Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SDM students share leadership responsibilities - SDM Pulse, Summer 2009

By Mario Montoya, SDM ’09
Mario Montoya
SDM ’09

Leadership is not just a buzzword in the SDM program—students are actually expected to lead. In every cohort, student-led committees take responsibility for shaping parts of the SDM program, including leadership.

I was fortunate enough to be elected one of the two cochairs for my cohort’s Leadership Committee, along with Sunish Gupta, SDM ’09. The committee is tasked with developing new initiatives and complementing the new leadership portion of the SDM curriculum, which was unveiled this year based on the collaborative work of previous cohorts, faculty, and industry partners.

We began our work with a speaker series. During March, the committee invited Lawrence Kaufman, CEO of Lightwave Power Inc., Jean Duffy, vice president of speech and language for BBN Technologies, and Eric Burger, chairman of the board of SIP Forum to speak at private, SDM-only luncheons about their professional leadership experiences.

Bringing industry leaders to MIT can provide students with some serendipitous opportunities, as we discovered while Kaufman was on campus. It turns out that Kaufman was an employee at Polaroid at the same time our Polaroid case study took place—one of several real-life examples used in our technology strategy class. Seizing on this incredible opportunity, committee member Mona Masghati, SDM ’09, and I invited Kaufman to attend our class.

After introducing Kaufman to lecturer Michael Davies, we agreed not to reveal Kaufman’s identity in order to prevent any bias in the class discussion. Once we’d finished going over the case study of Polaroid’s decision not to pursue digitial photography, students were surprised to be offered an insider’s perspective. Kaufman validated the general consensus that Polaroid’s culture was not conducive to allowing a disruptive technology to be fully adopted. Management was reluctant to accept the potential of the new technology, and Polaroid’s business model was based on printing photos. Kaufman shared his view that Polaroid had become too focused on the importance of technical expertise and neglected sound business strategy.

This is just one example of the ways in which the SDM program empowers students to enrich their academic
experience. The Leadership Committee is also taking a look at broader trends in the business world to consider what skills SDM students need to succeed. We’re considering offering some ongoing classes or workshops in negotiation skills, for example, and personal branding (in other words, how do you market yourself?).

We are also, naturally, taking a look at the bigger picture—what does the SDM program itself need to continue its success? Discussions thus far have centered on the SDM brand and ways in which we can communicate the core values of the program to future employers. As the program has grown, so has the number of self-sponsored students—students who will need to sell the value of SDM to a company that may never have heard of it. Recognizing that students are critical stakeholders in the SDM brand, we are therefore working in conjunction with the student Industrial Relations Committee in an effort to zero in on ways to spread a common message about the program’s fundamental principles—even while acknowledging that flexibility is one of SDM’s hallmarks.

Through all the work and planning, committee members have demonstrated excellence in initiative and accountability. Thanks to them, my service as committee cochair is an exciting and fulfilling opportunity to represent their voices and desires. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give many thanks to the cohort and faculty for their support and input.

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