Yih-Ting Chen, MBA ’17, came to UIC Liautaud from Taipei, Taiwan, where he’d worked as a hospital pharmacist, a job that gave him privileged insight into hospital management, single-payer healthcare, and Taiwan’s pharmaceutical market. As a pharmacist, Chen was putting his bachelor’s degree to work precisely in his area of expertise. But the more he learned about healthcare, the more interested he became in business and management. “I knew that Taiwanese healthcare faced challenges,” Chen says, “not in the quality provided to patients, but in the quality provided to healthcare providers themselves.” Chen saw opportunity in these challenges, and thought an MBA was the next step, so he came to Chicago to study business, practice English, and learn about another culture.
During Chen’s first semester at Liautaud, his cohort got a visit from Marisa Randle, MBA ‘11, who spoke to new MBA students about Interdisciplinary Product Development. “She told us that IPD was where she learned to cooperate on cross-functional teams,” Chen says. “This got me interested. When I looked it up, I wasn’t surprised to find IPD teams working with Caterpillar and Wilson, big Chicago-area brands. But that fall, an IPD team was working with a medical department for the first time. I knew I had to join.”
Right away, Chen found his medical knowledge put to the test. “Despite my pharma background and hospital experience, I still had a lot to learn,” he says. “I was meeting with physicians, observing surgeries, and then we MBAs were trying to put our heads together and do the right market research. This was the biggest challenge by far–trying to rein in our scope of inquiry.”
“Our teammates in bioengineering felt idle unless they had a problem in front of them,” Chen says. “Very early, we had this tension; on the one hand, we needed to spend ample time in the problem space researching the market and identifying the right problem to solve. On the other hand, until we do identify that problem, much of the team feels impatient to get something done. Managing this–keeping everyone mindful of the process and the goal–forced me to grow as a communicator.”
By the end of the Fall 2016 semester, Chen’s team had agreed upon a problem statement. “At this point, MBAs, engineers, and designers all have a clear sense of direction, and everyone is working steadily in their area,” Chen says. “We’re busy prototyping and presenting ideas to urology faculty. We’re also getting guidance from patent and intellectual property specialists. And throughout the program, Professor Spanjol guides our market research and introduces us to new tools.”
“My initial hunch about the course was correct,” Chen says, “that it’s good for developing market research skills. But the cross-functional piece, for MBAs, is huge. I’d recommend the program to anyone who wants to test their mettle as a young manager. The key to the program isn’t whether you ultimately develop a product, but how well you work with your team.”