Meet The 2020 SAE Prez

Veteran Boeing engineer Todd Zarfos brings an open-minded focus to the SAE presidency.

Todd Zarfos aims to help SAE navigate the disruption occurring across industry sectors.

"Thrust" is a term that Todd Zarfos uses to describe moving forward, and that’s not surprising since the 2020 SAE International president built his 35-year engineering career at Boeing. He’s served as VP of Engineering for the 747, 767, and 777 programs—iconic commercial aircraft that have carried many of the world’s ground-vehicle engineers in their travels. He also was VP of Product Development. Zarfos is the first aerospace-sector executive in quite a while to be selected for the year-long SAE presidency, and he brings a decidedly non-parochial and open-minded focus to this important role.

“I think there’s so much commonality in terms of what engineers are trying to achieve that, to me, the sector is not what’s important,” Zarfos told SAE Update editor Pat Ponticel during his inaugural interview at SAE world headquarters in suburban Pittsburgh. “It’s about what we are trying to do together to advance the mobility space.”

Zarfos, an eight-year SAE member, emphasizes a team approach in his industry relations. In a wide-ranging discussion during his first week at SAE, he was particularly attentive to the following areas:

Standards: Zarfos deems standards “essential” to all mobility sectors, underpinning automotive, commercial vehicle and aerospace. “The only way that our industries are going to continue to advance in terms of technology insertion and adapting to our customers’ needs is to continue to support standards development,” he asserted. “That’s why I’ve put so much of my time and effort into this focus area.”

Having been active in the standards space in the aerospace sector for more than 30 years, he has “a greater appreciation for the value of SAE” because he’s “worked at the ground floor of what it takes to develop standards.” In his current role, Zarfos oversees “how we use our standards and who supports them—encompassing the entire life cycle of the process.”

Autonomy: Described as one of SAE’s “major thrust areas,” vehicle automation is “obviously an important industry trend, and there’s a continued expectation around safety regarding these types of products and services,” said Zarfos. “So for me, it’s making sure that we bring forward new capabilities—what new standards do we need to develop to prepare industry as we move forward? That’s where we’ll spend a lot of time and effort on the [SAE] board, refining our strategies keeping SAE at the forefront of standards development and as a recognized thought leader in the mobility space.”

AI, cybersecurity, data science, new propulsion: “We have standards in many of these areas,” he said. “But things continue to morph and ebb and flow. We are all experiencing a lot of disruption to these different technology sectors. That’s one of the things we’re trying to stay ahead of from an industry perspective.”

STEM: Encouraging students to enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields is a priority for Zarfos, as it has been for previous SAE presidents. The SAE Foundation-funded A World in Motion curriculum (K-8) and the Collegiate Design Series are the two main vehicles through which SAE develops and executes STEM activities. Recently at SAE headquarters, Zarfos met with staff representatives from those SAE programs to discuss how he could help to advance their missions.

“I’m here for the community,” Zarfos said, “and if there’s something that we need to improve or change—whether it’s SAE the institution, the team or within our industries—I’m more than willing to do my part to make the change happen.”