The Way to SDM

Mona Masghati and familyMona Masghati

An engineer finds her path to business school

By Amy MacMillan, News@MITSloan
October 19, 2009

Mona Masghati, SDM ’09, knew what to expect when she arrived at the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) program in January. She was prepared for the long hours and the intense workload that comprises the first month of SDM – also known as Boot Camp. After all, her husband, Bryant C. Vernon, MBA ’07, had been through the Sloan Core.

"I had already been an SO," she said. "I knew my way around, but this time, I’m the student and he’s the SO," she said.

But, that didn’t mean things were easy for Mona, Bryant, and their 13-month-old daughter Layla. "It was very, very challenging at first…but my husband had anticipated everything and he made sure I didn’t have to worry. I’m very lucky in that way, because I know it can be hard for the spouses to understand," she said.

Mona Masghati , SDM ’09, with husband Bryant C. Vernon, MBA ’07, and their daughter, Layla.
Courtesy of Mona Masghati

Mona herself understands how to adapt to new situations. She was just 5-years-old when she, her younger sister, and their parents fled Iran after the war with Iraq began in 1980.

The family moved to Munich and later settled in Paris. Mona developed a passion for science at a young age and her parents provided a supportive, low-pressure environment that resulted in her excelling in school. Although Mona was accepted into a top science university and the number one literature school in France, she chose to attend Tufts University instead, where she earned both a B.S. and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering.

After working briefly as an investment bank analyst, Mona returned to her engineering roots as a senior engineer and later product engineering manager at Axsun Technologies, a telecom start-up company in Billerica. In 2006, she joined Sionex Corporation, a high-tech startup in Bedford, where she was the manager of product development.

Mona is now a full-time, on-campus SDM student and she expects to graduate in the spring of 2010. "As a product development manager in an engineering organization, I wanted to understand what drove the organization in the decisions it made and what markets they were going into," she said. She was attracted to SDM because of her passion for technology and desire to acquire a systems approach to leadership. Her thesis focuses on applying system dynamics to formulate business strategies for Enterprise 2.0. She is also a research assistant at the MIT Digital Business Center.

The SDM experience for Mona has been positive and ignited some new interests for her. "One of the challenges when you come to a program like this is that you think you know what you want to do, but you get exposed to all of these new materials, so you have new ideas. I want to get into business development activities rather than engineering management, which is where I came from. That’s the beauty of school. You discover something about yourself, so in that regard, SDM has offered me the opportunity to reflect and experiment to find the right career path for me."

She’s also impressed by her SDM classmates. "The surprising part is that you really form a strong bond with your cohort. There are only 65 of us, and we all have about the same amount of work experience. The class discussions are very high quality because there are many people who have done some really exciting things," she said.

Mona was especially enthusiastic about Competitive Dynamics and Strategy – Winning in Technology Markets (15.914) taught by Henry Birdseye Weil, also her thesis advisor. "It really blew me away and gave me a new framework for looking at things. I was in the technology market for 10 years. This course gave me a foundation to create and execute winning strategies," she said. She’s also impressed with Erik Brynjolfsson’s class, The Economics of Information: Strategy, Structure, and Pricing (15.567). "When you come in without a formal business background, these are the classes that turn you into a business leader," she added.

As one of just 10 females in her SDM class, and the only female engineer when she was with Sionex, Mona is acutely aware that more women need to pursue science and engineering careers. She was a part of the Engineer Your Life ( national awareness campaign initiated by WGBH (PBS) Boston and a partnership of engineering associations, corporations, and universities. As one of the profiled female engineers, Mona responds to career inquiries from young girls all over the country.

Promoting women in engineering is not just a hobby for her. "I think it’s just visceral. I got to do what I wanted because I had the most supportive parents. Look at what happens in Iran. I was born in a country where people can’t say what they want to say. And, I still think there’s room for improving the perception of an acceptable career for a woman."

In addition to SDM, Mona is also conducting an internship for Orange France Telecom through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the Institute’s largest international program. She travels to France on school breaks and worked part-time one day a week during the summer and fall terms to complete her internship. Mona chose to participate in an internship because she wanted to experience working for a large company. It gives her the chance to look at new product strategies for the digital home.

In her free time, Mona likes painting and photography and has had several exhibits in Boston and Santa Monica, Calif. "The arts are very relaxing. You spend your time here thinking about really complex problems, and then you can go and mix colors," she laughed.

Mona’s future plans are still forming. Bryant is a principal strategic planner at Textron Defense Systems in Wilmington, and the couple is open to relocating. "My goal is to be able to transition from being an engineering manager to a business development role" she said.

Mona’s mother still lives in Paris, but her father passed away in 2006. He inspired her to continue her education at MIT. "Coming here was a no-brainer, because I knew he just would have been so proud. He really shaped me. He told me I could do anything I wanted to do."

It’s something Mona, engineer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, photographer, and painter has taken to heart and will instill in her own daughter.

Photo by Amy MacMillan