Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SDM '11 Sergey Naumov Wins Leadership Award

By Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director

Sergey Naumov, SDM '11
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
On February 15, 2012, Sergey Naumov was named the winner of the Class of 2011 System Design and Management (SDM) Program Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking. The award was presented before members of the SDM community at a celebration held at the MIT Faculty Club.

Sergey was praised specifically for his work as industry liaison for the 2011 MIT Career Fair — an event at which he not only raised awareness of SDM among prospective employers and MIT at-large, but also arranged for 20 SDM Fellows to present before attending companies. For his accomplishments and contributions, he will receive a $500 cash award.
Sergey Naumov, winner of the Class of 2011 SDM Student Award
for Leadership, Innovation,and Systems Thinking,
with Pat Hale, Executive Director, SDM.
Photo by Dave Schultz

Established by the SDM staff in 2010, the SDM Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking honors a first year SDM fellow who has made strategic and sustainable contributions to fellow SDM students as well as the broader SDM and MIT communities. This student also demonstrates superior skills in leadership, innovation, and systems thinking, and works effectively and collaboratively with SDM staff, students, and alums.

Other nominees included Neil Gadhok, Andrea Ippolito, Pankaj Kashyup, Melissa Rosen, and Fady Saar.

Last year's winner was Rafael Maranon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rajesh Nair, SDM '12: Systems Thinking for Looking Ahead and Paying Forward

By Eric Smalley

Rajesh Nair, SDM '12
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Rajesh Nair, SDM '12, is successful because he practices prognostication. He looks for signs, predicts where the world is going, anticipates problems and figures out how to solve them. In looking at his own future, Nair decided there was only one place for him: MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM).

Nair has accomplished a lot in life: he founded a successful engineering company that's making an impact on the world, he has 13 patents to his name, he's won numerous awards, and he mentors young people on entrepreneurship and technology.

Sometimes staying ahead of the game means shaking things up, and Nair decided that he needed a new vantage point to scope out the next megatrends. "I've been out of school too long. I wanted to learn about what else was happening in the world," he said.

The SDM program, with its emphasis on systems thinking, was a powerful attraction. "I wanted to study this exact program. It's the only place I applied," Nair said.

Nair is the founder, CTO and chairman of Degree Controls, Inc., an engineering firm that specializes in thermal management for electronics. He bootstrapped the company and grew it to a $14 million business in its first five years and was named the Fastest Growing Company by BusinessNH Magazine in 2001. In 2002, Nair won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the New Hampshire High Tech Council and was a finalist for the 2002 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year New England Award. In 2010, his patented data center cooling technology won the Japanese Ministry for Economy, Trade & Industry's Green IT Award.

That technology makes it possible to cool a portion of a data center rather than the whole room. Reducing data center energy loads is a major challenge for web service providers and IT departments, and finding efficient ways to cool data center equipment is a key piece of the puzzle. Degree Controls' system reduces cooling power requirements by 20 to 40%.

"This is getting a lot of interest now, but when this whole technology was created, of course, it wasn't very well-known," said Nair. "However, this is how you build a business. Create something that the world will need, and wait for the world to come to you," he said.

Nair's goal at SDM is to explore a range of technologies and markets and perhaps spot the next big megatrend. "My philosophy is to sell shovels during a gold rush," said Nair. "Don't chase the megatrend — look at the opportunities that the megatrend will create," he said.

There's another way Nair looks forward: he mentors young people and prepares them to be innovators and leaders. He is a coach in The Young Entrepreneur Program for high school students organized by TiE-Boston, the local chapter of TiE Global (The Indus Entrepreneurs), the world's largest not-for-profit oganization promoting entrepreneurship. The Boston program encourages students to consider starting businesses and teaches them the fundamentals of researching markets and developing business plans. "Most of them do not think of entrepreneurship as a goal," said Nair. "When you talk about starting a company they think it's way beyond their capabilities. However, once they realize they can do it, there is no stopping them.

Nair also coaches a New Hampshire high school team in the robotics competition sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

"That's my other mission — somehow paying forward," he said.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Katy O'Brien, SDM '12: The Power of Engineering and Management

By Cody Ned Romano

Katy O'Brien, SDM '12
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Katy O'Brien, a member of the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) cohort that matriculated on Jan. 4, 2012, holds a BS in mechanical engineering from Tufts University, with honors. Upon graduating, she spearheaded two research and development projects for implementing innovative methods to resolve inefficiencies in composite material manufacturing. She then moved on to the nuclear power industry, where she won an award for modifying nuclear power systems to improve their safety and reliability. Now a product engineer at Draper Laboratory, O'Brien was inspired to continue her professional development and hone her management skills by pursuing graduate studies. After considering traditional MBA programs, she chose MIT's SDM Program because of its unique combination of engineering and management.

