In his work at B&G Foods, Inc. (B&G), Chris Colla, the company’s CIO, is acutely aware of how disruptive technology has been in constantly reshaping the business landscape.
That’s what brought him back to the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology.
“Data and technology are the drivers of change in many companies today,” said Colla, also vice president for IT at his company. “Data has exploded over the last 10 years, and the ability to take that data and process it into information that is useful to executive decision-makers is a powerful mechanism for change.”
Colla completed his Stevens MBA in 2019. It’s his second graduate degree from the School of Business; he earned a master’s in Information Systems in 2007 and also has a graduate certificate in Business Process Management and Supply Chain Electives.
There was never any question of where he wanted to go to get his MBA.
“Stevens is the leader in information management and business analytics,” Colla said. “Stevens has an incredible mix of coursework that prepares all students — whether you have no experience or are in the C-suite — to lead amid change and make better decisions through technology and analytics.”
In his role with B&G, Colla is working to deploy technologies to align the company’s IT and business strategies. The chief information officer role has evolved from a highly technical discipline to an office that leads efforts to improve strategy and decision-making across the enterprise through constant assessment of technology’s ability to introduce greater efficiency to business processes.
In Colla’s case, that means making important business and technology recommendations directly to leadership.
“Because of my interactions with the executive leadership team at my company, I wanted to learn more about operations, finance and supply-chain management, to help me create more value in my role,” Colla said, adding that the flexibility his hybrid MBA — letting him take classes either on campus or online — allowed him to balance his studies with his busy professional and personal life.
A future-oriented MBA
The Stevens MBA presents concepts in management from the lens of a future-oriented leader who knows technology is an essential resource for getting the job done. Colla worked with his academic advisor, Brian Rothschild, to take more in-depth courses in business analytics with Dr. Alkis Vazacopoulos, an expert in analytics and operations who has extensive industry consulting experience.
“His courses gave me new perspective on ways data can be used to make decisions that are both predictive and scientific,” Colla said, listing the Excel Analysis ToolPak, Tableau, RapidMiner and Oracle Analytics Cloud as some of the data-mining and visualization tools he learned at Stevens.
Dr. Vazacopoulos called Colla a strong student who took those lessons and found ways to use visualization techniques to more effectively present recommendations and results to management.
In the Business Analytics: Data, Models and Decisions course he teaches, “we emphasize how to use visualization, optimization and machine-learning tools to solve real problems in marketing optimization, experimental design, churn optimization and so on,” Dr. Vazacopoulos said. “Beyond his obvious attention toward working to understand analytics concepts and software tools, he spent time out of class watching YouTube software tutorial videos to find further information and expand his knowledge. This is still a new course; his feedback will help me as I continue to make adjustments to keep it on the cutting edge.”
Staying on the cutting edge is a priority across the School of Business, which is one of the reasons Colla ended up here in the first place. The school was recommended to him by his good friend and neighbor, then an executive at a manufacturing corporation, who stressed the reputation of Stevens as a world-class institution.
Now, nearly 15 years since his first class here, Colla is the one championing Stevens. To say he is a proud alumnus doesn’t quite do it justice — he wore a gray suit and crimson tie, the university’s colors, to commencement.
“The Stevens MBA is perfectly well rounded — the right amount of business and the right amount of technology,” Colla said. “My courses taught me so many useful techniques and gave me a good understanding of the different frameworks out there. I’m using lessons from my Stevens degrees every day.”