After more than 20 years of industry experience in business analytics — working for the likes of 3M, Intel Corp. and United Health Group — and a litany of teaching gigs, Vivek Ajmani, Ph.D., has settled down at Poole College of Management as a teaching assistant professor in the business management department.
Beginning this semester (spring 2020), Ajmani teaches three sections of BUS 351: Predictive Analytics for Business, and he credits his industry experience for informing everything he does, especially teaching.
“I never use a textbook,” he said “I don’t have a need for those textbook examples or problems. … Instead of going through a textbook and … replicating the examples that they have, I [have] examples from my work experience.”
That real-world, problem-solving mindset comes from his days as a statistical model-builder and process controller for the who’s-who of American corporate powerhouses.
“Before the term big data was formed, before data science was coined as a phrase, before even the word ‘analytics’ was used or business intelligence, … we did all that at 3M,” Ajmani said. “3M was all about using foundational statistical methods to optimize products and processes. And so I spent a lot of time in manufacturing — think about statistical process control, designed experiments.”
Ajmani was also honing his teaching skills through employee training and management. “There was a lot of teaching [and] training done at both the C-suite level as well as in the trenches with engineers and technicians and even customers,” he said.
He went on to perform training in statistical methods, designed experiments and process improvement at Intel and General Mills before moving into the finance and health care industries, in which he worked for 13 years.
Now, as a teaching assistant professor, all of that industry experience has clarified what he wants his students to retain: “the correct way of approaching a problem,” he said.
“What I want them to focus on is correct analysis methods, correct interpretation … the correct way to write a managerial report, the correct way to create visualizations,” Ajmani said.
Above all, though, he wants his students to be able to discern the best possible way to solve a problem.
“Imagine graduating with a toolbox full of skills that you’ve gotten through your classes or internships,” he said. “What you should always think about is using the simplest possible tool to get the job done.”
When the position at Poole College came up, Ajmani used his knowledge of the university to make his decision.
“When you think about the agricultural applications of statistics, engineering application of statistics, there were two schools, NC State and Iowa State,” he said. “Statistics, the applied stats, was really born at NC State.”
The types of students and programs that the university provides also played a role in convincing him to teach here.
“NC State to me is a university that prepares its students to hit the ground running,” Ajmani said. “The history over here is unbelievable.”