Robert Gebbie, CAS ’76, is a partner, COO and CFO of Natural Bridge Solutions.

The University of Louisville built an advanced manufacturing campus using the expertise of alumnus Robert Gebbie.


Winter 2016

|  by Cara Catallo


Robert Gebbie is in the business of ground-breaking. Literally and figuratively.

The CAS ‘76 alumnus and advisory board member has a resume that is nothing if not wide-ranging. While working with the Magdala Center on an interfaith retreat on the Sea of Galilee, they found a first century synagogue when they broke ground in 2009. He helped the University of Louisville plan a groundbreaking state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing campus.

Gebbie is comfortable making a difference, no matter where.

He was at the Guggenheim Museum in the mid-1990s as deputy director for finance and administration, overseeing large-scale renovations and additions. Among them was constructing the iconic Frank Gehry-designed museum in Bilbao, Spain – spurring economic redevelopment to a region that now draws a million tourists annually.

When the American Museum of Natural History renovated the dinosaur halls and planetarium, Gebbie was at the helm. His work has also included time with the U.S. Tennis Association, Chemical Bank, Exxon and Cummins Engine, among others.

“If I stay too long, it starts feeling like a job rather than a passion,” he explained. Gebbie works to bridge the gap between concept and build and ultimately completion and sustainability. “I want to keep it interesting for everyone. I’m a realist about that.”

As president and co-founder of Natural Bridge Group, LLC, Gebbie most often uses his know-how to propel startups such as Edunet24, a joint venture with a subscription-based service to assist English-language education.

That’s where the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame in Jerusalem found him in the early stages of its $100-million fundraising for the Magdala project.

Robert Gebbie
Robert Gebbie, CAS ’76, consulted with the University of Louisville’s School of Engineering to propel the university and city into a manufacturing epicenter.

“They knew I had done work on museums and they wanted to take me there and to tell me their plans,” Gebbie said of the group that intended to build a museum, church, and center on the site.

Archaeologists found artifacts during exploratory excavation. Then they literally hit a wall, the remains of a first-century synagogue. In the remains was an altar stone now known as the Magdala Stone, and considered one of the most significant archeological discoveries in a half-century.

The finding was of particular interest to the Roman Catholic Church because it dates to a time when it is believed that Jesus taught in the synagogues of Galilee and where he met
Mary Magdalene, Gebbie explained.

Phase one construction started in 2009. Magdala, today an inter-religious center, features an archeological park and the Duc in Altum worship space, with a hotel under construction.

Gebbie more recently was consulting to the University of Louisville. Brought in to determine the best use of 40 vacant acres adjacent to its J. B. Speed School of Engineering, Gebbie analyzed the university’s strengths and core programs to determine what endeavor would best serve the university and region.

“It became very clear to me that it was a fertile area to build an advanced manufacturing center,” Gebbie said. And so began plans for the 225,000-square-foot Institute of Product Realization. Gebbie and others hope the center will propel the university, and Louisville, into becoming a manufacturing epicenter.

“The university is partnering with companies to create joint ventures, which is different from most universities that build research parks,” said Gebbie, who emphasized that the complex will help the university remain competitive by using its expertise to help other businesses.

“How do you bring that knowledge to the forefront with industry, to bridge that gap to bring products to market, more quickly? By building micro-factories, you open-source it to the rest of the world,” he said. “The whole theme is all about design, build and sell from a single location.”

GE Appliance came aboard as a partner in the IPRs initial component, FirstBuild, transforming a university-owned warehouse into a micro-factory where designers, engineers and others in the appliance industry can rapidly produce new products. The IPR is also partners with UL in the UL Additive Manufacturing Competency Center, an advanced additive manufacturing (3-D printing) training facility where Gebbie is managing director. FirstBuild and AMCC will relocate to the new complex when it is completed.

“GE was taking four to five years to get something new to the market at the cost of $40 million,” Gebbie said. “Sometimes you have to be outside the four walls to be innovative.”

Now, says Gebbie, a new product reaches the market almost every eight weeks. One example is the Opal Nugget Ice Machine. FirstBuild designed and built the sleek-looking countertop-sized small-cube ice machine prototype, and set a goal of $50,000 preorders.

“Within 30 days they had almost $3 million worth of orders,” Gebbie recalled. “Now we have to figure out where we’re going to manufacture it. These are good problems to have.

“That’s part of building the ecosystem. This is an example of how we work with GE. There are now 180 ideas that they are testing, market validating, and building right there.

“We are helping companies to bridge the gap. It’s as much art as it is science in making these builds.”

Cara Catallo is a freelance writer from Clarkston, Michigan.