Tom O’Brien comes from a family of lawyers. Growing up, it’s the only world he ever knew. Law school was always on the cards. But when he decided to pursue a post-graduate degree, he knew he wanted to widen his options.
A native Pennsylvanian, Tom enrolled in the JD-MBA dual degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, studying his MBA at the Fox School of Business.
Tom’s MBA experience whetted his appetite for a career in business. He deep-dived into financial analysis in Fox’s Capital Markets Room. He worked on a five-month consulting project for Comcast. And he took up a summer MBA internship in the financial services team at IBM in New York.
At the end of the internship, he was offered a full-time job, landing a place on IBM’s prestigious sales-training Summit Program, working with IBM’s industrial clients.
Today, Tom’s an IBM client executive, representing IBM for 12 large industrial sector clients—in chemicals, steel manufacturing, and electronics—at the forefront of Industry 4.0. His job is to leverage IBM’s technology—working with the hottest technologies like big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and the cloud—to help his clients achieve their goals.
Less than a year after completing his MBA at Fox School of Business, BusinessBecause caught up with Tom to find out more.
What are the hottest IBM technologies that your industrial clients are after?
My clients have millions and millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, so to maximize the utilization of that equipment and avoid downtime in a factory is really important. Analytics is a big one. The companies that are best at leveraging data are going to be the most successful in their industries. We also see connected devices—the Internet of Things (IoT).
The cloud environment is huge too. Whatever allows you to operate more efficiently is an advantage. Cloud computing allows you to be more flexible and innovate more quickly.
Say you wanted to develop a new analytics software that would allow you to see a new market to enter. If it’s a cloud-based tool, you don’t need to buy a bunch of servers and bring a bunch of new people in to install it. To access it, you only need an internet connection.
What advice do you have for MBAs applying for jobs at IBM?
IBM is very proud of its longevity. If you look back at IBM’s competitors in the 1960s, the 1970s or ‘80s, we’re still around and they’re not. Understanding the direction in which the company is going, and being excited about IBM’s transformation, is important.
How are you applying your MBA learnings in your current role?
I need to maintain a 360-degree view for my clients. At Fox, by making us immerse ourselves in finance, marketing, strategy, operations—every aspect of business—we got that 360-degree view.
Plus, big companies aren’t making buying decisions based on emotions. Everything is based on financial analysis; payback period; return on investment. Most of my electives at Fox were in finance and we learned what people in corporate finance roles look at to decide whether or not make an investment.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I didn’t feel like a liberal arts background was going to provide me the career growth I wanted. I knew that if I wanted to have a long and successful career, I’d be at a disadvantage if I didn’t have a formal education in business.
I wanted to have a stronger grounding in finance and accounting and, unlike a law degree which really narrows your options, I knew an MBA would afford the opportunity to work in a variety of industries.
What stands out from your MBA experience at Fox?
In our first-year finance classes, we had the chairman of the entire department, Ronald Anderson, teaching us—he helped us see the connection between the theory and the practical application across industries.
In the Capital Markets Room—a mock trading room and simulation lab—we had all the tools we needed to get comfortable with financial analysis, like data from Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters and programs like Microsoft Power BI.
Then, on a consulting project working for Comcast, we did a call center efficiency optimization project and the expectations were really high—I saw first-hand the kind of work required by MBA graduates. For the job at IBM, Fox School of Business was able to put me in touch with people in the tech sector—alumni at Oracle and SAP—who helped prepare me for the interview process.