If you enjoy working on the factory floor and managing people who build products, an MBA with a concentration in operations management may be a good option, since there’s strong demand for leaders in this area. But, exactly what kinds of operations jobs are available to MBAs? And how is the operations field changing? To get answers to these questions, TopMBA.com turned to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business for advice. In addition, a profile of a Tepper operations MBA graduate provides an in-depth look at what it’s like to take on a post-MBA job at global power management company, Eaton, as a product manager.
Common operations job roles for MBAs
MBA graduates will usually follow one of three paths into an operations job role. They might well be a direct hire, but they could also come into the terrain via leadership rotational programs or consulting/strategy roles. When it comes to direct hires into operations management jobs, global strategy and operations, procurement and supply chain management roles are common among MBA graduates. Specific operations job titles might then include: Operations manager, global sourcing manager, strategic supply chain manager, operational improvement project manager, global commodity manager and business operations analyst.
A variety of industries await operations MBA graduates, including manufacturing, financial services, retail, healthcare, technology and consumer packaged goods. A few examples of companies said to have hired MBAs from the Tepper School and/or OSU Fisher into operations management jobs and internships are listed below:
- Johnson & Johnson
- Deloitte Consulting
- Procter & Gamble
- FedEx Corporation
- Philips Healthcare
- The Walt Disney Company
- Genentech (Read an MBA employer interview with Genentech)
- EY (Read an MBA employer interview with EY)
- Bank of America
The move toward big data and soft skills: How operations jobs are changing
Today’s operations managers are expected to have a wider skillset than in years past. Companies aren’t just looking for MBAs with operations knowledge; they are looking for soft skills and strong analytical ability, especially when it comes to big data.
“In my work with companies, I have seen an enhanced emphasis on companies wanting to hire MBAs who have a unique combination of functional expertise in operational excellence, demonstrated/strong analytical abilities along with the all-important soft skills necessary to effectively work in teams, build relationships and influence/manage process improvement/operational excellence initiatives throughout an organization,” states Jamie Mathews-Mead, senior director of graduate career management at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
Business analytics, or big data, has also become another must-have skill for operations MBAs. “Business Analytics is really hot right now as well; an area of high demand for employers recruiting MBA-level talent. I’m seeing an increasing interest from companies interested in recruiting MBAs with the business analytics skillset that allows them to work with big data and utilize highly developed critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. So, the combination of operations and business analytics expertise is in demand,” states Fisher’s Mathews-Mead.
The nature of working in operations has meant that data has always been involved, but the number of sources from which it stems (ranging from social media to internal sensors, for example) has amplified dramatically.
As a result, “operations managers are being asked to look at data and to meaningfully craft strategies, whether it’s running the production of goods and services or whether it’s related to serving the consumer after the point of sale,” states Sunder Kekre, a professor in manufacturing and operations at the Tepper School of Business, which addresses the subject of big data as part of its operations management curriculum.
Business processes have been transformed, allowing companies to offer increasingly customized products. Operations managers also have to understand how to use technology in order to implement a data-based strategy. Data allows companies to customize products based on the needs of the consumer, for example creating a medical implant that is customized to someone’s body. As a result, operations managers need to understand customer preferences in addition to technology. They need to be able to work with other companies so they have the required technology, such as Amazon Cloud or automation technologies, to deliver a product. They also need to be able to deliver the product in a cost-effective manner.
Due to this transformation within operations, the role of the operations manager has also changed. Today’s operations manager is a “data scientist, a marketing person, a finance person, an organizational behavior person all rolled into one”, states Kekre.
One way MBA programs are preparing operations managers for the challenge of being a jack of all trades is through experiential learning. “MBAs are becoming more like physicians”, states Kekre, in that they are spending more time learning by doing. At Tepper, MBAs work with companies in order to immerse themselves and learn how to tackle problems with several different dimensions.
Another change for operations management jobs is that work has become more global. “The roles have a broader global focus than just domestic responsibilities and graduates are expected to have not just solid technical backgrounds, but be able to effectively manage large multi-cultural teams,” states Kate Riley, associate director of Tepper’s careers center. While Tepper MBAs usually take operations management jobs that are based in the US, they will work with the manufacturing locations of their company and these will vary widely, depending on the industry. Examples of manufacturing locations include: Brazil and other countries in Latin America, China, India, Taiwan and Indonesia as well as countries in Europe.
