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Sitting Down with BTG Labs' President, Tom McLean

Tom McLean’s distinctive voice can often be heard throughout the halls of BTG Labs. I sat down with President and Chief Growth Officer of BTG Labs to learn more about the man behind the voice.


If you could, please walk me through the steps of your career.

The career is dominated by software. I started working in the software business in ‘76. At that time, when you told people that you worked at a software company, they didn’t even know what it was. If I was at a cocktail party and said software, people would usually think ‘software’ referred to clothing.

"Anyway, software from the early days was meant for computers the size of a warehouse. Things that were once done on computers costing millions of dollars are now done on your cell phone for almost nothing."

"There are similarities between Ci-Vision [where Mr. McLean was President] and BTG Labs. Ci-Vision is a vision inspection company using cameras, lights, and software, and BTG Labs uses cameras, lights, and software to inspect products, so it is also a vision company in many ways. Software is key in both situations. The more powerful your software, the more value you provide. We have a sophisticated scientific instrument here [the Surface Analyst™], which has important hardware elements, but software is also key.

"I started my career as a programmer with a goal of going into sales and marketing. I was successful at sales, and over time, moved to product management, which I enjoyed most. To me, it is the most exciting area of any company. At BTG Labs, product management determines what features go into the next release of a product and the overall product direction. We blend what the market needs and wants, and what we can physically develop, not unlike other companies I have managed.”

What appealed to you about BTG Labs?

“We have a surface cleanliness instrument that is unique in the market [the Surface Analyst]. I saw a significant need in the market that was going unmet. The alternative methods to analyze surfaces, such as dyne or tape peel, are medieval, and our message is simple. We ask customers, ‘do you coat, print, paint, bond, glue, or clean?’ If the answer is yes, ‘do you have adhesion issues.’ If that answer is yes, we present the Surface Analyst, which is the only fast, easy, accurate, non-destructive method available, especially for process verification on the factory floor.”

What has most surprised you about the development of BTG Labs?

“How many places the Surface Analyst adds value. As we work with customers, they continually find new and critical applications for the Surface Analyst. Someone at a company may be using the Surface Analyst, and a co-worker will borrow the device and use it for a different purpose. Word spreads about the instrument once it is used at a company. The Surface Analyst usage is much broader than I initially thought, from the lab all the way through the production process.”

How would you describe the culture at BTG Labs?

“At most places I’ve worked we hire and develop people right out of college and we’re doing that here. This truly is a young company. We even have a fun committee. They are determined to make this a hip, fun company that is also a great place to work.”

Where is BTG Labs headed?

“We are growing. We currently have customers in 24 countries and are expanding our international footprint. We are excited about the rapid adoption of the Surface Analyst on the factory floor, which is leading to our growth outside of aerospace and automotive in medical device, consumer products, and electronics. Customers continue to provide us with relevant feedback, and we continue to develop new technologies to help drive them forward.”

What else should we know about Tom McLean?

“I’m driven by faith, family, and then work. I’ve been happily married for 34 years, and have 4 children who are all doing well.”

I’ve heard that your music fandom is legendary.

“That’s true. I’m a massive music fan and Beatles fan. My wife and I go to 10+ concerts a year and listen to a lot of music. We have seen some bands, like McCartney or The Rolling Stones at least 12 times.”

Does your love of and passion for music have any connection to business?

“Not really, although I did a company training where I used a Beatles anthology album. I played six early takes of ‘Strawberry Fields.’ The point was: John Lennon had a vision for the song. He didn’t stop working on it until it was right. At the end, he delivered a masterpiece. That’s our goal for all that BTG Labs delivers.”

Stay tuned for more in the BTG Labs interview series.