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Countdown to Commencement: Declan Nishiyama

After graduation, Declan will return to Amazon’s Seattle office as the Senior Product Manager, Technical Products.

After graduation, Declan will return to Amazon’s Seattle office as the Senior Product Manager, Technical Products.

As part of our Countdown to Commencement series, we spent some time with a few soon-to-be graduates from our undergraduate and MBA programs to learn about their backgrounds, why they chose Scheller College, and what they plan to do with their degrees after Spring 2018 Commencement.

Meet Declan Nishiyama. Declan is from Ashland, Kentucky and earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina State University. He describes himself as a former Chemical Engineer turned Technical Product Manager for cloud computing at Amazon Web Services. “While engineering provided me with analytical skills, my MBA allows me to take that to the next level to make balanced decisions for the entire business,” notes Declan.

As a hobby, Declan makes unique ice cream flavors. In fact, his classmate liked one batch of Captain Crunch ice cream so much that it brought her to tears! Before enrolling at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in 2016, Declan worked as a Business Analyst at ExxonMobil in Beaumont, Texas. He interned at Amazon Web Services in Seattle, Washington, the summer of 2017 and he will return to Amazon’s Seattle office as the Senior Product Manager, Technical Products post-graduation. Declan was recently recognized in Poets & Quants 2018 Best and Brightest MBAs.

For my TI:GER project, I worked with a College of Computing Ph.D. student on autonomous vehicle technology. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that Scheller College is uniquely positioned to provide.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?
I am a part of Scheller College’s Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) Program, and I am most proud of the success my team achieved in the Indus Entrepreneur Business Plan Competition. Through TI:GER, I’ve teamed with a Georgia Tech Ph.D. student and Emory law students to commercialize the Ph.D. student’s research on autonomous vehicles. His research replaces decade-old technology at the core of today’s self-driving cars and will greatly increase the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles by facilitating faster calculations of cars’ projected trajectories.

In the Indus competition we presented our business plan, placed 1st in the semifinals, and won $1,500 in the finals. While the funding was a nice reward, the lessons we learned and the feedback from the judges and mentors were even more valuable. Leveraging that feedback, we revised our plan and applied for a National Science Foundation I-Corps grant. We were awarded a $50K grant and gained valuable insights into the industry by conducting in-person customer discovery interviews. The insights from this research helped drive our next steps, which included a complete revamp of our business model to focus on applying our technology to the trucking industry. Recently, we received a Georgia Research Alliance grant for $50K to simulate our technology in new vehicles to further validate its effectiveness.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
At ExxonMobil, I am most proud of the work I did to improve the safety of my coworkers. Leading a team of eight engineers and operators at the manufacturing plant, I identified risks related to H2S, a deadly gas. We scoured the facility drawings and diagrams and performed safe, in-person examinations to understand all potential exposure points. We implemented several solutions to ensure that exposure to the gas would be impossible. For this initiative, the site leadership selected me for a 212° award, which recognizes employees who go above and beyond the normal call of duty and demonstrate an “extra degree” of effort.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?
That has to be Professor Charles Mulford. It would be hard to pick anyone else, since he’s won the Core Professor of the Year award 11 times and Elective Professor of the Year award five times. He stands out because he is able to do the unthinkable: he makes accounting fun and interesting for everyone. He also shares amazing advice for valuing micro-cap and nano-cap companies, which can be much trickier than valuation of small- and mid-cap companies. I was able to incorporate these techniques in our TI:GER business plan; I’d like to think that’s part of what helped us win so many awards and attain strong funding.  

What was your favorite MBA Course, and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?
I loved Consumer Behavior. We base so many decisions on the theory that people act rationally, but that’s absolutely not the case! People do crazy things all the time, like basing our price estimates on the first values we hear or overvaluing things we own. This class was a great way to understand those quirks of human psychology and to leverage that knowledge into better business decisions.

Why did you choose the Scheller College of Business?
I chose Scheller College because of the unique TI:GER program. Many amazing companies have come out of the program, including LymphaTech, which recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight Lymphatic Filariasis all over the world.

For my TI:GER project, I worked with a Ph.D. student from the College of Computing focused on replacing old technology in autonomous vehicles. Through the TI:GER program, I’ve had the opportunity to commercialize this research by developing a business plan to bring this project to fruition. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that Scheller College is uniquely positioned to provide.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into Scheller College’s MBA program?
Get to know us! Talk with current students or come in for a class visit. We have a smaller than average class size and that really allows us to build a strong community. 

What is the biggest myth about Scheller College?
There is a myth that the MBA at Scheller College is only for people with STEM backgrounds. That is totally not true. So many of my classmates come from outside STEM. Some were former teachers and even singers! The curriculum was developed to help people become more versed in the effect of technology on business, a critical component for success in today’s and tomorrow’s business environment. STEM is not a prerequisite–you’ll learn what you need here, and more. 

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…”
Caught up on all the TV shows and movies in my Netflix queue, but working in an industry that didn’t fulfill me.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?
I would like to be remembered as the guy who was a good friend and wasn’t afraid to be embarrassed.

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