Brian Jacobs discovered that one of the advantages of being an older student is that you're a bit more concerned with learning the material than you are with grades. Plus, your studies are supported by a wealth of previous industry and work experience, and you're already used to spending long hours juggling several tasks at once.
An assistant professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University, Jacobs was a worldly 45 years old when he entered Georgia Tech to earn a doctorate in operations management from Scheller College of Business. He graduated in 2009 and joined the MSU faculty later that year.
The biggest challenge Jacobs faced as a non-traditional student, he says, was "knocking the rust off my book-learning abilities, especially math."
The Tech degree was requisite for his new career in academia, following more than 20 years of experience as an operations management practitioner, primarily as a manufacturing manager in the primary metals and automotive assembly industries.
"I liked my work," he says, "but I also felt it was time for a change. So I sat down one day and wrote out all the things I enjoyed doing – reading, writing, researching, and teaching. When I put it all down on paper, it was pretty obvious to me that what fit all those activities was a job as a professor."
An alumnus of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, where he earned an undergraduate degree in marine engineering systems, Jacobs received a master's in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His choice of Georgia Tech for his doctorate was influenced by several factors.
"I'm comfortable with the engineering environment, and Georgia Tech is a fantastic engineering school," he states. "One of the big plusses for an operations management doctoral student is that Tech's tremendous industrial engineering program includes operations research, which is critical to operations management."
Teaching and Research Interests
In addition to supply chain and operations management, Jacobs' teaching interests include manufacturing planning and control. His research activities center on operations strategy, sustainability, and the financial and marketing value of operations strategies. Concerning the latter, a recent research project examined the relationship between companies that voluntarily reduce pollution emissions and their stock price.
"I looked at a 20-year period from the 1990s through the 2000s and found that the stock market reacted favorably to emission reductions in the early 1990s, but that positive reaction diminished over time, and now reducing emissions has a marginally negative effect on a company's stock price."
There are a number of possible explanations for the phenomenon, Jacobs continues. "Back in the '80s and '90s a company could gain some reputational benefit from saying they were going to reduce emissions – now it's just part of business as usual.
"It has also become more costly for companies to improve their environmental performance. That first, say, 10 percent reduction in pollution was relatively easy and inexpensive compared to subsequent reductions."
One of the research's key features is that it examines the trend over time.
"In many situations there is some kind of time dynamic that we should consider," says Jacobs, noting that previous studies on the market effect of emissions reduction focused on a narrow period of time and may not provide the appropriate "big picture" context for making optimal decisions.
Changing careers is nothing new for Jacobs, the middle child of an auto worker father and a mother who worked at home caring for their five children. His original ambition was to become a ship's engineer, and after attending the Merchant Marine Academy he served as an officer with the Navy Reserve during 1982-1991.
But when the Merchant Marine ran aground in the early 1980s, he took a job with General Motors and ultimately wound up in its Saturn division. One artifact of his naval vocation is his hobby of building model ships. Jacobs also enjoys jogging, reading, travel and genealogy.
He and his wife are the parents of three grown sons and reside in East Lansing, Mich., about 100 miles from where Jacobs grew up.
"Coming back to Michigan wasn't intentional," he says. "After graduating from Tech I went on the job market, and it just so happened there was an opening here at Michigan State, and I applied and was accepted. It has been a very good fit."