Kevin McFarlane has always been a tech guy — in fact, his depth of knowledge about the various systems and products offered by PR Newswire is how, in January, he found himself promoted to director of technology distribution services at the New York City-based company.
McFarlane, who earned a master’s in Information Systems from Stevens in 2007, has been with PR Newswire — which compiles news items from countless sources and formats and distributes them through media channels like Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Reuters — for a decade, and as he began taking on more responsibility with the company, he wanted to improve his management skills, too, to help him further distinguish himself on the job.
“In my career, I’ve been dealing mostly with technology, but when you get to this management level — and to continue growing — you need to understand how the business works, how my role affects the bottom line,” he said. “As you get higher in the ranks, your breadth of understanding is key. I rely every day on my base of technology skills, but I need to understand how the business functions as a whole — like finance, for instance. If I want to invest in more expensive technology, I need to be able to explain the ROI to the finance team, show the advantage to our marketing team, and so on.”
The Stevens MBA is designed to emphasize this blend of skills managers need to excel in an increasingly complex business environment. Students choose one of five concentrations, in areas like Information Systems, Business Intelligence & Analytics, or Marketing, and take classes that challenge them to think critically about innovation, technology integration, and the use of analytics in framing problems and developing strategies.
“Today’s manager works in an increasingly complex business environment in which strategic decisions have to be made on more than just gut feeling,” said Brian Rothschild, director of graduate management programs at the School of Business. “The Stevens MBA emphasizes the role data and analytics play in asking better questions and making smarter decisions to guide the enterprise.”
Unlocking management potential
McFarlane said his Stevens experiences have played a crucial role in unlocking his management potential. The Information Systems graduate degree puts special emphasis on teaching students to adopt an end-to-end view of technology in the business, and to think critically about how emerging technologies can create opportunity within established business processes.
At a place like PR Newswire, which is a business heavily driven by technology, that sort of thinking is vital for a manager, McFarlane said.
“Our content feeds about 1,300 sites directly, and my team is responsible for the software that handles releases in various formats for different media — we handle integration with product teams and serve as the production point of reference for our media clients,” he said. And each of those 1,300 sites has an exponential effect in different businesses, extending his team’s work to 4,500 different locations, primarily in the United States but also around the world, particularly China.
“If you want to grow, you need a grasp of finance and business operations, and how analytics fits into those roles. That's what I learned at Stevens.”
Thanks to his Stevens MBA, McFarlane said his abilities to manage projects, plan strategically and think analytically are making a real difference on how he approaches his job. Of particular use, he said, was his capstone course — a wide-ranging simulation where students must use their education to ask questions, frame problems, identify opportunities and react to changing conditions.
“I loved the complexity of it, and the fun of it — it was very addictive,” he said. “It hones your mental capacity to think strategically — you have to think about the R&D, marketing, promotion, sales, finances, quality control, management and HR, even labor negotiations — you make the wrong decisions, you wind up with a labor strike and lose production time. It seems overwhelming, like a lot of management challenges, but it really showed me just how much I learned during my classes.”
And while his experience with the capstone has been most pronounced, McFarlane said the MBA program’s emphasis on working analytically resonated particularly strongly with his technology-driven background — and, he said, that analytical flavor “resonated with my Information Systems courses. If you want to grow, you need a grasp of finance and business operations, and how analytics fits into those roles. That’s what I learned at Stevens.”