studies, which were assisted by The AED Foundation’s technical assessments, Hillmann was offered an internship with Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, which provided hands-on, entry-level experience. When he graduated from the program, he remained with Cat, landing a role in their Industrial Engine Division.
Hillman says going through the program to earn his certification gave him self-assurance in his ability to work on equipment. “Being certified gives you the confidence that you’ve had the right training and are qualified to perform repairs.”
It also gave him the composure necessary to speak convincingly with dealers, OEMs and engineers. While working as a tech, he accepted an opportunity to move into sales, where both his background in machine technology and his fluent Spanish gave him an advantage. “My first region was the Caribbean and Central America,” Hillmann says. His territory changed to include Europe and again since then to focus on the Midwest, but he still travels frequently; he logged 100,000 flight miles in 2019.
Even though he doesn’t work on equipment any longer, as an account manager for the Industrial Power Systems Division of Caterpillar Inc./Perkins Engines Company Ltd., he believes the program was beneficial to his career in unexpected ways. “For anyone in the heavy equipment industry, whether it’s on the manufacturing side, sales, operations or service, having a technical background is immensely useful.”
That education still helps when he talks with other Cat dealers and Perkins distributors, and with other OEMs to integrate Cat engines into their machinery. “Caterpillar has a wide engine product line that ranges from smaller 10 horsepower engines to 1200 horsepower, so there’s a variety of equipment manufacturers we deal with.”
Carefully balancing the two brands he represents – Cat and Perkins – he deftly navigates the two separate but related channels. Perkins, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. based in Peterborough, England, is primarily a diesel engine manufacturer for agricultural, construction, material handling, power generation and industrial markets, focusing on engine sizes of 7 liters or below, while Cat spans 9 liters and up.
In addition to working with dealers and OEMs, Hillmann often gets involved with new projects with other manufacturers interested in using Cat engines. He sometimes also acts as a conduit to Cat’s engineering teams developing the next generation of products. To be effective in these conversations, he needs to know and understand the technical requirements. “It’s interesting to see how everyone does things and see what the machines can do,” he says.
Only time and experience can make an expert, he continues, but education enables him to grasp relevant concepts. “Whether you’re trying to understand why a machine has functional limitations or whether you’re having to explain why preventative maintenance is so important, having a technical background is always applicable.”
With plans to continue using that background, Hillmann plans to stay in the heavy equipment industry, although he doesn’t have a particular role in mind.
“I hope I’ll always be in a role that provides a challenge worth solving, allows me to work with other people and gives me the opportunity to stay close to the iron.”
A U.S. citizen since 2008, Hillmann is likely to go far in a career that uses the tech training he worked hard to complete, no matter where his sales territory takes him.