Too often we honor “risk-taking” in hindsight, after it has rewarded the risk-taker. Young people setting out in life are often urged to “make plans,” but that advice usually understates the importance of “creativity,” “innovation,” and especially risk-taking. No one advises up-and-comers to leave everything they’ve worked at and try a new approach.
Having a plan is important, of course, but something has to inspire that plan: ideas, insights, or alternatives to the ways that things are currently being done, and how to improve them, are always critical to success. Even more, ideas and plans mean little without the determination to make them real. Al Hunter was a man with a plan, and many ideas, but above all, he was someone with exceptional confidence in his ideas and the willingness to risk everything: more than once he left a secure position to try something new, that he believed he could make succeed. He did succeed of course, and so did the many foundries around the world where his 1,600-plus machines were adopted. The metalcasting industry has enjoyed immeasurable progress as a consequence of his ingenuity.
Al Hunter’s life of innovation began on his family’s Saskatchewan farm in 1922: in that setting he first proved his aptitude for machinery. “It is my understanding that by the time he was 12 years old, he was in complete charge of the repair and maintenance of the farm machinery for his father,” his son, William G. Hunter related. “He was very mechanically inclined from the beginning.”
|William Allan “Al” Hunter embodied the ingenuity and determination that brought progress and success to an entire industry.|
Young Al also became friendly with the local blacksmith in the course of manufacturing replacement parts for farm equipment. “He was interested in metallurgy from an early age, I guess you’d say, and obviously saw metal being heated and formed, so we believe that led him into engineering, and into the foundry industry.”
Farming life held little appeal for Al, so at age 16 he took a characteristic risk. He left home and found work, and then at 18 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. “During World War II there was an aircraft repair depot in Trenton, Ont., to repair planes flying in the European theater. These planes were transported to Canada, to that depot for repair – particularly to repair the engines,” Bill Hunter explained.
Al Hunter’s formal education had taken place in one-room schoolhouse in Saskatchewan, but after his wartime service made him eligible for college tuition he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto in 1951.