Q&A with Alumni: Heiko Pieper
August 1, 2018
Meet Heiko Pieper, an MS&E alum who is a Partner at End-to-End Analytics.
His work is focused on designing, implementing and deploying analytical solutions in the automotive, high-tech and electric power industries. Heiko graduated with a Master’s degree and a PhD in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford. His dissertation research focused on analyzing optimization models of the California Electricity Market.
“People are always asking if there is specific knowledge from the PhD program that I apply to my work, but it's more than knowing how to attack problems. It’s knowing what will work when using specific skills. It’s the ability to predict early-on whether something will be successful and not wasting time on unsuccessful things.”
Why did you choose MS&E?
I studied applied mathematics, but specifically business mathematics in Germany and was looking for a combination of business and mathematics. I was considering operational research programs but leaving my options open with regards to a particular industry. I was also seeking a program that applied business and mathematics to real problems and also worked closely with industry. The MS&E program provided everything that I was looking for at that particular point in time.
What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?
Being an alum provided an easy entry into my field of work. After graduation, I started working with a few alumni and a former MS&E professor. My group had a shared knowledge base and common experiences. I still interact with many of my friends that I studied with while attending Stanford. One of my officemates is a professor in London, so I just met him a few weeks ago at the INFORMS conference. MS&E has a robust community where alumni on more than one occasion run into one another.
How does your time at Stanford impact what you are currently working on now?
My first job was a direct result of Stanford. I was initially looking for something in the electricity space. That’s when I started chatting with one of my professors, Blake Johnson, who had started his own company. He told me there were not many electricity companies around the Bay Area besides PG&E. A majority of them were located in Southern California and Texas, and I wanted to stay in the Bay Area. Blake suggested that I stop by his company and check out what they were currently working on onsite. After that, I ended up accepting an interview, chatted with various members of his organization and in the end took a position with the company. That sums up the first five years of my career, and from there a few us started up End-to-End Analytics. Some of the people that I've been working with for the past sixteen years are also MS&E graduates. So, Stanford had a significant impact on what I do and what my company does, so much so that we’ve started hiring more from MS&E.
Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?
I worked closely with a few professors from my core area of optimization and focused on economic analysis, investment science, and optimization, so it was great MS&E offered a variety of coursework. People are always asking if there is specific knowledge from the PhD program that I apply to my work, but it's more than knowing how to attack problems. It’s knowing what will work when using specific skills. It’s the ability to predict early-on whether something will be successful and not wasting time on unsuccessful things. Those are the type of things that I learned while pursuing my PhD, which have helped me throughout the course of my career.
Can you tell me about the work you’re doing now?
I currently work for a consulting company that was started by a group of Stanford alum, End-to-End Analytics. In a nutshell, we provide services mainly in the supply chain space, helping our customer solve challenges in forecasting, capacity and inventory planning, pricing, network design and surrounding processes. We offer solutions to customers and not software. In the past, being part of a software startup was a little bit of the hammer looking for the nail, but now we're much more focused on solving business problems. We are not just coming in with a PowerPoint deck and saying here's what you should do, but we built something that can be used upon our departure, in a weekly or monthly process. We want to transfer knowledge and encapsulate it into a tool or process that the customer can use on an ongoing basis. I think we've done that successfully across a multitude of different industries: automotive, high tech, consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, retail. In my business it’s essential to work with the customer, understanding their unique business problem--often they do not come with a list of requirements. They vaguely describe their issues and state what they want to do or explain what they have tried in the past. How do we make it better? How do we encapsulate it? We have to figure out how to provide them feedback by asking questions, ultimately starting with their idea and then working together, iterating through it. So, I think that's the difference between a software company coming in and saying, “Here's what we have, make sure to plug it in and use it.” Alternatively, a consulting company says, “we're going to listen, and we're going to tell you on the PowerPoint slides what to do.” What we do at End-to-End Analytics falls somewhere in the between the two. Lots of people collect lots of data, but it might not connect in the right way. It may not tell the story accurately and give them the insights they need; not everyone has a PhD or Master’s in Operations Research or Management Science thinking through problems with people that know a lot about business. The customer can understand the data if it's presented in the right way, but they do not have the time to put the data together and maintain tools and enhance them on their own. We work with companies to ultimately help them solve their problems using our tools and thereby making more data-driven decisions that will result in a positive outcome for their organization.
What inspires you the most about your current work?
It would have to be our biggest asset, which are the people that work End-to-End Analytics. It’s the people that I work with on the client side, but more specifically on the inside of the company. That’s what truly makes the difference and makes us stronger as a company. I think people, in general, are much better at their job if they like what they're doing and the people they work with. Solving business problems and helping people also inspires and motivates me to continue my work. Not just completing a task but making a difference and seeing that things get better or that people do it more efficiently, save money, whatever, sell more. Ultimately there needs to be a business impact of that and you need to be able to measure that. Moreover, seeing that people go from making gut decisions to using data. And then they can put their intelligence on top of that data and make better decisions.
What are one or two things that have made you successful in your career?
Indeed again, it’s having the right team around you, people that can be motivated and driven. It’s important to also have confidence in the knowledge that you possess, and to nurture your professional relationships and have strong communication skills. It’s the ability to translate data and analytics into a language that nontechnical people can understand. The most challenging situation is one that consists of a diverse audience. If you are consulting an individual one-on-one with a very technical background, you explain to them very technically; if they're a business person, you explain it to them in a business sense. If you are in front of twenty people with a variety of technical and non-technical backgrounds, and people with priorities that are managing those groups, that can be one of the most challenging situations. You have to find the perfect balance of technical detail and business-related information so that everyone in the room has a clear understanding of your findings and recommendations for moving forward.
What advice would you give to a new Stanford student in MS&E?
Networking is critical, especially in your classes and when you’re looking for future opportunities. Hopefully, networking will provide you with a multitude of future opportunities, which will make it easier for you to make an educated decision about a job or where to live. You will have multiple opportunities to compare and evaluate both their pros and cons. Being able to have many options usually comes down to networking and creating those opportunities. Academics are also important, but it’s also critical to take time to build relationships during your studies.
Can you offer some words of wisdom for MS&E alumni and students interested in pursuing a career similar to your own?
I think people can have strength and weaknesses, but overall need to enjoy working with other people and solving business problems rather than just focusing on one thing, such as the technical side of the project. It's crucial for us because we work with groups from various industries and we are a consulting business where everyone is in front of the customers.