Tauber Alum Embraces the Art of Entrepreneurship
Since her days at U-M’s Tauber Institute, Caroline Conway (MBA '08) has been leading successful teams for some of the best known corporations around the world, including Walmart, Alcoa, Steelcase, and John Deere. Recently she took the plunge into entrepreneurship, and founded her own unique endeavor known as Control Enter. Based in Dublin, Ireland with locations in India and the United States, Control Enter is a consulting firm that combines scientific, strategic, and design techniques to deliver results at all levels of analytical maturity. Visit Caroline’s site at www.controlentergroup.com for more details.
Q: Starting a new company... a lifelong dream of yours? What has been the most eye-opening?
A: One of my aspirations has always been to invent something from the ground up that is truly unique in the marketplace. I had the opportunity to go part of the way there at Walmart by starting an internal consulting team that used a blend of industrial engineering and analytics to solve a wide variety of business problems in new ways. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the diverse responsibilities of managing this group from strategy to business development to talent development, beyond the inventive problem solving aspects of the work. As I was thinking about my next big move, I saw the opportunity to blend this with many of my past experiences in design, strategy, and systems thinking, and apply it to a broader range of business problems in multiple industries. So this in combination with my longstanding desire to start a new company gave me the impetus to take the leap.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge?
A: The biggest challenge for me was making the decision to dive into entrepreneurship after a successful career in the corporate environment. At first it's a bit daunting to go out on your own, but I’ve found over the past six months that it’s possible to figure things out just like you would with any new job. And the excitement of pursuing a vision as well as the drive to make it a success makes it an enjoyable and rewarding process.
Q: How did your Tauber experience shape the professional that you are now?
A: My Tauber experience had a huge influence on what I’ve done since graduating and what I’m doing today. On a practical level, the in-depth skills the program offered in operations strategy and management have been very important as I’ve worked on a range of business problems including labor planning, process improvement, supply chain productivity, and various forecasting and optimization efforts to grow profits and reduce costs. In a more general sense, the program’s cross-functional philosophy has greatly influenced my approach to solving problems. The opportunity to partner between business and industrial engineering showed me the value of blending expertise, and this is a core part of my business today where we’re blending business, engineering, design and analytics as a comprehensive problem solving skill set.
Q: What advice would you give to current or future Tauber students?
A: Take a very open view of the opportunities that present themselves and don’t necessarily treat your career as a linear path. Sometimes you won’t get your first choice of what to work on, or you will be presented with an opportunity that doesn’t have an obvious connection to your past experience. But any new experience presents a valuable learning opportunity, and even if the dots don’t connect in an obvious way at the time, you will find they can connect in really interesting ways later on in your career. While it’s possible to have a very successful career pursuing one industry or area of expertise, companies also highly value people with cross-functional experience who can manage the operational complexity and highly dynamic change that face most businesses today.
Q: What would fellow alums be surprised to know about you?
A: I love art and design, which some may see as the complete opposite of engineering and business. But I see a lot of connections between the process of creating a piece of art and innovating. You work with the materials you have at hand, which have their own inherent qualities that drive the outcome, but you shape them in a way to come up with something new. The artmaking and design approach has actually shown up as an opportunity in my work many times, and I believe the mindset is a very valuable one when trying to solve new business problems.