APU Business Careers Careers & Learning Innovations in the Workplace Podcast

Podcast: Meeting the Business Challenges of Tomorrow

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Podcast with Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics and
Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Business Analyst and Consultant

With ever-increasing changes in technology and innovation, the business world is moving at an unbelievably fast pace. Tomorrow’s business leaders will need to be multi-faceted in order to handle the myriad challenges of the business world in the 21st century.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

So how can business students and professionals broaden their thought process so they can creatively and expertly approach business opportunities and challenges? In this podcast, APU’s Kandis Boyd Wyatt talks to Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani, an executive leader in the world of emerging technology and integration, about why she encourages business students to take interdisciplinary classes like engineering and computer programming to prepare for an ever-changing and technologically driven world. Learn how to build essential skills like communication, networking, and time management, what to do when faced with bias, and how to excel in your career and education.

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Read the Transcript

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to highlight our local heroes in our community who are champions of important issues affecting us on both a national and international scale. Today, we’re going to add to that very important discussion happening on a national and international stage regarding the importance of business acumen.

Today, my guest is Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani. She is a global speaker. She’s an executive leader in the world of emerging technology and integration, as well as a transformational leader, also in academia, as well as business and engineering.

As an entrepreneur, she has done so many things. She’s worked in digital telecommunication information, data analytics, systems architecture and human-centric design.

In addition to her impressive academic career, Dr. Fairrer Samani holds a Ph.D. and an MBA in management and sustainability from Golden Gate University, master city and regional planning, civil engineering, economic development from UC Berkeley, as well as a bachelor of arts in political economics and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Her post-doctoral work from Stanford in technology and advancement is astounding, and she’s working on her second doctorate in computer science. So she has numerous certifications that range from management development, entrepreneurship to data analysis and machine-learning software.

So we’re going to learn a little bit more about Dr. Fairrer Samani today, as she talks about business acumen. So first welcome, Dr. Fairrer Samani.

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: Thank you, Dr. Wyatt. It is a pleasure to be here, and thank you for the invitation.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: You are welcome. You are welcome. There are so many conversations happening today that address issues of business and creating your own business plan. So first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and then you can talk about the business acumen aspects of your career.

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: Absolutely. My particular background started in Michigan, so I’m a Midwestern girl born and bred. We moved to the Silicon Valley — what is now the Silicon Valley — during its development.

And through that, I actually had the opportunity of seeing the businesses pop up: Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like as an adult and felt as though it was an opportunity for me to connect my particular interest in technology, as well as business development, to really find out how these businesses are actually flourishing. So I took it upon myself to study political economics, which gave me an incredible foundation and a global connection between what is going on here in the United States and other parts of the world.

And as we moved into data information, it was a beautiful transformation. So continuing my academic studies and getting an MBA, as well as my Ph.D., I had the opportunity of honing in on sustainability and looking at strategic management initiatives to truly determine from theory to practice how actually businesses could flourish and do good, if you will, in the world a marketplace.

So that is where I am today. I focus on data analytics. We look at the artificial intelligence and how to best make and develop ROI models for organizations as well as working to bring the pipeline of young and up-and-coming technologists into the business centers.

So with doing that, I mentor quite a few people around the world, either in the STEM field —science, technology, engineering, mathematics — and of course business is a key part of that, but bringing in the business aspects to engineering and the engineering aspects to business. So thank you for your question. It’s fun to talk about.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: You raised a really important point bringing the business to the engineering and bringing the engineering to the business. And I’m sure in your career, you’ve probably had some challenges. So maybe could you start talking about maybe some of the problems or challenges that you’ve incurred in the business world throughout your career?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: Absolutely. There are always challenges. If you don’t have challenges in business, something’s wrong because there truly is disruption in leading and leading in disruption. And that is to say some of my challenges have been around the idea of having engineers beginning to think or understand the concept of business.

So allowing them to understand that if they are creating a widget, let’s say a widget for instance, then they need to know who they’re creating it for. And in addition to that, they need to have diverse thoughts around the table as they’re developing that particular said widget.

They need to understand who their customer is. They need to know the background of that customer, to the point of their background, their use of that particular widget or product, and to really understand how they can utilize that in their everyday lives or in their workplace.

And also thinking about how the engineers really need to have a comprehensive view of business. They really need to have that aspect of how business is conducted.

