Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alumni reflect on long-term benefits of SDM experience - SDM Pulse Summer 2011

Editor’s note: In honor of the 15th anniversary of MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM), the Pulse recently asked some its alumni to reflect on their SDM experience, as well as describe how their formal learning at MIT has helped further their careers.

Tom Pelland, SDM ’98
Vice President and General Manager
Air Management Systems
Hamilton Sundstrand

About work
I run a multimillion-dollar business with products that are incorporated into virtually every large commercial and military aircraft in service today. I’m in charge of meeting financial results and customer commitments, as well as design and manufacturing activities. I have about 450 direct reports and am responsible for the work of approximately 1,800 within Air Management Systems.

Reflections on the SDM experience
I was looking at an MBA, but decided on SDM because it offered a much better fit with its technical and financial focus. The curriculum matched very well to the skill sets that I needed. The cross-section of industries represented in the SDM cohort was also important to me because it demonstrated that the challenges we have in aerospace aren’t that different from those in other businesses. There are still folks I keep in touch with that I call on occasion to bounce around ideas.

Long-term advantages of SDM

Without a doubt, systems thinking is becoming increasingly important. In a highly technical organization, managing interfaces in such a way that nothing gets left behind is difficult. SDM helped me to understand organizational dynamics and systems dynamics modeling, and allowed me to bring best practices back to my company. Having systems-level thinking is going to become more important in our industry as we seek more efficiencies in what we do.

Brian Ippolito, SDM ’98
Chief Executive Officer
Orbis Technologies Inc.

About work

Orbis Technologies gives organizations the technological, architectural, and engineering know-how to build private cloud computing and semantic web platforms and applications. With about 50 employees, we provide highly specialized software development, technology assessments, planning services and even technology forecasting. All of our clients have near-Internet-scale data problems.

Reflections on the SDM experience
SDM prepared me for markets and market conditions that weren’t even imaginable when I was in the program a decade ago. Back in the ’90s, delivering software-intensive systems on schedule or within budget was extremely difficult, which is why I had very specific needs for graduate school. I thought a purely technical master’s degree was too narrow and an MBA was too broad. What I was looking for was something that balanced both, which I found in SDM. It prepared me for a career path that wasn’t even defined when I was part of the program.

Long-term advantages of SDM
The challenges in today’s market are greater than they were a decade or even two years ago. Tight credit, difficulty securing funding, and market uncertainties compound the challenges of establishing a company in new, rapidly growing, billion-dollar markets. In the current economic environment, running a technology company requires a management team that understands the details of systems engineering, system architecture, and the product development process, as well as business operations and financials. The combination of technical knowledge and business acumen that SDM provides isn’t just a competitive advantage, it’s a necessity.

Trinidad Grange-Kyner, SDM ’07
Senior Consultant
Deloitte Consulting

About work
My current assignment is to coordinate the transition to a new coding system for a major national health plan. The federal government has mandated that all entities in the healthcare industry make this transition by 2013. My role is to support the health plan as it manages this monumental transformation, which includes multiple projects across most of the enterprise. I also have an ancillary role in which I am leading the organization of an education summit as part of Deloitte’s pro bono initiative to improve education outcomes.

Reflections on the SDM experience
SDM gave me the broad perspective needed to expand from a project/program manager of individual software projects to one who is able to manage much larger-scale projects. The experience has helped me give clients broad insights into any trouble areas that might impede their success. SDM has also enabled me to move from working solely in the software/telecommunications industry to a role in which I am gaining experience in a multitude of industries, including financial services, healthcare, and education.

Long-term advantages of SDM

Some key lessons continue to resonate with me, notably the whole system perspective I gained from system dynamics. I also acquired project management insight that helps me think outside of the siloed view clients usually have; that has been of great value. In my work as an engineer and later as a software project manager prior to enrolling in SDM, I never had a reason to understand enterprise financial matters. Now I remain hugely appreciative of the financial accounting class I took at SDM and how it enables me to serve my clients. Finally, the commitment MIT and SDM has to integrating technology into society is now something I am passionate about. In fact, my SDM thesis led to what is becoming my life’s work, facilitating the growth of technology in the educational systems of developing nations.

Howard Gerwin, SDM ’98
Manager, OEM Engine Programs
John Deere Power Systems

About work

I joined John Deere in July 2004 after 12½ years at Ford. I initially came to Deere to develop a strategy for emissions improvements on existing products. For the past six years, I have been managing engineering for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) engine business. Our engines come from factories in Mexico, France, and Iowa. OEM sales represents 35 percent to 40 percent of Deere’s engines annually. I have 4 managers and roughly 44 engineers, designers, and technicians working for me.

Reflections on the SDM experience

A couple of areas stick with me, particularly the lessons about how to look at an organization and how it functions. This was an eye-opener. Systems dynamics was really important. Looking at problems from a systems thinking perspective helps me better understand interactions, which gives me both strategic insight and an advantage over my peers. I went to SDM a long time ago, but all of these lessons have helped me become a more effective manager. Some are second nature now.

Long-term advantages of SDM

Systems engineering is even more important now than it was when I went to SDM. It’s maturing as a field, and the value is becoming greater. Since I’ve come to John Deere I’ve been an evangelist for systems engineering in general and SDM in particular. Many Deere employees have gone through the certificate program, two have completed the MS program, and three more are currently enrolled! SDM has gone through a natural evolution and has consistently improved the curriculum. It’s good and it’s gotten better. I’m kind of jealous of today’s students!

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