• Marrying Engineering and Business Skills for an Exciting Career

    David Falzani, President of Sainsbury Management Fellows
    CEO, Polaris Associates
    Visiting Professor at the Nottingham University Business School

    “One could say that my career as an engineer was destined – as a youngster I was fascinated by technology and the complexity of how things work. I was drawn to engineering because it had both a reputation for being difficult but also, because I would be able to apply the knowledge and skills I learned to solve problems in the real world,” said David.

    Now a chartered engineer, David did an MBA at Wharton/SDA Bocconi and started several businesses, including one of the first internet companies, before setting up a consultancy, Polaris Associates. He has formulated and launched FMCG brands as well as helped better market and communicate professional qualifications standards for various organisations. As an entrepreneur and visiting professor David specialises in the customer decision-making process, modern manufacturing and the economic value of hi-tech industries.

    David continued, “Like many engineers, I am inspired by the achievements of giants like Brunel. But what interests me most, was Brunel’s considerable entrepreneurial and commercial skill in raising funds for ground-breaking ideas. Similarly, world-changing projects like the completion of America’s Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 and the Panama Canal built between 1881 and 1914, were at least as challenging to organise and finance as they were to execute technically.”

    This admiration for combing engineering, entrepreneurial and commercial skills traveled with David and is evident in his career today. After seven years in engineering roles, one of which saw him project manage the design and implementation of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for a high growth Silicon Valley company, he reached a crossroads. That role had increasingly exposed him to ever-widening business and commercial issues and he was being asked to interact with wider business problems. He had to decide how best to gain the additional knowledge and understanding needed to tackle bigger business challenges.

    “I could either acquire my next level of skills organically through the workplace or through an intensive MBA. My personal learning style strongly favours a crucible high-intensity environment, so it was an easy decision to study for a full-time MBA at a top school.

    “With the aid of a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, I studied for my MBA at SDA Bocconi in Milan and The Wharton School in Pennsylvania. It was as testing as I imagined, but the rewards more than made up for the 60 hours per week schedules! Imagine studying in an environment filled with über bright people from all over the world, being surrounded by world-class faculty, being set continually stretching tasks; having a learning machine wrapped all around you to whet your appetite and then satisfy it, and an addictive growing sense that anything is possible. I flourished in this environment and came away from my MBA with a toolbox of functional business skills, an enduring network of friends and contacts, and the school’s renowned brand name to augment my own.

    “A more surprising by-product of the MBA was a rewiring of my brain, to think differently about my career. My first job post-MBA was with a leading strategy consulting firm where I consolidated my skills. After that, I plunged into an exciting new tech venture with some former MBA classmates, having gained the confidence to raise venture capital funds during the MBA. After that, I was involved in a tech turnaround. I used my engineering, commercial and entrepreneurial skills in both businesses.

    “Sainsbury Management Fellows played a big role in my career transition. The financial support is, of course, very helpful, but for me becoming part of the network of Fellows upon graduation holds the greatest value. Fellows have given me advice, inspiration and have been a useful reference point throughout my career, and I have secured at least one job through the network.

    “SMFs’ raison d’être is to equip ambitious engineers with business skills that will enable them to secure senior and board positions in blue-chip companies that would otherwise be unattainable. They are then in a position to use their combined engineering and business skills to enhance commercial performance. SMF also supports engineers with entrepreneurial ambitions, as entrepreneurs innovate and commercialise products and services that create jobs and wealth for our economy.

    “Innovation and productivity growth are essential if we are to retain our quality of life in the global economy. Although we are good at inventing new ideas we, in Britain, have a notoriously poor record of translating these into commercial value. Also, productivity is a key success factor for mature economies like ours to compete and continue to grow in value.

    “A key causal factor in both of these areas of growth is the development, integration and commercialisation of technology. Engineering sits on the interface of technology and commerce, and in this way, engineers are uniquely placed to understand ‘the tech’ and also bring a business brain to deliver more successful enterprises. I hope that we can bring this issue forward in the country’s agenda and better use our considerable resources to inspire people to prioritise activities that assist in developing promising technologies and then better commercialise these.”

    Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.


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The Sainsbury Management Fellows is registered as a charity: Engineers in Business Fellowship, charity number 1147203 and is a company limited by guarantee : 07807250