Now on the same thought, as far as a business developer, if you will, or a business student that is going into management, it’s critical to understand some of the technology. They don’t have to be programmers. They don’t have to be developers if you will, or computer scientists, but to have some interest in how those products are actually being developed from a technological side.

And that only strengthens the actual business student or startup entrepreneur to understand more about the business. And then they will also identify that they can build out their teams, again, with that diverse thought and have individuals that can actually bring various skills to the table to make their companies more well-rounded and actually build out an ROI, which is a high return on investment for their actual organizations. So that is how they work symbiotically.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. That’s pretty amazing. You touched on a lot of good points.

So here at APUS —American Public University System — we have a large number of students in the School of Business. But just as you said, even if you’re not in the School of Business, there are just some common terms that you may need to know in order to be successful and to understand the interoperability between maybe your career choice and the business world as well. So how do you use some basic business school terms and theories in your day-to-day activities?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: I would say knowing number one, what the actual operation is of the organization and having a full idea of the core competencies that your organization has, whether you’re an intrepreneur working in the organization as a developer, an innovator, or in management, or if you’re an entrepreneur developing your own organization. So operations is a key factor and knowing those core competencies within your structure.

So core competencies, I definitely would say is a term that is needed. In the area of marketing, I would look into being very proficient, if you will, in digital marketing. Digital marketing brings in the idea of this digital information age and how marketing is actually conducted now, like never before.

There’s no longer sending out faxes, if you will, or emails that actually people will respond to or billboards without any context behind them. So digital information or digital marketing is a very, very key aspect to drill down into and to understand those key attributes. Branding, whether it be for a product or for the organization is a very key form of business that is critical to the bottom line of your organization. So looking at branding, looking into your digital information is critical.

And then the area of finance, of course, it’s looking at understanding your financial structure of how your company is set up and how you’re A Bed and your other areas of finance could actually be understood, whether it be by your staff or whether it be by the Board in a presentation. And I would bring in utilizing some tools in there as far as information technology to actually elevate that such as Tableau, doing visualizations, understanding that you can use an Excel spreadsheet and really get into a lot of the technology that is embedded in Excel that most people don’t use.

So I highly recommend understanding Excel and being able to interpret various movements within your productivity of the development of your said widget or whatever service that you are creating. So you can analyze it the best as you possibly can and give business intelligence, utilizing the technology is a key factor as well.

And then thinking about the overall scope of whether or not your particular business can be automated. And if you can automate your productivity or automate your financials, financial reporting to the point where all of your information is actually connected, and you can move one line item to another, and they’re interconnected and continue to evolve from the standpoint of keeping an updated report, then you’re looking at artificial intelligence. You’re looking at AI in the sense of machine learning and developing a rapid response, and then getting into predictability and looking at your deep learning in artificial intelligence, which I believe is a very prolific tool to elevate any organization in their development.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: That’s really impactful. I like how you said you need to utilize tools and also that any business, no matter what the business is, you need to develop the business side in terms of automating a lot of the reporting aspects. So I think that’s great. So in a perfect world, what training would you recommend to make a business or just to make the public in general more business-savvy?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: That’s an excellent question. I truly believe in adaptability and making yourself somewhat uncomfortable. In some instances.

Case in point: I had a student; I was teaching an engineering session at Santa Clara University in the school of engineering. And I actually had a student walk in and on the first day, and she said, “I’m an art student. However, I am interested in your class.”

And I said, “This is fantastic,” because I love the intersection and the multidisciplinary classroom, because it really does push all of the boundaries away and allows for creativity to happen. So with that said, she actually had, this particular student, had the opportunity of learning about systems development and within engineering, but they apply directly to business how one would organize your business and be able to really flourish and be resilient. So I challenged individuals to take classes in engineering, other classes, just very beginning engineering, like an introduction, an overview.

I would challenge business students to also think about taking [a] programming class, such as Python. It’s a very intuitive language. You just write simple English and you tell the computer what to do. You are in control as the programmer, so that’s Python.

If you want to get a little bit deeper in prediction, I would recommend taking the computer language R, which helps with statistical analysis and brings in predictions to a lot of the numbers that you get in business. So I love the idea of taking some programming classes as business students and getting that exposure.

