‘Young Project Professional of the Year’ Taps UVA MSBA to Grow Career at Rolls-Royce

19 February 2020

By Dave Hendrick

Jacob Achenbach was born in Torun, Poland, a city best known for being the birthplace of Copernicus, the revolutionary thinker whose ideas proved enormously influential in fields ranging from astronomy to economics.

While he would never compare himself to the 16th century scientist, Achenbach is also intensely curious and interested in learning more about a range of subjects, including music, data and business.

It was the latter two interests that propelled Achenbach to the Master of Science in business analytics program at the University of Virginia, the 12-month degree program presented jointly by the Darden School of Business and the McIntire School of Commerce.

“I was seriously debating whether to pursue an MBA or a technical data science degree. This program combines both,” said Achenbach. “It’s the intersection of business and analytics, and I loved the fact that you do not have to stop working while pursuing the program.”

First launched in 2018, the MSBA program’s inaugural cohort secured impressive results in career advancement. More than two-thirds of the Class of 2019 reporting a role or job change over the course of the program, with those students’ earning an average salary increase of 19 percent.

Achenbach, who studied music technology as an undergraduate, became interested in the business side of manufacturing while at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom. He pursued an internship with Rolls-Royce, where he has worked since graduation, working in roles touching on project management, operations, strategy and continuous improvement.

Now working at a turbine blade manufacturing campus near Richmond, Virginia, Achenbach says his role involves growing, improving and maturing the unit’s production operations. “This includes activities such as managing capital investments that create manufacturing capacity, establishing a production system that maximizes efficiency and reduces waste, and implementing Industry 4.0 solutions that help us leverage analytics tools to improve business performance.”

Talented MSBA Cohort Now Includes the ‘Young Project Professional of the Year’

Recently, Achenbach’s project management skills were honored when he won the Association for Project Management’s (APM) Young Project Professional of the Year award for his work on a particularly knotty issue at the company.

According to the APM, an earlier generation of turbines were not living up to their expected product lifecycles, impacting key airline customers. The company redesigned the turbine, but then found itself with an inability to manufacture the new turbines as rapidly as needed.

Achenbach was put in charge of figuring out a solution, which involved taking an empty manufacturing hall and transforming it into a facility to manufacture highly technical and specific pieces of equipment.

Ultimately, the project was delivered four months ahead of schedule and under budget.

“It took a lot of team effort to win that award,” said Achenbach. “I like project management for its ability to make things happen. I am naturally a very results-driven person, and being able to see how a mere idea can transform into something of real value is the reason I get up every day.”

Despite a long track record and demonstrated ability in his field, Achenbach said he has a lot to learn from the MSBA program and appreciates the real-world projects students are working on.

“In our current project, we are working with real data provided by Hilton and building machine learning models to better understand employee engagement and revenue drivers,” said Achenbach. “In the last module, we worked with real Fannie Mae data to build models to calculate mortgage loan risks. What I feel most satisfied with is that I can now pick up a scientific publication on machine learning and actually understand it.”

Looking ahead, Achenbach said he hopes to continue to ascend to more senior roles, using his new analytics and data science skillset along the way.

“I see analytics as an extremely useful decision-making tool,” said Achenbach. “As the markets become more competitive and the pace of change increases, the ability to make the right decisions is even more valuable and important.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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