The Michigan Engineer News Center

Alumni Spotlight: Jill Feldman

A Q&A with Jill Feldman on her career and giving back to U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering as an advisory board member and chair. | Medium Read

Jill Feldman holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Industrial and Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

She is the Founder and President of Strategic Development Associates (SDA), a strategic consulting and marketing research firm focused on the technology sector. SDA works with high-level managers to partner in strategic planning, marketing research and competitive intelligence efforts.

Feldman is on the faculty at University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses focused on the Telecom and Information Technology Sectors in the College of Engineering’s Technology Management Program.

She has been a member of the IOE Advisory Board since 2010 and served as Board Chair from 2017 – 2019.

EnlargePhoto of Jill Feldman and family members at the 2019 Spring Commencement
IMAGE:  Jill Feldman and family members at the 2019 Spring Commencement.

Why did you choose industrial and operations engineering as your major?

Initially, when I went to the University of Michigan I was actually in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. I was very math and science orientated and was considering pre-med. I’d never thought about engineering before actually, no-one in my family had that profession and I didn’t know any engineers. After I’d spent some time at U-M, I started hearing about engineering, and specifically, industrial engineering.  IOE just sounded like the perfect match for me and what I was passionate about, so I transferred in in the middle of my sophomore year.

How has your IOE degree contributed to your professional success?

I would say I use it pretty much every single day. I own a strategic consulting and marketing research firm and I think that the engineering method — taking a big problem, dividing it up into smaller problems, solving the smaller problems and then adding it back together to solve the big problem – is very useful. I use that kind of framework basically every day in what I do.

Is there a particular professional achievement you are most proud of?

I have owned my own firm for 22 years.  I’d say I am most proud of the fact that I was able to continue to learn and grow and serve my clients while still being able to be the sort of parent that I wanted to be.

If you could give some advice to seniors graduating with an IOE degree what would it be?

Be open and very willing to get advice from people. Really listen to what people have to say when they take the time to say it to you, you can learn a lot from them. Having humility and being open are probably the most important things that I can emphasize.

Can you describe the toughest decision you’ve had to make about your career direction and what the outcome was?

In 2008, with the recession, there was a real change in the consulting business and specifically in the market research industry. Clients just didn’t have the funds to pay for outside consultants. This was combined with the increasing commoditization of the market research industry — for example, you could now access services like Survey Monkey for free, so why would they pay for my services? This combination brought some very real challenges.

The question became, how do I take advantage of these changes and continue to be able to offer differentiated services that are of value to my clients?

I had to think through what value I was bringing to my clients and how to reposition myself and my business to stay successful, realizing that big changes were happening and working out how I had to adjust to it.

Did you end up adjusting successfully?

I did successfully adjust, and in my business now, I focus on adding more value at different parts in the process than I had originally. One of these is helping to analyze the data and results, and helping clients to understand what these findings mean for their business.

Photo of Jill Feldman

When I was asked to join the board, I was honored since the IOE department had made such a difference for me in my career path. It was such a pleasure to be part of the board and to feel like I could contribute in a small way to helping the department maintain its level of excellence.

- Jill Feldman, U-M IOE Advisory Board Member

You served for many years on the IOE Advisory Board, and most recently you chaired the Board. Why was service and leadership of the IOE Advisory Board something you were motivated to do?

When I was asked to join the board, I was honored since the IOE department had made such a difference for me in my career path. It was such a pleasure to be part of the board and to feel like I could contribute in a small way to helping the department maintain its level of excellence.

What has been the most rewarding part of being an engaged alum?

Staying current on what the department is doing has been wonderful, and again, feeling that in some small way I am contributing and helping to maintain the success of the department. One of the nicest benefits was all the wonderful people that I’ve met — both the faculty and the staff of IOE, and fellow board members. Some really nice friendships have developed.

What goals are you setting for yourself and your team this year? How do you hope to achieve them?

I’m in a situation where I have a wonderful group of existing clients and the best compliment that I can get is that they want to reengage me for new projects. So I think continuing to work with my existing clients and at the same time developing new ones, is always going to be a key and ongoing professional goal.

A personal goal is trying to make sure that I am staying current in the industry, specifically, in the area of analytics so I am currently taking some courses to do that.

Can you tell me about why you love the University of Michigan?

There are many reasons why I love the University of Michigan. The first is because I found my calling with industrial engineering. The second is that it is where I met my husband. The third reason is that it’s where my children went to school. My daughter graduated in 2015 and my son graduated this year in 2019.

Photo of Jill Feldman and family members at the 2019 Spring Commencement
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