In January 2015, I joined the Competitive & Technical Intelligence (CTI) team within the MANN+HUMMEL Corporate Strategy & Innovation Management department. As a PhD student in Fiber and Polymer Science, I was a little anxious about what my internship would involve. Would I be able to speak the same ‘language’ as a team with a strong business background? How would this experience shape my future career? Brimming with curiosity, I was eager to begin my adventure…
Several months in, I have found that I am very much up to the challenge. Every morning, I am thrilled to start work on my various projects, which include industry trend analyses and competitors’ product portfolios. The work brings out my full potential and desire to achieve the best outcomes, and also enables me to expand my business knowledge at the same time. After lunch, I walk over to the College of Textiles, which is just across the street from MANN+HUMMEL’s North Carolina Innovation Center (NCIC), put on my lab coat, and get stuck into my dissertation research. I love having this unique opportunity to mix business and science every day. The variety keeps me fresh, creative and productive in both roles. What’s more, I’ve found that business and science share plenty of core principles despite all the differences.
Finding the right balance
During my internship, I report directly to Rob Cunningham, who has a BSc. in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA degree along with almost 20 years’ experience in the filtration industry. Rob solves business problems with an engineer’s approach, focusing on the details but with the bigger picture clearly in mind. He believes every piece of information included in a report should serve as strong evidence to support the analysis and end goals. This philosophy makes real sense to me. I think both scientists and business leaders struggle with the balance between the microscopic details and macroscopic overview; sometimes we focus too much on redundant details, and sometimes we end up building a castle in the air without a solid foundation. It is always about finding the best balance between the amount of detail to provide and the overall scope to be covered, regardless of whether the topic is business or Research.
Making a difference
MANN+HUMMEL has a very efficient organisational structure, which surprises me considering how difficult it is to coordinate all the projects on a daily basis for a global company. Messages are passed between different management levels and departments very rapidly. For example, my work is used directly to inform high-level management decisions; I have authority to update databases; and even a departmental vice president may sit in on your draft meeting to contribute ideas. The NCIC has a very modern office design with an open working space. There are no closed cubicles; instead we have long desks, open meeting spaces and dividers made of white boards. This makes communication between colleagues very easy and free, because ideas and thoughts are shared efficiently. I think this simplicity can also be applied to research: no matter how big the research project or how large the research team, we should keep it simple and open. This means we can be as efficient as possible and focus our efforts on tackling the most urgent issues.
Communication as the key
Internal communication is strong at MANN+HUMMEL, including at global level. The Corporate Strategy & Innovation Management teams in the United States and Germany communicate frequently, both before and during projects, to make sure the most targeted and accurate analysis is delivered. Before diving into each project, Rob and I discuss the purpose of the project carefully, as well as the expected deliverables and key issues. Rob also sits directly next to me and is happy to answer questions at any time. I believe communication is the key to delivering quality work within tight timelines; however in the field of research, communication is sometimes ignored, as everyone focuses on their own projects. If we could improve communication between the different scientific fields, I believe more creative and valuable ideas could be generated.
Ultimately, the goals of both researchers and business people are the same: they work hard to solve problems and offer everyone a better life. This is why I love being a businesswoman in the morning and a scientist in the afternoon: My unique experience at MANN+HUMMEL has allowed me to learn about the world from both perspectives. I’ve had a great time and learnt a lot, and the road ahead of me now looks very bright…