Michael Pettersen

Viewers usually see the president behind these microphones, not Michael Pettersen. These model SM57 microphones were retired from the White House after more than 20 years of service and are now in the Shure archives. (Leigh Hanlon / Tribune Content Agency photo / October 10, 2013)

The day we interviewed Michael Pettersen about his dream job, he began his 38th year with Shure Inc., a Niles-based audio electronics company whose iconic microphones have been associated with everyone from Harry Truman to Elvis Presley.

The Rockford native is director of Shure’s Product Technical Support/Application Engineering/Consultant Liaison Program and also is the company’s historian.

Q: How did you end up working at Shure?

A: I graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1974 with a degree in music theory then had to figure out what to do. …  I bought a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?” and it basically said to find out what you’re interested in, and then find out where you want to live. My father, who had a hard job doing construction, once said to me, “Work with your head, not with your hands, do something that you love and you won’t ever feel like you’re going to work.” That was great advice. I decided Chicago would be a good place to live, not too far from my family, and then I started looking for companies that could use my skills and interests. I found three: Gibson Guitars in Lincolnwood; Shure, which was in Evanston at the time; and Fender Guitars, which had an office in the northern suburbs.

Q: You did the book’s recommended informational interviews?

A: I talked to all three companies and the one that gave me the best feeling was Shure. … So I interviewed with Shure for a sales trainee position in 1976.

Q: And that was a dream job?

A: Not right away. I trained to be a regional sales manager. After about five years, it was obvious to people around me that I had a technical bent, so I applied for a job where I became a product manager. That basically means you go out and analyze what the market is looking for and bring those products to market. I wanted to be the product manager for microphones, but they didn’t have an opening, so I became a product manager for circuitry products like mixers used for remote broadcasts. From 1981 to 1990, I did product management. It’s a fun job, but it wears out a person eventually. You start with an idea, but it takes three, four or five years to bring it out. I wanted a change of pace, so I came up with the idea of creating what at the time we called the “application engineering department.” The goal was to help people choose the right product ahead of time and then use it after they got it. . . . At the same time, we created a consultant liaison program. . . . So I decided to get to know these consultants, because if they knew Shure products, they’d be likely to specify our products in their designs. I started that around 1987 and have been doing it ever since. . . .  I’ve also had the chance to meet some of the people who wrote the reference books I’ve read. And for one standard reference book — “Handbook for Sound Engineers” — I am honored to be a contributing author. That’s another aspect of this being a dream job

Q: How big a role do people in play making a job a dream job?

A: I’d say 80 percent of what makes this my dream job is the people. In my department, the person with the least seniority has probably been here 15 years. The people working here are the best in the industry and that starts with our owner, Mrs. Shure, and goes all the way down. In my 37-year career, yes, I’ve seen a few lamebrains, but they tend not to last.

Q: What’s your biggest challenge?

A: Keeping up with the technology. The challenges can come fast and furious.

Q: Are you happy in your work?

A: Yes. Many of my friends have become lawyers and CFOs and things like that. I know they make a lot more money than I do, but I don’t think they’re happier. I like coming to Shure every day, and so do most of the people who work here.

Q: Any advice for younger person looking for a dream job?

A: What is your passion and can you take that passion and put in some way where someone is willing to pay you? I could have tried to become a performing musician, but we all know how difficult that is. However, somebody has to make the stuff that the musicians use — and that’s how I decided on Shure. So don’t just look at what interests you; consider all of the things around it. I love the variety of my daily work. One moment I may be advising musicians on the best microphone for their needs, and the next inquiry might be from NASA about an appropriate microphone for International Space Station. Considering all the aspects that affect a microphone and how it is used is fun for me, like working a technical crossword puzzle. I’m very fortunate to have had a career like this.

Do you have a dream job you’d love to tell us about? Email Marco Buscaglia at mbuscaglia@tribune.com with the details.