Operations management is a popular career choice for MBA students seeking to improve organizations by optimizing processes across a variety of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, and technology. Recently, the Operations Club at Owen hosted a symposium to educate first-year MBAs on the skills needed to succeed in this career.
The club welcomed alumni and recruiters from AT&T, DaVita, Deloitte, Eastman Chemical Company, Emerson Electric, Ernst & Young, Geodis, Infosys, and Nissan for the symposium. Below are five of their top tips for business school students seeking to launch a successful career in operations management:
Hone your data analysis skills.
Operations management is all about being able to effectively analyze data. “Data is key right now,” said Arturo Garza (MBA‘15), Director of Project Finance at Geodis. “You put it in front of an executive, and they want to see it again and again and again because it shows what really is happening.”
“Getting the data clean is extremely hard,” Garza continued. “You have to have the right systems, the right filters, and you need to know how to really interpret data, because if you just look and report whatever you have out of millions of rows of information, you might not have the best conclusions.”
Ask a lot of questions.
Coming into a project with a curious mindset is essential to success. “The successful MBAs in our company come in kind of as consultants,” said Blake Rupard (MBA‘14), Market Development Manager at Eastman Chemical Company. “A good consultant comes into your company, and they don’t just start talking. They ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you start out.”
Gather as much information as you can about your industry, about the processes going on, and take all of the information into account – Jim Graves
It’s also important to learn from those who are already established in the industry. “When you first start out, seek those with a lot of experience,” said Jim Graves (EMBA‘94) Director of Network Services at AT&T. “Gather as much information as you can about your industry, about the processes going on, and take all of the information into account.”
Know how to communicate on every level of the organizational chain.
People in operations management often study processes that involve employees, from company executives to warehouse workers. As a result, they need to be comfortable communicating with people at every level of the organization. “You’re definitely working with a diverse bunch of people,” said Jack Johnson (MBA‘17), Senior Consultant at Infosys. “Most consulting projects I’ve been on, you end up hitting different functions, so you’re talking to folks in finance, you’re talking to product people, marketing people, a lot of different supply chain and operations folks, so being able to communicate with those people and speak their language is important.”
A key but often neglected element of successful communication is listening. “Learn how to listen to your employees,” Garza said. “Hear what their current goals are to keep them motivated. If you are able to keep your employees motivated, you’ll be surprised at how things will start moving around within your organization.”
Take advantage of your MBA education.
An MBA education provides a solid foundation for a career in operations management. “An MBA degree is probably the best education you can get,” Graves said. “I’ve used everything: business law, organizational structure, organizational behavior, finance, accounting, and operations.”
Try to identify where your weak spots are – Jesse Storm
While it is important to immerse yourself in the broad base of knowledge that business school provides, it is just as important to hone in on specific weaknesses. “Try to identify where your weak spots are,” said Jesse Storm (MBA’16), Manager at Deloitte Consulting. “I was engineering as an undergrad, so I didn’t know a lot about finance. That’s kind of my primary thing that I wanted to work on when I was here so that you kind of have a more well-rounded skill set.”
Develop digital fluency.
Proficiency with spreadsheets and Excel is an important tool for data analysis in operations. “My biggest advice is definitely take as many of the spreadsheet classes as possible,” said Ben Jarnagin (MBA‘18), Senior Supply Chain Analyst at Nissan.
Get at least a base level understanding of a coding language – Ben Jarnagin
The increasing use of technology across all aspects of business has made digital fluency an especially beneficial asset. “Get at least a base level understanding of a coding language,” Jarnagin said. “Even though I’m not personally coding in my job, we have consultants and people I’m having to manage projects with that are. My advice to you is that while you’re here, it’s the perfect sandbox to work on those skills because companies want that right now. There’s a huge deficit, as far as employees with those skills, so make yourself marketable.”