O'Brien said that one month into the program, SDM's interdisciplinary focus has already helped her hone the essential management skills of collaboration and leadership, while allowing her to simultaneously expand her technical capabilities.

"I wasn't sure how my own work experiences would coalesce and how I would contribute to SDM as a member of the cohort," she says. However, the first design challenge took care of her concern.

"The assignment required our team to construct and program a moving, talking robot," she says. "My engineering experience enabled me to provide mechanical design input, while I collaborated with my teammates, whose code brought the bot to life."

O'Brien said that the breadth of her SDM classmates' accomplishments and the diversity among industries was immediately apparent. Her design challenge teammates represented an array of impressive and diverse backgrounds: a senior communications engineer from The MITRE Corporation, a technical staff member of IBM Research Labs, a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, a PhD candidate in aeronautics, and a lead consultant at CARSA of Mexico. O'Brien said that this experience in team dynamics will serve her well at Draper, where navigating interdisciplinary teams is essential in her work as a product engineer and her assignments include, among others, fostering partnerships among colleagues working in unmanned aerial vehicles.

When the time arrived for final presentations, each team was required to introduce itself to the entire cohort by preparing a presentation, which "inevitably included dancing, singing and skits," she said. "It became clear to me that every team member was a key contributor, both technically and creatively. I continue to be impressed not only by the technical prowess of my classmates, but also by the creative and collaborative skills that have emerged in everyone throughout the design challenge. ... I'm incredibly lucky to be at SDM."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Michael Seelhof, SDM '12: A Banker Adds Theory to Experience in Managing Complexity

By Eric Smalley

Michael Seelhof, SDM '12
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
You'd think that merging two investment banks at the height of a global financial meltdown would be enough complexity for one lifetime. But the experience left Michael Seelhof, SDM '12, wanting more. The German banker has come to MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program to develop a theoretical understanding of his hard-won experience and take complexity management to the next level.

"It's what I've done in the past — managing complexity and managing risk — and I think that's the most important thing that a senior manager should do," Seelhof says. "But I did it intuitively. I want to have a more formal education in complexity management."

Having chalked up 16 years in banking, overseen a successful merger and brought the merged entity to profitability, Seelhof was ready to shift gears. He examined his options for furthering his education and found SDM an obvious fit. The program will give him an understanding of how large systems work, how they interact, how they exhibit complexity and what to do to manage it.

Seelhof was drawn to SDM's focus on key aspects of system design: sustainability, human behavior, and organizational design. He was also attracted to the program's unique collaborative learning approach.

Seelhof started his banking career in IT, armed with a master's degree in mathematics. He moved on to risk control and then strategic development, including mergers and acquisitions — all at Commerzbank AG. In 2005, Seelhof was handed the task of turning around Commerzbank's loss-generating investment bank, Corporates & Markets (C&M). He was appointed chief operating officer of C&M and he set about closing the unit's risky proprietary trading desks and focusing on the bank's core business: client services. The investment bank quickly returned to profitability and remained stable throughout the financial crisis.

In 2009, Commerzbank acquired Dresdner Bank. Seelhof was put in charge of merging the two companies' investment banks. "That ... includes a lot of complexity because you have to think about how units operate with each other, what kind of product portfolio you want to have, you have to think about the competition, and you have to think about risk," he says.

The merger involved a team of nearly 1,500 people and required integrating an investment bank twice the size of C&M that was running at a loss. All this occurred during the worst financial crisis in decades. In the end, Seelhof merged the two investment banks into one organizational structure with integrated processes and IT infrastructure. He cut costs by 50 percent and made the unit profitable.

As for what comes after SDM, a return to financial services is the most likely option for Seelhof, but he is also open to senior positions in other sectors. "SDM is giving me that broader perspective to be able to work and use my experience in different industries," Seelhof says.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jake Whitcomb, SDM '12: Sustainability Requires Systems Engineering

By Eric Smalley

Jake Whitcomb
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Early in life, Jake Whitcomb, SDM '12, was a world-class competitive cross-country skier. Several years spent training in Norway exposed the American to a more sustainable society. "What I found was a country that was living in a more sophisticated, more technologically advanced way, and with a lot of community attributes—and they're doing it using half the energy [compared to the United States]," said Whitcomb.

Whitcomb went on to found a company designed to help businesses and consumers reduce their environmental impact through clean energy investments. Later he launched a sustainability consulting practice for large consumer enterprises, including Coca-Cola and 1% for the Planet. A year and a half ago, he heard a presentation at MIT's annual Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges by Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management John Sterman, which centered on Sterman's work at the Copenhagen climate change conference. Sterman's team used climate models and systems dynamics to show that by settling for politically feasible solutions, the world's governments were destined to fall short of addressing the challenges presented by climate change.

