Here in the MEM program we often talk about the benefits of getting a dual technical and business masters degree. Things like being exposed to business practices in accounting and marketing, meeting a diverse group of engineers—you know the story—but how does this all translate into the professional world? Victor Moran, a part-time MEM student, has it all figured out. He’s now been promoted twice in the two years since starting our program and today he shares how he leveraged his classroom experience to boost his career at Siemens.
By Jessica Tackett
I have been working for Siemens for over eight years in different sites across Mexico. Four years ago, I was transferred to the Chicago area to help the development of our new wind turbine facility in Elgin. Moving to such a city comes with a lot of perks, one of which was the access to some of the best universities around the United States. Knowing that my stay in Chicago wouldn’t last forever I started my research on the different offers and the MEM program came out as the best option right from the beginning. It had the business management portion while keeping a solid engineering base. The part time option worked beautifully given my work load, my personal life, and my academic aspirations.
What were your first impressions of the program?
Since day one, I discovered that the faculty was very knowledgeable both from the academic side but also from the real world application side. Most of the professors had a broad experience in their fields either as consultants or senior managers with a broad network of contacts to help the student get a real vision of how business works. After a couple of classes it became evident that my long commute, difficult class work, and the challenging homework and exams were stressful, however, I kept in mind the important thing—I was getting the knowledge and I was getting the best value for my investment.
And what were the results of your persistence?
After just over two years in the program I have been promoted at my workplace twice, first to Production Manager and just recently to Plant Manager of one of our facilities in California. It is hard to say how much of these promotions were related to my Northwestern experience, what would have happened if I hadn’t joined the MEM program, or even where I would be without it. What is certain is that the academic knowledge I have been getting through the masters degree has definitely helped me to compensate for my lack of experience in some specific fields like Marketing and Finance, which are key for my new role.
How exactly have they helped you?
They got me closer to other parts of the business I normally don’t interact with and closer to people who work in other industries I have never dealt with. For example, I did not work with marketing and finance related activities in my day-to-day, however understanding the principles and relationship with my job helped me to gain awareness of how everything is connected in the corporate world. Sometimes it isn’t so evident how all the different disciplines interact between each other in the corporate world, like how a marketing decision impacts what I do in the operations world. Taking class with other engineers from various industries helped me to see the work environment from a different perspective. I normally do not deal with software programmers or consultants so the interaction in the classroom brings a lot of knowledge and experience to the table making it very valuable as a learning experience.
Do you think that these lessons have impacted your promotions?
I know that having the academic knowledge of some specific subjects helped a lot to get the jobs. For example, the typical projects I have managed at work were usually low to medium complexity; however, when asked about it during interviews I was able to answer based on my experience and also on my academic knowledge of how to manage high complex projects based on my Project Management class at Northwestern.
What else from your classes proved helpful?
The help of my professors, the discussions in class, and the case studies definitely have added a new perspective to the way I think and manage myself in the work place. It gives you a significant advantage to try all this in a safe school environment before experimenting in real life and I believe companies appreciate that. Finally, being a student sends the message out there that you’re an individual who cares about his career, can learn pretty much anything, and is willing to give more to achieve what he wants.
Tell us a bit more about your promotions.
I started as a Production Supervisor where I was responsible for managing a group of skilled technicians into meeting a specific set of targets. This was after the plant was just opened here in the Chicago area so a lot of hiring, training, process development, and tooling requirements were part of my day-to-day. After one and a half years, I was promoted to Production Manager, which had the same responsibilities as before, but with the addition of financial responsibilities, budgets, capacity planning, S&OP, more strategic deployment, lean manufacturing implementation, etc.
Today, in my new role as a Plant Manager, I have full responsibility of the P&L of a $33M business. I manage the production, engineering, logistics, customer service, quality, and maintenance department. I am in charge of both hourly and salaried employees and will be the ultimate person responsible for the performance of a business that is expected to grow into $40M in the next two years serving mainly the West Coast of the United States.
Sounds like a lot of responsibility. How did you handle the stress when you were first starting as a student?
School was actually a good therapy for work stress. Sometimes at work we are so focused on the day-to-day firefighting that we forget we are engineers and we know the scientific way of solving issues. Going to school helped to activate my brain, to go back to that “forgotten knowledge,” and bring it with me to use in the real world.
What are you most looking forward to about the new position?
The challenge, of course, and the learning experience of managing a complete business. It will boost my career by exposing me to the strategic side of the business, the financials, the customers, and of course the complete operations world so the learning opportunities are endless.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Time flies when you are having a good time and that is exactly the feeling I have right now after my time at Northwestern.