Accelerating Ahead with a Newfound Perspective on Leadership

Heather Gaylord, MSEM ’13, built a wealth of technical skills through “putting in work,” but the combined effect of emotional intelligence, leadership and other skills developed in the MSEM program would help her become an invaluable business leader.

Heather Gaylord, MSEM ’13, is currently Head of Business Excellence at Takeda. Heather, who has an educational background in mechanical engineering, was looking to make an impact in industry and take her career to the next level when she enrolled in the On-Campus MSEM program. With the business and leadership skills she gained through the MSEM program, Heather has been able to leverage her technical foundation to shape her field.


How has what you learned in the MSEM program altered your trajectory and helped you become a leader who can bridge technical and business functions?

The soft skills you learn in the MSEM program make everything faster; if you build solid networks and relationships, decisions get made faster because you’re able to pick up the phone and you already have a good relationship with somebody. If something’s going sideways, you’re able to correct it faster. 

It takes out a lot of the distractions that bog down the technical things – the things you’re supposed to be doing to get the medicines out the door, getting whatever product manufactured, etc. Those can be affected by poor people skills sometimes. Even leading a technical team is a team; you need to be able to lead humans. You see technical leaders fail because they can do the ‘what’ but not the ‘how.’

The ability to understand the world of manufacturing and the world of commercial is a unique skillset, and it’s one that I’m glad to now have. Learning how to lead a team and have emotional intelligence were more difficult for me, and that was something that I really valued in the program. At the same time, the ability to speak with a technically-oriented person, combined with the ability to speak with confidence for the business side of the house, is valuable and unique. It’s hard to find people who can do both, and do them well.


No matter what role the MSEM program leads you to, or if you change industries like nearly a third of students do, alumni are undoubtedly prepared. From your experience, how has this taken shape?

I changed companies pretty much immediately after I finished the program, and I was shocked that my skills were transferrable. I could apply what I had learned in the program, not only to the job I had when I was in the program, but the job that I switched to. That was something that shouldn’t have been quite the ‘a-ha’ for me, but it was. 

Engineers, at the root, are problem solvers. The program and the experience I got from it helped me apply those same problem-solving skills in the business world. For me, that was the most impactful in my career; I was able to progress from a technical role to a business role. 


In a recent survey, 95 percent of Tufts MSEM alumni say they’d recommend the program to colleagues who want to take their careers to the next level. What were some of the courses that stood out to you the most and what was the support like from faculty?

The leadership class was so thought-provoking, and it was coming from an instructor who’s been through it. They’re teaching it from experience. I saw that in my conflict resolution class, too. I got some of the softer skills and major skill-building out of that. The fact that the instructor was doing it day-to-day in her consulting role, and then brought it to the classroom, applying it to whatever challenge we were having at that point in time, was really impactful. These were people who went through, or were going through, what we were seeing daily.


If you had one piece of advice for professionals looking to take the next step in their career and considering the MSEM program, what would it be?

I advise investing time in your networks. This applies if you don’t pursue a program like this, but particularly if you do. Make sure the people you are working around know what you’re working on. Make sure they know who you are, what your aspirations are, how you are choosing to develop yourself. You’d be surprised to see how far those conversations will go, and when it comes time to do reviews at your companies or if you’re looking for career advancement, leverage the network you develop in school.