That talk inspired Whitcomb to refocus his work on energy. The shift would require assembling skills in engineering complex systems, systems dynamics, and the management of product research and development (R&D) and design. Whitcomb believed MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program offered the best path to acquiring these. Whether for the purposes of addressing climate change, increasingly carbon-constrained markets, poverty alleviation, or energy security, "energy is the biggest lever we can pull right now, and we'll need to combine engineering and social sciences to do that," said Whitcomb.

Whitcomb joined SDM to formalize his understanding of how R&D can best create the tools people need to practice sustainability. Improving design requires a systems perspective that merges "state-of-the-art technology, the politics of deployment, and the social sciences behind how we actually make this shift," Whitcomb said.

In addition to gaining access to MIT researchers working at the cutting edge of energy, joining the SDM program gives Whitcomb the opportunity to study alongside "some of the leading thinkers and doers from about every industry you can imagine," he said. "My background is in engagement—the technology and marketing side of energy and the environment—and that's a unique angle to bring to an engineering program."

Whitcomb co-founded Brighter Planet while studying economics as an undergraduate at Middlebury College in 2005. The company raised $3.7 million and launched an industry-leading environmental credit and debit card rewards program and a sustainability web service. "The big problem—and also opportunity—that we identified was that 80 percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists, but there are very few that are acting on those values outside of actions like recycling," said Whitcomb.

In 2008, Whitcomb started a consulting practice that helped corporations and nonprofits create sustainability programs and engagement strategies. He worked with Coca-Cola to make their marketing events environmentally sustainable, including the company's sponsorship activities at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He also helped the nonprofit 1% for the Planet, a network of businesses that gave over $20 million to environmental causes (including Gulf Coast oil relief) in 2011 alone, to expand its global reach threefold.

As effective as these programs have been, today's energy challenges require a broader perspective, said Whitcomb. "We need breakthrough innovations in low-carbon technologies to get the economics and accessibility pieces right," he said. "Folks like Bill Gates are saying we need to design miracles, and I very much agree with that—you can let [the challenge] freeze you, or you can let it move you."

A new SDM Fellow, Whitcomb aims to apply systems dynamics and complex systems management to promote new energy delivery technologies.

Jake Whitcomb is on the organizing team for the 2012 MIT Sustainability Summit. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jakewhitcomb

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ming Fai Wong, SDM '12: A Systems Approach to Singapore's IT

Ming Fai Wong
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
By Eric Smalley

It's easy to joke about the complexity of government bureaucracies, but the task of reengineering and streamlining the information technology (IT) systems throughout a national government is a serious challenge that calls for systems thinking.

Ming Fai Wong, SDM '12, chose MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program in part to better prepare himself for just that task when he returns to Singapore. "SDM's focus on systems thinking is crucial, because these are extremely complex systems spread across many different agencies," he said.

Wong's experience and interests place him firmly in the space between technology and business. He has already had a successful career in IT, culminating in a key role designing and implementing Singapore's National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system. Initially he was part of the pioneering team that conducted the project's visioning and architecting. Then, when the project entered its implementation phase, he led the Clinical Information Assurance Workgroup, a diverse team of clinicians and architects that analyzed clinical data from numerous hospitals and recommended changes to NEHR's design where needed.

Wong's work in IT for the Singapore government began with a role as an IT security consultant to the chief information officers of Singapore. He wrote a monthly security brief and used his artificial intelligence training to develop a data mining application for identifying possible attacks on the government. Wong was also involved in coordinating IT requirements for the 2006 International Monetary Fund–World Bank meeting in Singapore. "That was the largest event that the Singapore government had hosted at that time," he said.

Wong also spent time in industry as a product manager at Oracle Corporation, where he served as the liaison between product development and marketing and sales departments spread across Asia, Europe, and the United States. He holds a computer science undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's degree in computer science from Stanford University.

The government of Singapore is sponsoring Wong's participation in SDM, and after graduation he plans to apply his systems thinking training to the task of improving Singapore's already advanced IT systems. "The issues that I'm examining at SDM include how to better manage the government's IT systems and help derive more value out of its IT assets," he said.

Wong is facing one problem familiar to IT professionals everywhere: inefficiencies caused by having data siloed within individual departments and agencies. He said it will be important to take a business processes perspective to address this issue. Many processes in Singapore's government are very tightly coupled to IT systems, so improving the government's IT systems will necessarily include business process reengineering, said Wong. Identifying synergies and avoiding the duplication of effort will be critical.

Wong said he expects to gain traction on these issues thanks in part to one key advantage of the SDM program: the depth and diversity of his fellow students' experience. "I believe a lot of learning comes from learning from the experiences of other people," he said. "It's interesting and useful to learn firsthand what professionals in other industries and domains do to manage both the engineering and management components of complex IT and business systems."