Engineers by-and-large have a bad rap when it comes to understanding business. That is, the art of using engineering skills to create value for others, and themselves. If you’re like I am, your first introduction to “business management” was the engineering economics course you took during your undergraduate program. In retrospect, that course did nothing to prepare me for (a) managing resources or (b) understanding business finances. In fact, twenty-plus years later, I can’t really recall what I learned in that course (perhaps cost estimating?) To overcome what I viewed as a gap in my understanding of the world of business, I gained an MBA. This was useful for the mechanics and terminology of business, however, it prepared me to be a good mid-level manager. It didn’t prepare me to be an entrepreneurial business owner, the next step in my evolution.
So, what’s the answer? How does one prepare themselves to be an entrepreneurial-engineer business owner? Both good questions and both questions which I’m answering as I go forward. This said, here’s the what I’ve discovered:
Build a Mentoring Team. This isn’t you and one other individual, but a group of subject matter experts with different strengths — law, accounting, marketing, etc. In short, build a mind-trust.
Leverage the Skills You Have. An engineer is inquisitive, creative, process oriented and good with numbers. These are assets that can pay big dividends in entrepreneurial pursuits, so use them.
Read and Learn. Professional engineers are constantly learning, so the mental processes of learning are already in place. Expand beyond the engineer curriculum to include business – magazines, books, trade journals, the Internet. Build up your knowledge of simple business terms and processes. Since our minds are organic, filling it with business terminology and concepts will eventually lead to those concepts spilling into our engineer work. This is like becoming fluent in a foreign language.
Take Action. With the information you glean, build an action plan, and then execute it yourself. Engineers are good at creating in the mind (step 1) and then creating a blue print (step 2). Most often, we then turn the blue prints over to someone else to create the final product. If you’re serious about the business piece of the game, you need to create the final product yourself. Or in concert with your team. Simply put…take action.
As I stated, I’m new to entrepreneurial business…in fact, merely an infant. However, my experience in leading people and managing resources all over the world leads me to believe that the combo of skills and knowledge I currently have, plus new knowledge and a mind-trust of all-star mentors, will create success. Time, as always, shall tell.
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute