We recognize ERC’s birthday on March 16, 1988 – the day our founder, Dr. Ying Chu Lin “Susan” Wu, boldly left the security of her professorship at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) in Tullahoma, TN to go to work full-time as Chairman and CEO of a company without any employees or any business.
An entity known as Engineering Research and Consulting, Inc. was actually established in 1977 by Susan, her husband, Dr. Jimmy Wu, and Dr. Ahmad Vakili. The three UTSI professors formed the company to provide engineering consultation services to large aerospace and defense firms. By 1988, the company was dormant and had no business. Susan took over and renamed the company “ERC, Incorporated.”
Susan was born in Beijing, China in 1932. China wasn’t a safe place to live as the country was ravaged with civil war and Japanese occupation.
When Susan was in the 8th grade, her family moved to the eastern coast of China then settled in Taiwan. While in Taiwan, Susan finished high school and earned a BS degree in engineering – keeping the vow she made to herself in the 8th grade to become an engineer and remedy China’s struggles. Unfortunately, China was now under communist control, so Susan and her future husband Jimmy set off for the United States of America in 1957.
Susan won the Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International to attend The Ohio State University and Jimmy attended the University of Minnesota. In 1959, Susan earned her MS in engineering and married Jimmy.
Susan enrolled in the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), one of the most prestigious engineering institutions in the United States, where Jimmy was already attending. She stayed in school while having two boys, while James stopped school and went to work to support the family. In 1963, Susan became the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering at Caltech.
In 1965, Jimmy and Susan moved to Tullahoma, TN where they served as professors in Aerospace Engineering at UTSI for nearly 25 years. During this time, Susan was awarded many prestigious awards to include: Outstanding Educators in America in 1972 and 1975, and Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1985.
While still teaching at UTSI, Susan, Jimmy, and Dr. Ahmad Vakili established Engineering Research and Consulting, Inc. in 1977. Despite very strong performance, the company’s ability to maintain contracting was unsuccessful. With the company’s three employees tied up either teaching or actually executing project work, there was no time left to develop new business. ERC went dormant until 1988.
On March 15, 1988, Susan retired from UTSI and on March 16, 1988, she became the sole Director of ERC. She expressed the company’s mission of fostering high technology development in a small business sector. From the start, Susan stressed three main values: 1) Have Integrity, 2) Provide Excellent Work, and 3) Treat Employees Like Family. The University of Tennessee awarded ERC its first contract supporting their Energy Conversion Program.
ERC’s growth was slow, but steady for the first several years. By 1995, the company’s business base was over $10M with contracts with the Army, NASA, Department of Energy, and the Air Force.
Susan moved the family and the company headquarters to Huntsville, AL in 1996. Just four years later, Susan suffered a stroke. For health reasons, she stepped down as Chairman and CEO. She persuaded her oldest son, Dr. Ernie Wu, to leave his research at Harvard University and take over as President and CEO of ERC. Ernie faithfully led ERC for the next 25 years. Dr. Ying Chu Lin “Susan” Wu died at home in Huntsville, Alabama, on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
The ERC Family is extremely proud to be a part of an organization whose founding roots epitomize the American Dream, perseverance, and engineering excellence. As we move forward, we know our company can be anything we want it to be, because we all recognize we are standing on the shoulders of a 5 foot 1 inch giant. Susan is, and will always be, the soul and inspiration of the ERC Family.