When I received my MBA degree from Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management three years ago, if you told me I would be working in the water and wastewater treatment industry for GE Water & Process Technologies (GE), I wouldn't have believed you. Before attending Cornell, I simply did not know that over 1 billion people globally have no access to clean, safe water, that the market size is estimated at $360 billion to $400 billion, and that clean technology is going to take a prominent role in shaping our lives.
But when I accepted a full-time offer with GE, joining the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program, my decision was based on a combination of two major factors: It was a fascinating job, and I wanted to be a part of a high-growth industry. I was aiming to land a marketing job with responsibilities that included being close to customers.
In addition, the water business (BusinessWeek.com, 11/6/07) is a market where large companies like GE and other conglomerates are taking leading roles, and private investors are moving fast, looking for high returns. Immersing myself in such a global market and being a part of leading technologies like desalination and wastewater recycling is great experience for me.
My two-year experience with the program included four rotations, where I launched a product with $7 million in sales, completed a market-based pricing initiative, and commercialized a new service. Upon completing the program I took a marketing manager role in the water business, where I spent most of my rotations. When people ask me what I do for a living, I provide a simple answer—I listen to customers' feedback, I identify unmet needs, and I drive solutions that meet customers' concerns. I am also involved with GE's commitment to drive innovative solutions while solving environmental challenges.
Here is a typical day:
7 a.m.—I get ready for work, and I help my wife get our two-year-old son ready for day care. I make breakfast for the family (omelets are my specialty), catch up with the morning news on TV, and then take our black Labrador out for his morning walk. I live 25 minutes from work, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
8:30 a.m.—Arrive at the office in suburban Philadelphia. I go over e-mails and take care of immediate issues. To be more productive, I check my e-mails only at several designated times (8:30 a.m., 1 p.m, 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and in the evening at home). This frees up the rest of my day to work. Since I work with a global sales team with members from various regions in different time zones, this is also a good time to call a country manager in Europe or Asia to talk about customer feedback. We have a wide range of customers—a big portion are industrial companies like refineries, petrochemicals, power companies, and food manufacturers. Occasionally I interview these customers to get a firsthand sense of their purchase experience with us.
9:30 a.m.—I review our customer satisfaction phone survey progress: The number of calls made and the feedback provided. My goal is to increase our response rates, so monitoring the survey every day is crucial. I will frequently join or lead conference calls. Another part of my job is to give internal stakeholders (such as the supply chain or sales) a periodic review of customer feedback. I also work with our communications team on Ecomagination projects—GE's portfolio of environmentally friendly products is growing, and I am involved in water-related initiatives. I provide them with data and information to be used in press releases or public events.
11 a.m.—After a quick snack, I return my focus to work: Enhancing a follow-up process with customers at risk, running new commercial initiatives, and preparing for meetings. Frequently, I lead progress review meetings with the chief executive officer of the business and his leadership team.
Noon—Time for lunch. I use this opportunity to socialize with colleagues as much as possible, although I sometimes skip lunch and go to the gym for a run. Once a week, I participate in a GE "Reading Stars" program, coaching sixth-grade students who need to improve their reading skills.
1 p.m.—I recently started a work process with a group of managers from quality, product management, finance, and supply chain to review customer survey data and develop strategies for delivering better service or improving our delivery process. We meet every two weeks, but action items resulting from our meetings are beginning to require planning and follow-up times.
3 p.m.—I need a short break, and it's time for another healthy protein snack. Chitchat with a colleague at this point can be fun, but then it is back to work. During a weekly business intelligence team meeting, I work with colleagues who are responsible for risk assessment and competitive analysis to identify strategies for customer retention. This is a highly specialized field where water is crucial for the production needs of our customers. For example: A power plant cannot operate without water going through its processing units and cooling towers. Not maintaining a high level of knowledge, service, and product quality can cost them if there's a power shutdown. Therefore, we must always make sure we not only have reliable technology but also that we can provide a 24/7 service, so our customers can focus on their core competencies.
5 p.m.—This is the time to disengage from daily stuff and keep up with the latest in the industry, marketing practices, or new GE technology solutions. In general, I read newsletters provided by Internet portals to get industry-related news as well as online material from strategic partners who do market studies.
6 p.m.—Review the next day's schedule, another e-mail check, take care of final matters, and then call it a day.
My experiences earning my MBA were great. The marketing and strategy curriculum, as well as my involvement in campus activities, helped me, a non-U.S. native, prepare for Corporate America. Working for a global conglomerate, I wish I had taken the emerging markets economics class. With so many business opportunities coming from China, India, and Latin America, a global mindset is important.
My advice to you: Never stop learning. The learning curve does not stop at graduation. An MBA is a great platform for developing broad business skills, but after that, it's time to dive deep into gaining domain expertise. You need to focus on building specific skill sets, gaining a strong knowledge of your industry, and building your reputation.