Friday, June 6, 2008

On-campus sessions build SDM connections - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Former IBM chairman Louis Gerstner shares views with students

MIT’s System Design and Management Program not only introduces students to the most current principles and methods in systems engineering—it connects talented students and their companies to each other, to MIT faculty members, and to leading experts in systems thinking from a variety of fields.

One way SDM builds these connections is by requiring all students to attend a once-a-semester weeklong period of on-campus activities.
Louis Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM and
author of Who Says Elephants Can't Dance,
signs his book for SDM students.

SDM students who return to campus for these activities continue their coursework, communicate with friends, touch base with faculty, and enjoy a number of special events—including lectures and private sessions with systems leaders who come to MIT to share their experiences with, and to learn from, SDM fellows.

A highpoint of the March 2008 session was a private breakfast meeting of SDM fellows with Louis Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM and author of Who Says Elephants Can't Dance, the story of IBM’s historic turnaround. Gerstner was introduced by MIT visiting professor Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who described the session in his blog.

Gerstner talked about the importance of company culture and ways to adapt culture to changing circumstances. To reform the culture at IBM, Gerstner had to retool compensation incentives to reflect overall company performance over individual unit performance. The change was difficult, but successful.

Gerstner also gave a public lecture at MIT to an overflow audience, focusing on the need for good leadership. According to Wladawsky-Berger, Gerstner emphasized the need for leaders to roll up their sleeves and work closely with the teams addressing complex problems. (Read Wladawsky-Berger’s blog at

Also during the March session, SDM students attended a luncheon presentation by Andrew Grace, vice president for engineering design automation tools at MathWorks, a major modeling and simulation software development firm.

Grace said that more and more companies—including Honeywell, BAE Systems, NASA, Rockwell Collins, and Lockheed Martin—are using model-based design for product development at various stages of the work flow, from research to product design, and from product implementation to product verification and validation. Grace demonstrated how modeling and simulation tools fit into the product development scheme at MathWorks and noted that model-based design is applicable in a range of firms from transportation to those involved with biological systems.

SDM cosponsored a major conference, Strategies for Balancing Risks and Opportunities in Global Product Delivery, during the week of the on-campus session. The conference featured a poster session on SDM projects, and students who entered posters received free admission to all talks.

The March session also featured an open forum, called the Town Hall, at which SDM fellows were able to identify issues of concern, offer feedback, and share other information. And, as no SDM program would be complete without a party, the March session had its special party for all the students, their significant others and families at Summer Shack in Cambridge.

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