The Value of SDM, Dave Tonaszuck, SDM ’00 says education taught him about leadership

Dave TonaszuckBy Dave Tonaszuck, SDM ’00
Business Consultant, Investors Bank and Trust
February 26, 2002

I earned a BS in Marine Engineering in 1988 and did well as an Engineering Officer in the U.S. Merchant Marines. However, it seemed to me in the early ’90s that growth in the U.S. maritime industry was stagnant, so I returned to school and got an MS in Civil Engineering in 1992. My timing was good. After the Persian Gulf War ended, the industry demand for U.S. Merchant Marine officers began to dry up.

I then worked as an environmental regulator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, overseeing air quality control and managing large-scale projects. There was a lot of complexity involved and a wide range of stakeholders to deal with, including local government, industry representatives, state and federal agencies, and the public. In this capacity, I was fortunate to fine-tune my negotiation and implementation skills.

I learned about SDM in 1996 at a presentation given by Professor Charlie Boppe at the Center for Advanced Educational Services. The program seemed like a great way for me to broaden my business skills and keep my technical edge.

Going to SDM as a self-sponsored student represented a risk for me. I had a house and a child and I had to quit my job and pay for the education myself. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant (RA) with Professor Debbie Nightingale for the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI), but that didn’t come about until after I started the program.

I’m glad I took the risk. My work for LAI was very exciting and rewarding. It involved developing a large-scale “Transition to Lean” (TTL) change model for the aerospace industry. This project was funded by the U.S. Air Force and the development team consisted of representatives from the U.S. aerospace industry, MIT, and the U.S. Air Force.

Specifically, our five-person development team defined a “road map” for CEOs and senior managers to follow for implementing the principles and practices of lean manufacturing and applying it to the enterprise as a whole (i.e., the lean enterprise.) The materials generated by our team eventually became three publications to be distributed within the LAI consortium. I was fortunate to be able to follow the project from inception through completion. In doing so, I was exposed to all phases of the product development cycle at the grass roots level. It was truly rewarding to see the fruits of the team’s labor turn into tangible products.

Two of the underlying principles represented throughout the development of the TTL road map focused on leadership and change. The team’s extensive research into these subjects made it easy for me to choose a thesis topic: “The Impact of Leadership on Systematic Organizational Change.”

My first job after graduating SDM was as a business consultant with a start-up software company in Boston. Most of my time was spent assisting the CEO in developing the concept and business plan for a new business unit focused on the Internet. I helped create the concept and formalize the plan for a “knowledge gateway” product that was essentially a hosting portal for clients to access their software products over an Internet infrastructure.

After a short tenure with the software company, I decided to make a “go” at starting my own company, with the focus on developing and testing open-source software components over the Internet. We lost our initial funding when the economy took a downturn and I joined Investors Bank and Trust (IBT) as a business consultant.

IBT provides customized securities processing services for domestic and global financial products. I do business process redesign for the Custody/Fund Accounting Division. I function as a Project Manager, acting as a liaison between the business and systems sides of the enterprise.

Every day I use the principles and concepts taught to me at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the SDM program. Specifically, in my current role as a business consultant, I am constantly using the knowledge acquired in courses such as Systems Architecture, Systems Engineering, and New Product Development.

The most valuable career building blocks I acquired during my studies at SDM are awareness of, and skills in, leadership and organizational change. The ability to effectively lead people and implement change has produced true measures of success in the outcomes of almost all projects I have managed as a professional. I believe these skills, emphasized by the SDM program, are the key value-added foundation principles for engineers and are transferable to any industry (just look at my bio for proof!).