By Brian W. “Jess” Posey, SDM ‘10 CEO and President, Co-Founder, Telepulse Technologies Corporation
My relationship to engineering can be explained best by Al Pacino’s line in Godfather III: "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in."
I’ve sworn off engineering many times, but it never lasts for long. I graduated from the Naval Academy and began my service as a Gunnery and Missiles officer. But the Navy said it had a shortage of engineers and "suggested" I work in that area. (In the military, suggestions carry more weight than they do in the civilian world.) The Navy then thought I should go to graduate school in engineering, but Navy engineering grads tend to stay technical and stay in defense industries. I wanted to break the mold. And I knew what attracted me.
I had spent a lot of time doing watches on ships cruising Asian waters and as ships streamed across the horizon I wondered, "Why is this ship going from A to B? Who designs the system? Who figures out the economic advantage? How does it happen?"
So instead of engineering, I enrolled at Wharton, believing an MBA would allow me better access to the business world. I wanted to be the person who made the decisions that loaded the ship and sent it off from A to B. I wanted to be the boss. That’s pretty common among Navy grads but not so common among MBA grads. Their impetus often is based more on money than opportunity. Indeed, they may not recognize the difference between the two which is why, after they land a lucrative job, in a few years they’re wondering why they hate what they’re doing. The question I’ve always asked myself is not how much money I could make, but how am I going to achieve?
After Wharton, I worked for a number of consulting firms which led me to a vice presidency at a telecommunications equipment company. Unfortunately, its product—designed to increase bandwidth on copper wire—did not pass inspection and I had to leave. But the problem—how to move information from A to B faster, and with less noise, through the existing copper wire infrastructure—was a real one, and there was a real market for a real solution. So in 2001 I co-founded Telepulse Technologies to solve it in a real way.
And there I was, back in engineering. In January 2010, I enrolled in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program. The thinking Telepulse will need to make and sell our product will be informed by SDM. Yes, I could have hired a couple of engineers, but I believe I really need to know it myself. To get that kind of knowledge from an MBA program, you have to cobble together electives from engineering and then you become a Jack-a-lope—a mythical creature of mismatched parts. The MBA discipline jumps straight to bottom line, which is helpful talking to investors, but it doesn’t help you manage an integration process. And when your customers are in technology, you’ve got to be able to speak their language.
So far, with my course work in disruptive technologies and innovation, SDM seems like a program expressly designed for my needs. It’s amazing to me that it exists.