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MIT Sloan's Advanced Certificate transformed this executive’s non-traditional career path

MIT Sloan Ace Holder Robbie Ingram

To say that Robbie Ingram’s route to the MIT Sloan Advanced Certificate for Executives in Management, Innovation, & Technology (ACE), was circuitous is an understatement at best. During his journey, Ingram discovered many things, not the least of which was the importance of an advanced certificate—which he ultimately earned through MIT Sloan Executive Education programs.

The innovation guru—who is currently Director of the University of Southern Mississippi Innovation and Commercialization Park and Accelerator, as well as CEO of the nonprofit Mississippi Enterprise for Technology at NASA Stennis Space Center—began his journey 20-plus years ago fueled by wanderlust and a wish to gather knowledge in many different fields.

In his early twenties, Ingram fully embraced a desire to see the world by traveling cross country for five years. His non-traditional career path included stops in Santa Rosa, CA; Missoula, MT; and Chapel Hill, NC; as well as employment as an assistant to a nationally-known artist, a landscaper, and a fund-raiser for a national nonprofit organization.

Returning to his hometown in 1997, Ingram decided to enroll at Southwest Mississippi Community College, which he supplemented with a job in grounds maintenance at a local golf course. Ingram admits that although at the time his intellectual capacity was high, his academic discipline was low, and he found himself struggling to stay focused on the college curriculum. After consulting with his academic advisor, Ingram discovered he had a knack for the trades—electrical, mechanics, plumbing, welding—as well as a deep interest in the fields of geology, hydrology, and engineering. Along with this interest came new found motivation, which culminated in Associate of Science in Well Construction Technology and Associate of Arts in General Education degrees, and, soon after, a job at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

European stint helps Ingram hone his skill sets
Several years later, Ingram was bitten by the travel bug once again. However, this time, more distant shores beckoned. While abroad, Ingram connected with an entrepreneur who had recently purchased a chateau in France’s Loire Valley and had founded a nonprofit organization promoting international education, cultural tourism, and economic development in the country.

“He needed eyes and ears on the ground, and I had the diverse technical and maintenance skills that could help insure his investment was protected,” says Ingram, who was delighted to have a base from which to explore Europe. Ingram spent the next ten years as Property Manager and then Managing Director of the French holding company and, as such, was responsible for the oversight of four French subsidiary enterprises, as well as the nonprofit organization. In fact, two of the subsidiaries—a boutique hotel and an import/export operation—were founded under Ingram’s direction. However, despite the success of these various ventures, all were impacted by the Great Recession resulting from the financial crisis of 2007, causing Ingram to rethink his options.

Return state-side prompts need for advanced education
In 2010, he decided to return to the states and accepted an operations position at the University of Southern Mississippi’s state-of-the-art Innovation and Commercialization Accelerator facility, which included office, laboratory, and pilot manufacturing space. Operation of the advanced mechanical, electrical, and facility management systems was challenging because the facility was plagued with a variety of problems lingering from its recent construction. Ingram was brought in to rectify the situation and within a year had put procedures in place to correct the outstanding issues.

Through his efforts, he was also able to implement an energy management program that reduced consumption by 35% and costs by over $115,000 annually. In addition, the facilities manager found time to pursue his bachelor’s degree. The attainment of his degree coincided with a revamp of the operating structure of the facility, and Ingram was promoted to Accelerator Manager, taking over all business and operational aspects of the initiative. While he was pleased with the promotion, Ingram felt the need for additional educational support.

“I knew I needed to fill some gaps in my knowledge and capabilities, especially in the areas of advanced technology development and innovation, so I began researching opportunities for professional development. I discovered the MIT Sloan Executive Education program and decided to apply.”

ACE increases bandwidth and provides key collaborative opportunities
Ingram says the MIT Sloan ACE was the answer, allowing him to develop the skills and gain the experience he needed to excel in his role at The Accelerator, pick up the responsibility of Director of The Innovation Park, and take on the position of CEO at the nonprofit MS Enterprise for Technology. Ingram, who earned an ACE in October 2017, says what he found particularly gratifying about the program was its focus on science-based management and processes. Ingram states, “The efficiency I was able to build into business and operational processes increased my bandwidth and allowed me to advance from running a single line of business to overseeing multiple lines of business in two organizations simultaneously.”

Another plus of the ACE, says Ingram, was the ability to connect with like-minded executives. During the program, he collaborated with participants from diverse industries, such as Airbus, Johnson Controls, and LinkedIn, as well as MIT Sloan faculty and industry experts. In addition, Ingram also found the hands-on, problem-solving aspects that were part of the curriculum to be very beneficial. “MIT’s method of teaching theory, and then immediately putting that theory into action by means of in-class simulations, determinately instills both the knowledge and application of the theory into participants’ skill sets.”

From the very first course he took, Ingram says he has found ways to apply what he learned, “On several occasions, I actually walked out of class having implemented a solution to a problem, or developed a new process for an issue I was addressing at work.”

Although his journey may have resembled a long and winding road, Ingram says it’s been worth every twist and turn. What began as an adventure in learning has morphed into a career that has satisfied both his professional and personal goals. “When I first researched executive education at MIT, I did so with the goal of shoring-up my knowledge base. What I received from the MIT Sloan ACE program is an entirely transformed framework of skill sets that have helped me catapult my career.”

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