Grad Story #15
Grad Story #15
Robert Fixen '94, MS Mathematics
Large Tractor Supply Management Manager
Ag & Turf Division
Where are you from, originally?
Minneota, MN. I grew up on a family farm.
Where did you do your undergraduate degree?
UND class of ‘91
Why did you choose UND for your Masters in Mathematics?
I originally chose UND because of the size and academic offerings. I chose to do my Masters degree work at UND because of my great experience as an undergraduate. The faculty and staff were extremely friendly and helpful in my academic planning and made it an easy decision to continue my education at UND.
As a discipline, Mathematics is often described as creative. Would you agree?
Absolutely. Although many view mathematics as strict discipline and logic only, it is essential that a mathematician understands how to apply the structure to solve problems and discover new applications. In order to do that you not only have to think out of the box, but you have to expand the box. The mathematical journey is not through memorizing pages of textbooks and recycling their content, but it is evolving one’s thinking to creatively apply the collective wisdom of mathematics to solve ancient and new mysteries as well as create a new series of questions which have never been articulated before. Mathematics has the ability to bring forth new thoughts and connections which are core to creativity.
Graduate students and faculty often talk about the importance of mentorship or having a collegial relationship with one’s advisor. Was this your experience also?
Definitely. There can be many trials and tribulations as a graduate student as we sometimes work in a stressful environment and experience high expectations from our faculty and fellow students. The strength of a graduate mentor and/or your advisor is extremely critical to success. My advisor helped guide me through my academic milestones as well as my personal ones as I progressed through the graduate program. I could not have survived without his leadership, advice, and coaching on how to be a better student and person.
You now work as a Manager with John Deere, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of agricultural machinery. What was your pathway from graduation to your current position at John Deere?
John Deere is the most successful manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the world. I originally started with John Deere as a Research Analyst in Milan, IL (very close to the world headquarters of Deere & Company in Moline, IL). My job was to understand the forecasting and inventory management systems for John Deere service parts and be able to model different scenarios to determine the most advantageous parameter settings and logic revisions for the system. This required quite a bit of data mining and statistical analysis to be objective in our decisions. I utilized the SAS programming language extensively and even had the opportunity to practice some FORTRAN. Because of my training in mathematics, I was able to learn the legacy system quickly, understand the mathematical forecasting routines, and evaluate different ways to improve the system to contribute to the profitability of the company.
I achieved some success in this role and had the opportunity to move into management about 10 years ago. About 4 years later, I was transferred to Germany where my family and I had the opportunity to live for a little over two and half years as I continued to help lead the service parts division. After the assignment in Germany, we went to North Carolina where I assumed the role of Supply Management manager for commercial mowing and golf mowing equipment. My current position as of about one year ago is Supply Management manager for the Global Large Tractor product line located in Waterloo, IA. This position has given me the opportunity to travel to Russia and Brazil as these markets continue to grow for our business and we look to expand our manufacturing footprint.
How did you apply your degree to your career?
I applied more of my mathematics to my career early on as described previously. In a management role, it has been more important to apply general strategies of problem solving, data analysis, and logic. The skills I learned from the faculty on how to be a good coach and mentor are serving me much longer and broader than my specific mathematics skills. From my original aspirations to teach mathematics as a career, working for a global Fortune 500 company seems like quite a stretch. However, the preparation I received at UND helped equip me with the necessary skills to apply to life after graduate school and has afforded me the opportunity to eventually expand my experiences beyond mathematics.
Can you recall any funny or memorable stories about your time as a grad student at UND?
It is hard to believe that it has been so many years since I was a graduate student at UND. There were many memorable times during my studies. The best part was how we worked and played together as friends and colleagues. It wasn’t always easy and was really hard on both a personal and academic level at times, but we worked our way though it as a team and received great support from the faculty. One thing about 3rd floor Witmer hall I could never understand was why the lock on the door to the men’s restroom was on the outside? It made for some late night studying high jinks to be sure!
Do you have any advice for new graduate students?
Get to know your faculty and fellow graduate students. Working together in a team and collaborative environment is vital to success after graduate school.