James W. Yen
M.S. Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Marketing and Sales Consultant, ZS Associates
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, people would often ask me what I was planning to do with my degree in mathematics. As with many things in life, it not what you plan to do, but what you are able to do. My degree in mathematics has provided a foundation of logical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making. I have used these skills in project finance, market analytics, management consulting, and my current role as an Area Development Manager for GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines.
After completing graduate school I worked for a consulting company specializing in sales and marketing. Five years later, I transitioned into an internal consulting role within GlaxoSmithKline. Now I specialize in providing solutions and support to the two national sales teams in GSK Vaccines.
In these roles, I use my mathematics background to analyze various data sources to develop implementable strategy for my clients and coworkers. Roles like this require mathematics in many ways. Not only must you be able to analyze and synthesize data in its pure form, you must also use your logic and problem solving skills to be able to address the issues at hand.
The key to developing successful business strategies is using a blend of quantitative analysis and industry knowledge. In the classroom, we work on problems with defined datasets and solutions. In the real world, many times we have to explore data sources and evaluate their relevance to the particular problem and potential approach.
Often times, we are presented with an issue to be solved; however, the presented issue may not be the root problem. Understanding relationships between cause and effect, symptom and source, can uncover the true issue that needs to be addressed. The problem solving frameworks I developed through my mathematics curriculum help deconstruct the presented problem into all the factors that could be causing the undesired outcome. Once those are discovered, we can figure out what the specific area for improvement should be and begin developing a solution.
For example, in my current role at GSK Vaccines, we are often faced with situations where the available data only provides a partial picture of the current situation. For example, in my work, I've encountered incomplete datasets, non-ideal aggregated information, even a complete absence of the information we need. In these types of situations, we rely on a logical approach to uncover the true questions and then develop an approach to compensate for the data shortcomings. We then analyze the data to suggest solutions and summarizing it to address the initial question or situation.
Without an appropriate framework and problem solving skills, it is nearly impossible to even know where to begin and without the knowledge of how to transform data and numbers into information, we cannot uncover the solution.
My mathematics background has given me the experience to approach a business problem in a structured way to investigate the issue, create a solution approach, develop the appropriate analytics and create viable solutions.