Cutting Edge

From the Fall 2009 edition of Vanderbilt Business

John Peterson Jr.
John Peterson Jr.

Inserted form tools may not be a familiar concept to most, but the products they help manufacture are integral to our everyday lives. Inexpensive turned metal parts for everything from spark plugs to bullets to bearings would not be possible were it not for the technology pioneered by Nashville businessman John Peterson Sr. in the 1950s. Today John Peterson Jr., BA’78, EMBA’82, carries on his father’s legacy as President of Peterson Tool Company, the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of inserted form tools.

In the past, cutting blades for metal lathes, shapers and other equipment had to be sharpened by hand—a time-consuming process that held up production. Peterson Tool, however, discovered a way to use electricity to machine accurate, repeatable blades that are easily removed and replaced by the manufacturer.

“Envision a razor,” Peterson says. “We sell you the holder, and then we sell you the repetitive parts—the blades—with free engineering in the box.”

Peterson admits that he may never have gone into the family business had his father not passed away unexpectedly in 1979. At the time John Jr. had some sales experience under his belt, but the thought of helping his newly widowed mother, Nancy, run Peterson Tool was daunting. So he enrolled in the then-new Executive MBA program at Owen.

“I learned more from the other students at Owen than anything else. They taught me some basic things that I was able to apply right away,” he says.

Over time Peterson has grown to love the business he is in. He is passionate about the innovation that goes into his products and cares deeply about the customer relationships that he has built over the years. More than anything else, though, he enjoys his employees.

“I love the people I work with,” he says. “I’ve grown up with most of them. That’s one thing you get to have in a family business.”

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