Operations MBA portrait: Jay Haugen, Tepper Graduate and Eaton Employee
Jay Haugen has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and served in the US Air Force as a civil engineer working in construction. He has served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan.
After he left the military, Haugen says he needed to figure out what to do with his life. He decided get his MBA at Tepper and pursue the operations track, because it matched the best aspects of his job in the Air Force. Those aspects were leading people who worked with their hands to build a product and the pace of the manufacturing work environment. “My experience with construction management and engineering and the Air Force was very similar to running a manufacturing business or a production line in the civilian world,” states Haugen.
Getting an MBA in operations also helped Haugen distinguish himself from the crowd. “A whole lot of people getting their MBA are not really interested in walking the factory floor. It feels like being out on the job site, and working with the employees there, is something that most MBAs don’t want to do and aren’t comfortable with, but there’s a lot of demand for leaders who can get results in a manufacturing type of environment.” That’s why Haugen feels that going into operations was a great way to distinguish himself from many of his classmates. His interest in and experience with operations was the brand he sold to potential employers in terms of what he wanted to do and why he would be good at it.
After graduating from Tepper in 2012, Haugen joined the Global Leadership Development Program at Eaton, a global power management company with customers in 175 countries. The program serves as a pipeline for Eaton’s executive leadership and consists of two one-year rotations. Haugen graduated from the Global Leadership Program two years ago and now works as a product manager for Eaton’s Electronic Miniature Circuit Breakers division.
Today, Haugen feels that Tepper’s emphasis on making data-based decisions and building business models helps him in his current role. He also says he feels comfortable when speaking to company vice presidents to defend his positions, such as why to spend money on certain projects, and believes these are skills he was able to develop during his time at Tepper. His favorite part of his current job – what gets him out of bed in the morning – is building broad multimillion-dollar strategies which promise to yield a high impact. Specifically, Haugen enjoys finding niches in the market and altering existing products or building new ones aimed at serving those markets. While Haugen’s current job as product manager is technically a marketing role, it’s a step toward his ultimate career goal of running a plant.
Examples of operations management job responsibilities
Here’s a general overview of some potential job responsibilities for those working in global strategy and operations, procurement or supply management roles:
Global strategy job responsibilities
Responsibilities for global strategy job roles might include:
- Assisting in the assessment of new or existing global strategic opportunities and innovative ideas that support a strategic plan.
- Identifying possible acquisition targets, new technologies, processes or methodologies that support strategic goals.
- Building strong relationships across the organization to ensure it collaborates effectively, thereby maximising efficiency.
- Collaborating with procurement to ensure the highest quality suppliers are secured and with production to ensure quality and schedule objectives are met.
- Collaborating with global teams to determine strategic and longer-term plans.
- Learning how a company operates globally and applying this to strategic assessments and planning.
- Building and presenting recommendations and findings to a company’s senior leadership.
Procurement job responsibilities
General responsibilities for procurement job roles could include:
- Identifying, developing, negotiating with and managing both existing and new suppliers in a company’s supply chain.
- Developing and executing capacity planning and cost management strategies in rapidly changing environments.
- Supplier development for all products in an assigned product line.
- Program management for all products in an assigned product line, whether they are in development or mass production, to ensure product integrity and support for a changing mix in demands.
- Managing manufacturing partners very closely (often on site) to facilitate building development, risk mitigation efforts and the production of new products.
- Communicating developments, updates and changes effectively to the supply chain across the entire company, while acting as a liaison between departments that connect the business and engineering aspects of company projects.
Supply chain management job responsibilities
General responsibilities in supply chain management might include:
- Supporting strategic initiatives related to the supply chain, for example projects to improve processes and inventories, spend analytics, or supply network design and optimization.
- Creating project management plans that clearly define a project’s scope, assumptions and risks.
- Analyzing data, building analytical models and preparing reports that enhance executive decision making.
- Administering the tools, data and reports needed to track a project’s process.
- Coordinating with appropriate personnel to ensure that planned dates, budgets and resources are accurate and reporting appropriately on any changes in this regard.