For engineers, and the teams who manage, market and deliver their products, technical competence is a must. But for many of those senior staffers at headquarters — including Karen Brock Amoah, VP of sales & marketing at innovative thermoplastics manufacturer SEKISUI SPI — both understanding the detail and being able to explain it to a non-specialist audience are key.
“Engineering teaches you how to analyze,” Brock Amoah says. “No matter what kind of engineering, you’re problem solving to make things better.”
Brock Amoah uses her solid engineering background on a daily basis, she explains. “I work with all our customer-facing teams, including customer service, marketing and communications, designLab, technical services, R&D, and also collaborate with our engineering services group and production.”
Summing up, Brock Amoah says, “There’s a lot of technology, science, and engineering required to manufacture our products. We can get quite technical and use terminology and acronyms we live with every day and take for granted internally. So, one of our responsibilities is to help translate information into language that is meaningful to our diverse customer base, many of whom aren’t engineers. An example is how we test for color accuracy to make sure color matches our customer’s tight specification. Internally, we take for granted that our employees know what we mean when we say spectrophotometer or tolerance ellipsoids. Translation for an external audience might be: ‘the instrument we use to measure color’ and ‘the range a color needs to be in to meet specification’.”
Diversity — of individuals, but also of professional backgrounds, areas of specialty and intercultural understanding — is also vital. “SEKISUI SPI’s employees represent our global outlook and business: it’s a diverse place with many women in top management, numerous ethnicities, and a notable number have lived or studied abroad. For example, this January, my role expanded from domestic sales to include international. Since then, I’ve made three trips to Europe. That’s not unusual for our team. It’s important for us to have close relationships with our customers and we’ll go where they need us.”
Even without the travel, it’s been a busy twenty-four months since Brock Amoah joined the company, which combined KYDEX and ALLEN Extruders into a global thermoplastics business, and one that recently took home a Crystal Cabin Award for its infused imaging technology. Bridging the gap between engineering and marketing, Brock Amoah studied Mechanical Engineering to BS level.
“I went into engineering because of my strength in math and science and my love for both,” Brock Amoah explains. “But after four years of studying, I didn’t want to be an engineer. That was a very important thing to learn! My advisor encouraged me to meet with some GE representatives, who were coming on campus to recruit for their technical marketing program. I did, and got accepted. In this program, they trained engineers to do sales and marketing. They had found that to be an effective way to build their sales teams. We were cross trained in different businesses and I was hired at GE Plastics right out the program. Then I trained in the sales development operation program at GE Plastics.”
“My formal training in sales and marketing at GE established a foundation for what I learned over the years while meeting with many different types of people and working in a number of different industries,” Brock Amoah says. “Our team interfaces daily with a wide scope of people with different backgrounds. The conversation often isn’t about the technology or the physical properties of our products so we also need to be fluent in the language of design, color, and end-user experience (think airline passengers).”
“The curriculum at Worcester Polytechnic Institute,” where Brock Amoah studied for her BS, “also helped me in my career. Their program was very project-based and I benefited from extensive experience working in teams and meeting deadlines. It cultivated good decision-making skills.”
Throughout her career, Brock Amoah notes, “I’ve been the minority in the room, since plastics, and manufacturing in general, is historically a male-dominated industry. The expectation is you have to be better than your peers to advance in your career. That has shaped me into committing 150% to whatever I do and my life has been better for it, professionally and personally. Through my career I’ve also learned to respect my emotional intelligence. I’m very data driven – and through the years I’ve learned to use both sides to advantage. I trust the data and my intuition.”
For those in college or considering a career in engineering, and particularly within the in-demand interiors engineering space, Brock Amoah has several suggestions.
“First of all” she says, “finish school. Study what you’re passionate about. Get exposure to the world’s diversity. A global understanding and expertise and cultural understanding is of utmost importance in our world that’s growing smaller every day. You’ll be a better person for it too.
“If you have the aptitude for math and science,” Brock Amoah continues, “go into engineering to prepare you on the technical side. A lot of our customers are engineers in design, materials, chemical, or process. If you’re in sales, you’ll be able to be much more effective and trusted if you understand the basics and know what you don’t know.”
“If I had to change anything,” Brock Amoah says of her educational experience, “I would have taken more business finance courses.
For those considering a background in engineering, too, Brock Amoah has advice. “Take as much math and science as you can and work on your communication skills: be strong in writing. That skill is often overlooked in the engineering field and a critical component for success.”