Leadership Development

author: Dava Newman, Engineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Eric Amundsen, Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks
author: Karina Funk, Winslow Management Company
author: Ajit Kambil, Deloitte LLP
published: April 8, 2013,   recorded: December 2008,   views: 3302

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A trio of graduates from MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP) discuss their career paths, bumps and all, and offer guidance to current students.

Having studied as a mechanical engineer, Eric Amundsen “never in life thought (he) would be an attorney.” Then he “stumbled across patent law.” He attended a graduate student seminar where he was forced to rank his likes and dislikes. When he analyzed his priorities, he discovered that engineering was not the best fit, while patent law “matched up close to 100%.” Amundsen feels vindicated in his choice. He continues to put his technical expertise to good use, enjoys helping clients “get value out of their IP,” offers strategic advice, and negotiates difficult problems. Whatever the situation, Amundsen notes that “it often comes down to relationships: You can be the best attorney in the world but if (clients) don’t like talking to you, you’re not going to serve them well.” From Amundsen, this parting lesson for career-builders: “Pay attention when you get a sure gut feeling that something’s not right.”

Karina Funk “went from engineering, to dabbling in policy, explaining science to policy-makers, to business and operations, to finance and investing.” Funk credits MIT with her ability to open doors to many fields, because “unlike other academic environments,” the MIT culture encourages combining disciplines. After developing an interest in health and the environment, and realizing she was not going to make a difference in the policy world, Funk turned to business. She describes an early experience that resulted in an important insight she’s since carried with her. Two weeks before starting a graduate degree in physics at Berkeley, she realized she “didn’t want to be a lab rat.” (She found the TPP program instead.) She tells her listeners: “You figure out what you don’t want to do. I’m not kidding when I say some of my best decisions have come very quickly when I’ve been literally stopped dead in my tracks, disgusted or disappointed by the path ahead of me. I know I have to make a change.”

Within the context of an “elevator pitch” to launch an entrepreneurial business school in Asia, Ajit Kambil describes some milestones in his career, and his philosophy. A cancer survivor, Kambil has learned “you live every day; make the most of it.” For him, this means less emphasis on success, and more on “what you are going to give.” His TPP focus, around information technology, engaged him in further studies of how information systems affect organizations. Kambil has been in academics; started various companies, “some duds, some successes;” and written a book on auctions and markets, looking at why the Dutch “are so good at flowers.” He learned that certain problems that crop up in life take a long time to answer. His recommendation: “Persist.” He also suggests “setting bold goals” to stretch yourself and others to a higher purpose, building a network with a few good people, and preparing before taking the lead on a new challenge.

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