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Meet Tom Barrera of LIB-X Consulting in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tom Barrera.

Tom, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My story begins with early childhood memories of various role models encouraging me to develop confidence, leadership skills, and a good sense of humility when it came to achieving goals.

For example, during my 3rd-grade homeroom math competitions, our teacher emphasized learning by repetition as a successful strategy to mastering multiplication tables.

Although I never won any contests, these were moments of self-realization which inspired my growing inner confidence. During the same time, and after some encouragement from my parents, I joined the local Cub Scout Troop 667 hoping to make new friends and learn more about the outdoors. Working diligently toward earning my Wolf, and later my Bear badges, added to my sense of how goal setting enables successful outcomes.

In the mid-1950’s, my Mom and Dad met and fell in love while working in the dusty lettuce fields of Tolleson, Arizona. Ironically, when I turned ten years old, my Dad purchased a 20-acre working farm in the Central Valley near Fresno, CA. This came as a shock to me (and my brothers) having grown up in urban Orange County and now faced with learning how to be a raisin and plum farmer. Unbeknownst to me, this otherwise unwelcome farm experience was soon to become a tipping point in my life.

I now had to learn something completely new, experience what hard field work was really all about, and more importantly, realize that adversity can bring heavy doses of humility to one’s self-awareness. The farm experience was a watershed moment in helping me embrace hard work experiences as a tenet for success. The cornerstone of my early exposure and motivation to pursue an engineering career was my father.

After serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, he spent the next 35 years as an aerospace engineer working on the Apollo moon landing and Space Shuttle missions. My Dad always had to work harder (and smarter) than his peers largely because he did not have a formal college education. Throughout his career, however, his success was rooted in the unconditional love he received from my Mom. The inspiration I gained from these experiences set the stage for the next 12 years as a “professional” student in academia.

I was the first person in my family to receive a formal college degree. After I received my BS in Chemical Engr and BA in Math-Economics from UC-Santa Barbara, I left home for the first time to pursue an MS in Industrial Engr from Northwestern University. Located far from Santa Barbara in windy Chicago, I quickly discovered Chicago-style pizza and Bears football. I now had the chance to learn what it meant to be truly independent. Graduation brought the eerie realization that I had to get my first “real” job and earn a living to help pay off my student loans.

My first real job at the NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX was a first experience with what real-world life was like away from the comfort of university student life. I really didn’t want to relocate to hot-humid Houston, but I needed a start. Over the next couple of years, I learned as much as I could about the engineering profession, and moreover, about how important people working together skills are to technical leadership.

During this same time, I was closely mentored by more experienced Apollo-era engineers who had learned their skills during a time when the US manned space program was in its infancy. These mentors came from all directions including my first supervisor, office mates, and hardware supplier experts. The common thread among these mentors was to have the courage to “learn by doing” which also brought with it the perspective of understanding how to learn by making mistakes.

The most valuable lessons I learned during those early career years was to be a student of my profession via attention to detail and by maintaining a positive attitude. Friends often ask, “Why did you get a Ph.D.”? It’s a good question since a Ph.D. is not needed to have a successful career in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions. In my case, I believed that a Ph.D. would provide me with more long-term financial and job security in the engineering marketplace.

After I received my Ph.D. in Chemical Engr from UCLA, I felt completely different. I learned that while sometimes certain career goals may not have tangible financial benefits, these same goals have a lasting effect on an individual’s confidence to achieve anything. Moreover, instead of dreading adversity I learned that adversity can only make you stronger. During the same time period, I was simultaneously honored and humbled to be selected as a 2X finalist and interviewee for the NASA Space Shuttle Astronaut Program.

Although I was not selected, the rare opportunity to know and interact with future NASA astronauts was a life-changing experience. After completing my first year of doctoral work at Princeton University, I transferred to UCLA to continue my studies. My dissertation advisor, Dr. Ken Nobe, was a true old-school educator who helped me develop critical thinking skills which later became invaluable during my professional career.

After completing my Ph.D., I moved back to the farming life in Fresno, picked up part-time work as a Chemistry Instructor at Fresno City College, and plotted a course for my next career adventure. My next step was to join The Boeing Co. as a power systems engineer supporting the NASA Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. I didn’t realize that I would be spending the next 19 years with Boeing as a system engineer traveling the world, designing innovative new aerospace systems, and solving high-tech problems for platforms ranging from commercial airplanes to Earth-orbiting satellites.

While working for the world’s biggest aerospace company had it’s pro’s and con’s, I learned that any challenge can be overcome by recognizing the individual worth of how any team member can make a difference. My Boeing career culminated in being promoted to a Boeing Technical Fellow which is one of the highest technical ranks in the company. As with any over-achieving individual, something has to give. I filled the gaps in my personal life by taking up marathon running, getting a flying license, and learning how to mountain climb.

These outside activities were great for stress relief, developing good focus, and re-learning how to squeeze the most out of myself. It was shortly after a climbing trip to Mt. Shasta that I met my future wife, Joan. Not unlike how my Dad benefited from the unconditional support of my stay-at-home Mom, Joan has been the rock which provided the foundation for my most formative years in the industry. After nine years of marriage, we are still learning about each other and spend as much time as possible helping each other stay optimistic through life’s various up’s and downs.

After taking a Boeing Co. buy-out offer, I decided to leverage my experience and industry contacts by opening my own private consulting company called Lithium-Ion Battery (LIB)-X Consulting. Based near downtown Long Beach, LIB-X Consulting is an independent technical consulting firm specializing in the design, manufacturing, test, and safety engineering of LIB power systems. My clients include Fortune 500 companies, NASA, and various small business start-up companies.

Has it been a smooth road?
Every road has it’s smooth and bumpy stretches. In my case, I’ve been fortunate to have an excellent support structure based on a combination of family, friends, and colleagues. It also helps that I’ve always been someone who plans ahead with a “Plan B” in my pocket to help overcome the inevitable road bumps.

My biggest challenge has been maintaining a perspective to achieve that proper work-life balance we all strive for in our daily lives.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
LIB-X Consulting fills a growing need for expertise in the broad area of energy storage solutions for the aerospace, transportation, and consumer electronics industry. New opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient and cost-effective energy usage benefit from creative and innovative technical solutions. For example, the Long Beach area has seen a dramatic increase in electric scooters for transportation between downtown, Belmont Shore, and surrounding areas. This new means of electrified transportation benefits from the high performance and low cost of rechargeable lithium-ion battery technologies.

LIB-X Consulting specializes in providing expertise in battery power systems for clients who are starting a new product line, need expert witness services for legal matters, or help characterizing an existing application. Most clients already have technical issues or problems which require fast turnaround analysis and cost-effective recommendations to meet their business needs. More recently, LIB-X Consulting has been focusing on battery safety for high-reliability spacecraft, electric vehicles, and commercial electronics.

Our market differentiator is the unique combination of industry and academic experience which enables cost-effective, end-to-end solutions for our customers.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Long Beach is an excellent location for small businesses and entrepreneurs who are looking for a diverse customer community. The increase in affordable housing builds, the new 2nd and PCH retail development, and the ever busy Port make the greater Long Beach area a great place to start a business.

Long Beach is one of a few beach communities in the greater Los Angeles areas where business owners can live and work in an affordable environment.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Blossom Blue Photography

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