Forge your own path: a conversation with Joann Michalik

Q. Tell us about your role. What approach do you take to helping businesses deploy advanced technologies and process improvements?

As Smart Building Practice Co-Leader, I need to be on the forefront of the industry. The role is a combination of leading a team of industry leaders and practitioners while creating the next generation of offerings for clients. At Deloitte, we try to be at the forefront of an issue, so gathering insights from our team, and developing the solution that will bring value to our clients is key. But consulting is more than the next solution – it is about trust in your service provider. My approach is to build relationships and trust over time by bringing the best of the firm, delivering value, and truly partnering with clients.

Last year I had the honor of interviewing over 12 CTOs and visiting 10 Department of Energy National Labs for a survey about “Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing.” This study highlighted what was working and not working in U.S. Manufacturing. The thought leadership provides value to my clients, well beyond any assignment. Instead of coming to me with an assignment, my clients now came to me for insights which led to assignments they had not considered.

The insights developed through these research efforts help business leaders ascertain advanced technologies critical to future competitiveness, and demonstrate the benefits of deploying such technologies. The insights can be used for businesses to see where they are on the maturity curve relative to others and to consider adoption and implementation of enabling technologies that make the most sense for the organization.


Q. What advice do you have for engineers who want to grow into a leadership role in business?

Engineers are particularly good at learning something new or experimenting with a new idea. The skills they need are people skills. One of the best things my mother told me as I went off to engineering school was to find time for “fun.” She was telling me there was more to life than what is found in books.

Leadership is built with the help of others. Your network and your ability to learn will see you through as long as you are willing to push yourself forward. You make mistakes, but that is OK – just don’t make the same mistake twice.

The rate of change is rapidly increasing and jobs will be changing. Your path to leadership is not the path I took, but the one you craft. Build a team. Implement a project. Ride each wave; grab the next wave and ride that one. Just don’t give up learning and trying new things.

Q. Your first job out of college was at General Electric. Tell us about your eleven years there, and what it was like starting out your engineering career at a renowned American company.

When I joined GE, it was the time before Jack Welch (Reggie Jones was CEO). GE and manufacturing were very different. Manufacturing was still a hot spot to grow a career and GE, with a history back to [Thomas] Edison, was the place to be. I don’t remember the percentages of women in manufacturing, but let’s just say it was not common, but I loved it from the start.

I started in the Manufacturing Management Program (MMP) – which was a two-year program for engineers to learn all about manufacturing and be ready to lead. Every six months I got a new job – first production control, then shop supervisor, maintenance engineer, and a raw steel buyer. I worked in the semiconductors, steam turbine & generator, and aerospace instruments businesses. Once I graduated from the MMP Program, I held many more assignments, including working in sales, plant consolidation, and as beta site manager for flow manufacturing (Lean Six Sigma). This rapid succession of new assignments, training, and businesses, allowed me to try new things, take risks in a relatively protected environment and grow.

Q. It appears you’ve had an interest and aptitude for engineering from a young age. As a high school recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and later as a graduate of the U.S.’ oldest technological university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whom or what do you credit for prompting your interest in STEM?

I credit my family. We were always fixing things, because we had to. I became very hands-on. Math was just fun. I became so good at math, I would often get to an answer without really thinking about it – it just came to me. (I can’t do that now –too many calculators!) But the turning point was my high school physics teacher, Dr. Eaton. Dr. Eaton, had found teaching after a career in industry as a chemical engineer. He made physics fun, saying, “You have to live physics.” He took an interest in me and suggested I consider engineering. At the time, I did not know what engineering was, and my family had less of a clue, but after winning the Rensselaer Medal, I decided to take a look at engineering –and never looked back.

Q. Anything else you’d like us to know?

I highly recommend working with people you like to be around. I am proud of the workplace accomplishments of Deloitte – which are many – but the best part is to be happy working with this team of talented, hard-working, caring and inclusive folks. The days fly by with new challenges and fun problems to solve.

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