Eric and his #1 Team - Shelley Anand (Wellesley ’08) and Narayan.
Last August, Eric Erzinger started grad school at Georgia Institute of Technology, Scheller College of Business in pursuit of an MBA. Up until May, he had been working for Southern States, LLC. We got the chance to catch up with him recently, and he told us about his work experience, what grad school has been like and his advice for others who want to attend grad school.
Do you have any advice for Oliners seeking to attend grad school?
Do well at Olin. My GPA was the weakest part of my application. I think that was why I got rejected from some schools. Follow the same process that got you into Olin: study hard for entrance exams, have other people review your essays and applications, get your applications done early. Also, stay in touch with professors - they can provide great recommendation letters.
Tell us more about getting your MBA.
I left my job last May, and started grad school in the fall. I'm currently in my second semester of the full-time MBA program at Georgia Tech. I've really enjoyed learning about aspects of business that I haven't had a lot of previous exposure to, like analytics and finance. In fact, I'll be interning at Georgia-Pacific this summer in their finance group - something I never would've expected when I graduated from Olin!
What did you do at Southern States?
Since graduating, I've only worked at one company: Southern States, LLC. I worked in a small start-up group within the larger company. That was a great way to get most of the benefits of scratching the entrepreneurial itch without the accompanying stress of bootstrapping or fundraising. Southern States, LLC is a 100-year-old manufacturing company based in Hampton, GA. The legacy product line is a set of high-voltage (38 kV to 1,000 kV) "disconnect switches" for electric utilities. The disconnect switches are used to electrically isolate different parts of a substation or transmission lines. The success of these legacy products have allowed Southern States to create innovative products in other aspects of the electric utility industry. So far, the most successful new product line is a set of "power switchers" that interrupt normal power flow and fault conditions. (These are rated to interrupt 25 kA at 345 kV... that's a lot of power). I worked in the newest division, where we developed and applied new sensor, communication, and automation/control technology for electric utility grid operators.
What was involved in a typical day of work?
By working in a new business venture, I could be doing a lot of different stuff in any given day... which I loved. I've traveled to 50ish substations and wind farms around the country to install equipment. I had a sales trip where I met with utility engineers in San Diego, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle on consecutive days to talk about their operational problems and how Southern States could provide solutions. I designed and built a 15 kV, 10 kA, 15 kHz RLC circuit to test our product for interference withstand... and convinced our division to outsource similar testing in the future. I performed direct and secondary market research to guide product development. I visited Beijing to establish a working relationship with a complementary business partner. These were opportunities that would have been difficult to replicate without the corporate backing of a successful company.
What do you feel you have done that's innovative?
Much of the technology in the utility industry is based on designs that date back 75+ years. By applying technology advances from other industries, particularly communications and computing, we were helping to make the grid more reliable, more efficient, and safer. I also started a mini-trend of stand-up desks at Southern States.
How have you made a difference in the world since leaving Olin?
The electric utility sector emits more greenhouse gasses than any other sector in the US. By applying new technology and improving electric utilities, however slight my individual contribution may have been in such a vast industry, I have made a difference in the world. On a personal level, I also took three months to take care of my son, Narayan, under the Family Medical Leave Act, which prompted Southern States to revise its parental leave policy to give more time to new parents, particularly for new fathers.
How did your time at Olin prepare you for the real world? Looking back, how did Olin help you get to where you are today?
Olin prepared me by giving me exposure to a broad variety of engineering and business topics. That understanding of engineering and technical information is invaluable in making better business decisions.
Do you have time for fun? What do you like to do?
I like to read; lately, I’ve been on a non-fiction kick. Last summer, I read the first volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. Then I read “Sons of Witchita” by Daniel Schulman; a biography of the billionaire Koch family. I recently read “Empire of Cotton” by Sven Beckert. But the most fun I have is when my wife Shelly Anand (Wellesley ‘08) and I chase our 2 year old around the house until he starts giggling uncontrollably. That is the best!
Advice for current students?
Get outside of Olin and meet people. Boston is such a unique place with so many smart people working on so many important things. Being affiliated with Olin gives you access to, and credibility with, a lot of people. You also can get away with more as a student than you can as a real person, so take advantage of that and have fun!