John C. Nelson was one of the early graduates of the MEM program in 1985. Originally from Sterling, IL, he first earned a BS in Math and an MS in Statistics at Kansas State University where he also played varsity tennis. After a brief career in health care research and consulting, he co-founded The Applied Research Company in 1985 where he currently serves as President. He shared some of his MEM inspirations with us:
A Short Description of Your Role and Job Responsibility?
Our firm is a Commodity Trading Advisor and is registered with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. We provide a variety of research and consulting services and products to futures brokers, banks, trading firms and vendors throughout the world. Although this is finance, we solve engineering problems.
Your Favorite Class or Teacher in MEM?:
I was lucky enough to have as one of my teachers Al Rubenstein who founded the MEM program. Gustave Rath taught a great class called Systems Analysis and was a huge influence, and of course who hasn’t been enlightened by Allan Drebin?
Your Decision to Pursue a MEM Degree?
At the time I was a student, there were actually few graduate options: either you got an MS in engineering or an MBA. The MEM was, and still is, a practical hybrid of the two. It was also unique and relatively unknown then, so it always provided an opportunity to start a conversation.
How MEM Contributed to Your Career Path and Job Role?
In the consulting work that we do, the MEM background has been invaluable in understanding and navigating through client organizations. Being the outsider as a consultant, you have some advantages but also some very big disadvantages. Appreciating all the pieces, processes, and people appropriately is essential to delivering the best end product to the client – and getting repeat business.
Over the past several years we have also partly moved from a service-oriented to a product-oriented organization, so we’ve had to learn to “eat our own dog food”. Things learned at MEM (even that long ago) continue to help us daily when it comes to product development, production, marketing, quality control, etc.
Word of Advice to Future Students:
Stay curious. Whatever your career specialty or interest is, there is so much to learn and you will never learn it all so stop trying. Learn about other things even if it doesn’t affect what you work on. Get (or stay) interested in sports, food, music, travel, whatever. Being good at something else will make you a better engineer and a better manager. So will MEM.