An experience all chemical engineers (ChE) share is the variety of reactions they get at parties: “You’re a chemist? You destroy the environment? You have a life outside of crunching numbers? Or perhaps the reaction is the inevitable eye-glazing and quick transition to the weather. Occasionally, one meets a person who knows a ChE and their reaction is something more along the lines of, “So, you’re a smarty pants.”
Most engineers I knew in my MBA program went into finance. It’s not too surprising: you need to be analytical and highly skilled in Excel. Our academic cousins in Physics were applying differential equations at Long Term Capital Management (the case study for “math gone wrong”) and prior to the housing crisis Wall Street was even hiring engineers without their MBAs (article). But there is a difference between finance for the Street and the finance used to drive operations. We’ll focus on the latter and how it ties into our fundamental building block for ChE: The Material & Energy Balance.
ChE training provides the analytical skills that makes ChE's the ideal “get-it-done” corporate mechanics: Need to solve a ambiguous problem using an analytical framework while staying within resource constraints to maximize NPV? No problem.
Attributes we learn through our training as ChEs are: confidence (being able to think on your feet), professionalism, and a commitment to excellence.
Given that human behavior can mean the difference between project success and failure, it is important to ask why the study of motivation is not part of our core training. Perhaps it’s in how it’s sold.
We are always selling. Vendors sell goods, consultants sell advice, politicians sell themselves, demonstrators who occupy Wall Street sell their cause, entrepreneurs sell new concepts, artists sell designs, and even parents sell their standards. Regardless of the way you describe it, teaching, pitching, proposing, convincing – sales is about getting another person to do something and we all need to know how to do sales well to get things done.
The ChE discipline would benefit by putting just as much focus on developing the next generation of Jack Welchs as well as Linus Paulings. What is the business case for doing so? This series has shed light on how these other skills directly affect our careers and ability to get work accomplished and even the potential impact on the financial viability of our engineering departments.