A voice at the table

How one alumna combines her business and engineering skills for career success

January 2020

Briana Tom surrounded by yellow tanks inside a warehouse at Harper International Corp.

Tom at Harper International Corp. Photo: Tom Wolf

Briana Tom, BS/MBA ’17, has long been interested in chemistry and the process of transforming raw materials into something people use every day.

But rather than focus exclusively on the science, Tom set her sights on a career in engineering management and enrolled in UB’s five-year BS Chemical Engineering/MBA program.

“With engineering, I gained the technical background to understand heating points and chemical reactions,” says Tom, who serves on the board and the student professionalism committee for the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association. “And with the business side, I’m able to take that technical knowledge and talk with high-level managers about how to solve their problems.”

As an inside sales engineer at Harper International Corp., Tom cultivates opportunities for her company, a global leader in complete thermal processing solutions. In a typical week, she works with clients that range from startups and laboratories to commercial enterprises, and span five sectors: carbon fiber, advanced ceramics, battery materials, nuclear fuel and aerospace. In every interaction, Tom combines the networking and presentation skills she gained in the School of Management with the deep knowledge she learned from her engineering courses.

“When I’m meeting with clients, it’s important to reach both the engineers, who will actually use the machines, and the company presidents and CEOs, who may not know the technical details but want to discuss their timeline and budget for capacity expansion,” Tom says.

Tom hopes to eventually move into a vice president role for sales and marketing—and expects the value of her dual degrees will only grow in the future.

“The communications and strategy courses were really helpful from the MBA program,” Tom says. “As a team, when we’re having strategy sessions for our goals for the next fiscal year, I’m able to say, ‘We’re not using these markets properly,’ and have a voice at the table. As I get further in my career, those skills will help even more.”

Written by Matthew Biddle, this story originally appeared as part of the cover feature in the autumn 2019 issue of Buffalo Business.