James Taylor is Assistant Vice President of Technical Services at Continental Grain Company (CGC), a 200-year-old international firm engaged in agribusiness, food, and commodities. In his position--which combines his areas of expertise, including engineering, operations, and corporate environmental affairs--Taylor acts as the communications bridge between technical and non-technical people. He currently focuses on environmental affairs, where he administers resources and support, and identifies solutions in the company’s operations and at the corporate level. As such, Taylor is involved in matters ranging from cutting-edge waste to energy projects, nutrient resource recovery, sustainability initiatives, and process safety management for highly hazardous chemicals, among others.
You have earned Executive Certificates in Management and Leadership and Technology, Operations, and Value Chain Management as well as an Advanced Certificate for Executives. How did the courses you took to earn these certificates differ? Did you have a favorite?
"I value all the programs equally, because each one delivers on the area of content where I intended to acquire new insights and skills. That said, achieving the ACE was certainly a rewarding milestone … and in a sense amalgamated my experiences and learning at MIT altogether. Each of these programs has an underlying commonality which allows a participant to transfer or build upon the learning and experiences gained in one program and apply it to any other, which ultimately translates to quickly establishing a very sound learning foundation throughout the programs overall. The structure and variety of the MIT Sloan Executive Ed program speaks well for the program staff and professors who collaborated to develop these programs and continue to refine them."
"If pressed to select one favorite course, I would say Business Dynamics: MIT's Approach to Diagnosing and Solving Complex Business Problems, with Professors John Sterman and Nelson Repenning, stood out for me personally. The course generated a paradigm shift in my approach and ability to assess, attack, and explain difficult multifaceted problems and then reduce them all into a simple narrative for others to easily decipher and understand. I've taken two classes where Professor John Sterman taught directly … he supplied access to the knowledge and skill sets which ignited a profound desire in me to go beyond any usual process of analyzing intricate problems and instilled a greater level of confidence in my competency to do so."
What made you choose MIT Sloan Executive Education?
"The range of courses along with the flexibility to customize a learning experience tailored to one's own needs and schedule was very attractive--especially when one considers embarking upon such an experience among life's other demands of work, business travel, and family. Other pertinent factors were most certainly MIT’s well regarded reputation as an institution with a long history on how to translate deep research into tangible results especially through its credo of 'learning by doing,' its exceptional caliber of teaching staff, and the diverse range of international professionals who attend the programs."
What key benefits did you take away from the experience?
"Prior to starting at MIT Sloan, I felt there were areas to gain additional acumen in the ongoing development of my education, work, and personal endeavors to propel me forward and, in some respect, to also recharge the vision and drive I felt in earlier stages of my career. MIT opened new doors and perspectives for me on all these fronts and rejuvenated my creative drive to innovate within and beyond my role at my company, as well as at a personal level. As an executive who frequently travels domestically and internationally, carrying forth in one’s business environment to apply what has been gained by an MIT experience tends to be very well received and taken with a high degree of respect from a global assortment of colleagues and personal acquaintances."
Were you able to connect and network with other professionals during the sessions? If so, was that beneficial?
"Connecting and networking with other professionals in the MIT Sloan programs has been a truly rewarding and enduring aspect of the program. It is surprising how, even with short classes, you have the opportunity to form authentic connections with some classmates that continue beyond the brief time you have together at MIT. For example, I've had the opportunity to link former classmates with friends and business associates for mutual benefit. With others, various classmates from around the world have continued to keep in touch. In fact, I'm having cocktails and dinner this month with one classmate from a course I took almost three years ago. As so many program participants are from different professions and countries, it is unlikely, even with being very well traveled abroad, that under the usual circumstances of life I would have had an opportunity to create genuine, lasting bonds with so many diverse, high caliber, and engaging professionals in such a short period of time."
Do you have any advice that you would like to share with future participants?
"Program participants have the opportunity to be in the midst of world-class faculty, as well as many individual classmates who are or may become leading global professionals. Take advantage of this tremendous occasion to fully engage with them as much as possible--talk, listen, question, challenge, and relish the entire experience.
The faculty is tremendously open and approachable … and it's more than likely any of your classmates will be thrilled that you approached them to open a conversation. Anyone can sit silently in a classroom and simply absorb what is being said or simulated, but those who actively participate in passionate discussions with the faculty and their classmates will find a far richer, rewarding, and memorable experience that will pay dividends long after leaving an MIT course or program.
Definitely read and do all the pre-assigned course materials well before you get there, as it does make a difference in how much you personally gain from your time in class, and your acumen to advance the class participation and discussions."
How have you applied what you learned back at the workplace?
"What I gained from the courses, the professors, and my various classmates had a profound effect and has become naturally ingrained as second nature to me in my professional work and to a degree, even in my personal disposition. For example, after completing Fundamentals of Finance for the Technical Executive and also Strategic Cost Analysis for Managers, I was able to better engage with and win the support of my financial colleagues in business discussions because my skills and understanding improved dramatically on how I could best structure a conversation which was pertinent to their thinking, and still remain relevant to the needs of the company's operations departments.
Another example: after taking Business Dynamics: MIT's Approach to Diagnosing and Solving Complex Business Problems, I gave a one-hour talk to management on a subject that had met with disagreement between the Loss Prevention Department and Management for several years. I decided to use the modeling techniques learned in class to help untangle the issues being debated--the model pointed out the potential negative consequences of remaining on their historic course. Within thirty minutes, we had reached a resolution, which previously had been argued many times over. As my last example, the knowledge and experiences I gained after completing both Systematic Innovation of Products, Process, and Services and Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain, provided me with critical skills and confidence to develop new products, processes, and services in my work and personal endeavors."
Please summarize your experiences at MIT Sloan.
"The MIT Sloan Executive Education program delivers on experiences, knowledge transfer, opportunities, and contacts that you carry beyond the classroom. I began the program not with the sole intention of achieving a particular certificate let alone an ACE, but rather to build my expertise and credibility in my professional endeavors with some select classes MIT Sloan offered. What I found was that the more I came back to MIT, the more rapidly these things began to cultivate into something more profound and expressly positive. Though I achieved completion of my ACE, I'm looking forward to returning to MIT Sloan this year for additional classes to continue to disrupt my own mental model."