OPINION: Suddenly there is silence.

I am sitting in an interview room with a global business strategy firm in the Sydney CBD considering the just-asked question:

“Tom, we’d like you to calculate the total market capitalisation for the pharmaceuticals industry in Australia and outline the key drivers behind the growth in this industry.” 

I swallow and feel a world away from the work experience I have accumulated at the engineering giants Siemens and Veolia. Like a murky lake, the question seems impenetrable: multiple variables, a lack of prior knowledge and a pressing urgency with which to answer. But, as I compose myself, the swirling cloudiness of the question starts to give way.

First of all, I split the question into its more manageable parts in a typical MECE principle (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive), and as I do, it is as if this murky lake of a question has obtained a glassy clarity with light penetrating to the vodka clear depths. It’s time to dive in and I hear myself confidently reply:

“Based on the following calculations and providing the following assumptions, I’d estimate that the Australian pharmaceutical industry has a total export size of approximately $4 billion per year.”

Little did I know it earlier, but my engineering studies and skills have equipped me perfectly for this type of situation. And as I think about it more and more, I discover three key reasons why ambitious and talented engineering students with business interests will be considered for roles in management consulting, investment banking and financial services:

  1. Engineering is a challenging degree. This is probably most apparent when your engineering/commerce double-degree friends speak about their upcoming “holiday” when they only have commerce subjects remaining on their degree.  
  2. Engineering is a quantitative degree. At its core, engineering is based on the application of math and physics. This is incredibly valuable in the business world where projects often depend on a detailed financial or operational model for their success.  
  3. Engineering is about problem solving. In engineering we learn that problem solving is the process of taking a complicated question and breaking it down into a set of more manageable, simpler constituent questions. Often, this process is continued recursively until one has a set of manageable atomic tasks to work on. Whilst undertaking this process, one constantly revisits the overall problem and project scope until your picture of the validated answer is complete.

Of course, these points alone do not provide a strong enough foundation for an engineering graduate to gain entrance into the business realm; however, a career in the business world can be a very natural extension to the application of an engineering skill-set. It is thus no surprise that more than a third of the corporate titans who head our largest companies are scientists or engineers!

Ultimately, engineering is about the notion of problem solving and it is for this reason that the degree prepares individuals not only for the confines of the engineering realm, but also beyond. And when it comes to the top ASX companies – it seems that engineers rule the roost.

Tom Perfrement is a Chemical Engineering student and Co-op Scholar at UNSW.

This opinion piece was first published on the UNSW Engineering website.