With a scientific and technological background, Dr. Souleymane Diallo, Product Manager at Toptica PHOTONICS, is keen not only to produce knowledge but also to apply it for the benefit of companies. He chose emlyon business school’s International MBA to help him to accomplish this, and he discusses his transition from hardcore engineering to hands-on work in the industry as a result of his degree.
What drove you to want to blend research with working in industry?
It is my desire to transform innovative value into economic value with impact. In short, I had the core knowledge of a specific technological area but wanted to learn how to do business with this knowledge – how to understand a company’s needs, how to identify what to do, when and how, how to package a proposal. Getting to grips with the marketing of innovation, and the development of a strategy and product are key. I wanted to create value and impact in my future career but to do so I needed the tools to link my research expertise with the kind of industry and company in need of such knowledge. I had learned so much but had much more to learn.
What was the main thrust of your research activity?
My specialist field is Optics and Photonics, something which I continue to practice today. After earning my Master’s at Université de Franche-Comté in 2013, I earned my Ph.D at the same university. My research activities were related to the development of optical technologies for aerospace engineering. Thanks to the tabletop proof concept that I was fortunate enough to contribute to demonstrating, I became a research engineer from 2016 to 2020 in CNRS (the French research agency) working on projects on the road toward industrialisation. I had 25 peer review articles published with 360 citations on Google Scholar, but I had this nagging feeling that I wanted to add a more practical, applicable dimension to what I was spending so much time on researching.
What made you choose emlyon business school and its IMBA to achieve your objective?
The diversity within the school and the strength of its network were major drivers and proved to be true once I started the program. I also saw committing to the program and the change in direction it would involve compared to my previous research background as a major return on investment. This too proved to be the case. I needed to learn how businesses operate in order to then be able to put my knowledge of a particular domain to the best possible use.
What were the other main plus points of the school and the program?
In terms of concrete learning, I would have to say the business knowledge acquired – learning what tools to use, how to perform an accurate analysis of a company’s needs and then deliver proposals and solutions, how to better link a company to the market and environment in which it is operating. This was exemplified with direct interactions with CEOs and CFOs throughout the program that is strongly routed in experiential learning. I emerged with a clearer understanding of a 3-step approach to business – grasp what you can do to help your client, when, and how.
On a more “human” level, it was the most amazing opportunity to work with people who think differently and to learn to do so yourself. What some would perceive as conflict was, for us, a chance to discuss, compromise and co-construct. This led me to one specific conclusion – accept that you cannot be right by working alone.
How would you define your current role? What kind of skills are you using to carry out your job?
I’m currently based in Germany where I work as a Product Manager for a leading laser company, a position where my Sci-Tech and Business background (thanks to my Ph.D and my MBA) compliment each other and create value. In fact, in this role, I am in charge of a broad portfolio of products and I interact daily with various departments including R&D, Marketing, and Sales in order to help our clients address their most complex challenges. Analyzing competitors’ products and collaborating with industry partners are vital to my role as well because it allows me to propose the most complete offers to solve their problems. This may sound a far cry from my research days, but thanks to my emlyon experience and my previous background, I have found the perfect way to blend my scientific roots with a hands-on opportunity to bring direct solutions to businesses.