Cisco VP/LFM Alum Says Need for Interdisciplinary Engineers is Critical

Jim Miller

May 27, 2004

Jim Miller is a pioneer and a visionary, an engineer who took the road less traveled to arrive where he is today – vice president of manufacturing operations at world-class Cisco Systems. Miller’s success provides insight into the new type of engineering leader that industry and government need for today and for the future.

In the early 1990s, Miller, who holds a BA in Engineering from Purdue, left his position in marketing and sales in order to return to school and learn more about how to integrate technology and interfacing with customers. He chose MIT’s Leaders for Manufacturing Program, a dual-degree, graduate program offered jointly by MIT’s School of Engineering, Engineering Systems Division and the Sloan School of Management.

"I wanted to learn how to view the company holistically and felt that the two masters’ degrees I would earn from MIT (an SM in Mechanical Engineering and a SM in Management), would give me this ability."

It did. In fact, Miller decided during his studies to build his career around manufacturing and the supply chain because "these touch every facet of a business, including taxes, customs, finance, marketing, and sales."

Today, the just-turned-40 executive is responsible for manufacturing operations for several Cisco product lines, including midrange routers and switches, security, cable, edge aggregation, and content servers. And Miller says there is great and growing need at Cisco for more technically-grounded professionals with an interdisciplinary education that enables them to understand the company holistically.

"Cisco is a $20 billion global operation whose success is rooted in a deep understanding of the issues surrounding globalization," he explains. "Engineers who can think holistically, work collaboratively, and communicate and lead effectively will be more apt to contribute to the company’s success."

As an example, Miller points to product development. "Quality and supply chain optimization begin on day one because 70% of product cost is locked up in the design phase. Most traditionally-trained design engineers don’t know much about downstream optimization, but today they must understand cost, quality, after sales cost, service and support – and not just throw a design over the wall to manufacturing."

That’s why Miller believes that LFM grads, as well as those in ESD’s other masters’ programs (System Design and Management; Technology and Policy; Engineering Systems; and Logistics) are well-prepared to address the challenges today’s global businesses face. "World-class companies have come to realize that people working in functional silos can only go so far. Most business processes like design, quality management and manufacturing don’t fit nicely into a single functional group, but span the entire organization. Therefore, the types of individuals that organizations need most, yet are in critically short supply, are individuals that are multi-lingual and think in a multi-disciplinary fashion when it comes to complex business situations. This situation presents an ideal opportunity for ESD grads."

"ESD grads are educated to view a corporation as a sub-system within a larger global system and to work effectively within it," Miller concluded. "Companies are just beginning to become aware of this resource and those that act quickly to hire people who can think holistically will have a significant competitive advantage."