By Matthew Scharpf, VP Fixed Income Sales, Deutsche Börse Group
My wife’s grandfather owned a service station in central Illinois for over 50 years where he worked on cars and pumped gas. When he passed away a few decades ago, he left behind mechanical hand tools he had used in his garage. Having majored in mechanical engineering in college myself, examining his handy and creative gadgets reminded me of an interesting class I had taken called Theory of Machines.
What I remember most is studying gears. So many things were important: the shape of each tooth on the gear; the “tooth ratios” created by interfacing gears; the material comprising each gear; the circumference, thickness, placement, and rotational speed of each gear. The optimal design depended on all these factors to ensure a long-lasting and smoothly running system.
Looking back at my experiences since then, I find these ideas applicable outside of engineering too, regardless of whether I am a leader or a teammate.
Have I designed myself to fit well into nearly any set of gears?
What am I made of? Where would I be most useful? Can I interface smoothly? What is driving me? Do I know (and operate well) where I am in the overall design? How fast can I go before I jeopardize myself, others, or the entire system? Am I adaptable? Do I transfer energy consistently and eagerly? Can I handle being driven as well as driving others while contributing to the overall results?
I have found that these are critical questions to ask whether I am looking for a team or already on one.
And while an organization comprised of people is certainly not as mathematical or inhuman as a set of gears, the similarities are nonetheless undeniable and useful to understand.
Bottom line: Just like a gear, I will need to play a certain role for the machine to operate. And knowing that I also can be replaced, reallocated, redesigned, repurposed, or simply break, demands that I take responsibility for my role, my current design, and my openness to adapting to change.
For the past six years, Matthew Scharpf has been vice-president of sales and business development for the Germany-based Deutsche Börse Group’s Eurex Exchange. He is currently responsible for fixed income funding and financing in North America out of the Chicago office. Prior to Eurex, Matt sold trading software at CQG, traded fixed income and commodity futures at a Chicago prop shop, taught high school math, and performed, wrote, and recorded his original music. While his passion is writing songs on his guitar, in his spare time these days he is an eighth-grade basketball coach and an avid Cubs, Bears, and Manchester City soccer (football) fan.
Career Conversations is presented by the Stuart School of Business Career Management Center.