Our ‘A Day in the Life’ series highlights alumni in various fields and positions, offering a glimpse of what life after graduation is like. This post comes to us from M&T alum Zach, currently working at Tesla Motors in California.
Please briefly describe what industry you’re in and what your particular position entails.
I work for Tesla Motors, in the automotive and high-tech manufacturing industry. We design and build electric cars (e.g., Tesla Model S, Tesla Roadster) and batteries / drive trains for other car manufacturers (e.g., Mercedes B-Class, Smart Fortwo, Toyota RAV4). I’m the finance manager for powertrain manufacturing, working in our San Francisco Bay Area auto factory. My responsibility is to ensure we build our powertrain components (e.g., battery, motor, gearbox, 17” touchscreen display) in the most cost effective and efficient way possible. I work at the Tesla Factory in Fremont, CA (http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/07/tesla-plant-video/).
What time did you get up this morning before work?
My alarm goes off at 6:40am, but it takes a few rounds of snooze before I actually get up.
What time did you start working, and what time were you done for the day?
I’m in the office around 8:30am, and leave the office by 7:30pm. I’m back online at 9pm, and finish work for the day around midnight. I try to take Saturday off and use Sunday to prepare for the week ahead. Right now, I’m working harder than I can sustain for long term. It’s a deliberate decision that I have to carefully manage.
What were some of the projects you worked on today?
Today I worked on a few projects, although there are many others going on at any given time. (1) manufacturing plan for a future Tesla vehicle beyond the Model S, (2) costs and launch plan to build production powertrain components for the Mercedes B-Class program, and (3) progress on manufacturing efficiency improvements for the Model S program.
Who specifically did you interact with today, besides coworkers (clients, interns, researchers, executives, founders, etc.)?
Every day is a different animal. I usually check in daily with our CFO (who I report to) to review progress against the programs I support. I meet multiple times a week with our VP of Manufacturing to raise issues and provide financial guidance. I meet weekly with our CEO, Elon Musk. Depending on the week, I may also meet with our VP of Supply Chain and Chief Technology Officer. Outside of Tesla’s executive team, the bulk of my interactions are with the members of the production team who are building or planning to build each of our powertrain components.
Are you currently traveling or about to travel for work?
I do not travel for work and I prefer that. After 2.5 years of travel with McKinsey, I’m done with airports for now.
What was your favorite part of the work day?
The whole day. Really. We are building the cars of the future, going up against deeply entrenched and well-funded automotive manufacturers who build excellent cars. The competition in this industry is fierce and I do as much as I can to make sure we can achieve our vision. Being the underdog is intensely exciting and I love every minute of it. Well, mostly every minute. It can be stressful and the work is tough.
What are some of the challenges within your position that you particularly enjoy?
To be successful, I need to influence people in the company who I don’t have direct control over. I spend time getting to know my coworkers, beyond just work responsibilities, and find ways I can help them solve their most pressing problems. Also, it’s challenging to stay on top of everything that’s going on. Sometimes I worry that my brain is going to explode inside my head. Fortunately it hasn’t yet. I’d much rather be challenged to my intellectual limits, than have it any other way.
How did you end up in your current position?
Penn M&T (class of 2006) -> McKinsey New York -> McKinsey Palo Alto -> phone call to fellow M&Ter and former McKinsey coworker who was working at Tesla -> interview at Tesla -> hired at Tesla (covering manufacturing of the Tesla Roadster) -> Harvard Business School, Class of 2013 -> back at Tesla.
How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?
The M&T program is the foundation in which my entire professional life is built on. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it. Here are three things I think are most important:
(1) Academic rigor. I’ve yet to work as hard as I did as an M&T student. It’s prepared me to address the professional challenges I’ve faced. Working hard and smart is critical.
(2) Bridging business and engineering. Tesla is an engineering and manufacturing company. In my role, it’s essential to understand complex technical issues, then translate those into the underlying business implication, then communicate that to our leadership.
(3) Friends and network. Some of my closet friends are from the M&T program. It’s a special group of awesome people, who go on to do super cool things. They’ve been instrumental in helping me navigate my life since graduating from Penn.
What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a similar path?
(1) Pursue only what you love, without compromise. Consulting and banking can be helpful first steps, but many people ultimately dislike those industries. There isn’t just one “right” path to achieve your goals. Stay focused on what’s right for you. And not knowing the best path is perfectly fine. Make time to explore. This is important, so go back and read it again. I’ll wait…
(2) Work extremely hard, especially at the beginning of your career. The M&T program is a great achievement. But you will need to constantly prove yourself.
(3) Stay humble and modest. Nobody likes an arrogant punk, no matter how talented he/she may be.
(4) Use the alumni network both for advice and to find jobs. It’s more powerful than you may realize. And we want to help.
(5) Remember that work isn’t everything. The most important parts of life happen outside of work. Make time for friends, family, and for yourself. You’re probably going to get this wrong at first, and that’s ok. Realize when this happens, learn from it, and quickly fix it.
Zach is currently Senior Manager of Finance at Tesla Motors in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Penn and M&T in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Penn Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School with a concentration in management. Zach also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. In his free time he enjoys marathon running, working on his cars, and travel.