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to broaden your thought process and perhaps bring in new innovation. If that individual really enjoys computer science or programming, you may want to take C or C++. Now that’s diving in a lot deeper, but yet it gives you another layer of expertise that you can actually be able to analyze your business and that resilience of your business, as well as scaling your business.

So in either case, I highly recommend that business students do take computer science, do take an engineering class or a class that is thinking differently than they normally would think. Maybe even a social science class that looks at various aspects of other countries. A cultural awareness class that is always helpful, because again, it brings in another aspect to business. You can think about your marketing class or introduction to business class, and then be culturally made, culturally aware and building out that empathy that is needed in business, as well as we develop these widgets or services or the next phase of your development.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: That’s really impactful. I like how you said that. Just learning about the computer science aspect is going to be really important. And I think we’re starting to see that now, especially with COVID-19 and how so many businesses had to change from a brick-and-mortar institution to a virtual business. So I can definitely see that.

I want to switch a little bit because I know when I read your bio, you mentioned that you are working on your second doctorate, and I know that you’re an instructor as well. So I think you can bring a unique perspective to this next question. So what changes do you think should be made to curriculum to make graduate students and undergraduate students more business- savvy?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: That’s an incredible question. I lean on as an instructor, I’ll put on my instructor hat first. As an instructor, I really do lean on project-based development. I love the idea of coming up with innovative ideas and allowing the students to really have ownership of their projects.

So usually I have the students really think about what their particular passions are or what they are looking forward to moving into once they graduate. Or it may even be that they’re currently working in an organization that they want to either get a promotion upon graduation, or they want to start a different team or different division within their company.

So by allowing the students to have that bandwidth and bring in their personal passion or personal interest to the classroom, it opens up a whole new caveat of opportunities for learning, not only for that student, but for the individuals that are in the classroom. And sometimes for the instructor for myself, if there’s an area that I’m not completely savvy or aware of, it allows for me to actually grow with them and to learn with them and guide them along the way.

So project-based development that is student-led is definitely a stronghold in my book. And from the standpoint of, as a business owner and someone who has a passion for technology, I think it’s the opportunity of really identifying what’s next, to think outside and to think about what it could be, whatever that could be is.

Everyone has seen a product or walked into a store and said, “Wow, look at that. I actually thought of that,” but they didn’t act upon it. So this gives an opportunity as an innovator, as a creator, as a designer, to think outside of your normal domain, and to think, well, what change do you want to see in the world?

What is there? What could impact your life or the lives of someone that you is near and dear to you, or someone in your sphere of influence? And to think about creating and building out that particular dream product or that particular service that could actually make an impact in the world.

And so those are my two hats — one as an instructor, again, allowing students for it to be passion-led, project-based. And then the other side, as an innovator and designer and entrepreneur, to think what impacts can you really have on the world? Or where’s the pain points for other people that you can actually help and make change?

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Absolutely. Absolutely. I like what you said when you put your instructor hat on and you said you want to learn with them. And I can say as an instructor, I totally resonate with that statement that even though I might be teaching the same class or the same course over and over again, the student experience makes it unique and makes it a learning experience for me as well as for the students as well.

So that’s really important. So one of the things that I can say is that we’ve experienced each other prior to this. I consider you not only a friend, but someone who has an enormous amount of information to offer. And one of the things that I’ve noticed that’s sometimes missing with a lot of our students is that ability to connect. The ability to just connect with someone else and talk and network.

And so I wanted to know if maybe you could talk about your skillset, those soft skills, and maybe those skills that you don’t necessarily learn in the classroom, but what are some of those critical, soft skills that those entering into a business or a business field may need to succeed?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: Absolutely, Dr. Wyatt. I really call them essential skills if we can reframe that and call them or rename them and call them essential. Because if we, as business experts, as business developers, as business leaders, do not have the skillset to connect, to build relationships and relationships is at the core of what we need to do as business leaders. It makes it a very difficult situation and a difficult experience.

And then at the end of the day, you find out, well, I really do need to build a relationship with someone. So all of that to say is that because they are essential skills and I can speak from a place of actually being an omnivert. I’m somewhat introverted. I do like to go out and play, as I say. So that brings in some of my being more of an extrovert, but I’m right there in the middle.

I get recharged when I’m alone; I can think when I’m alone and it’s quiet. So that’s my introverted side. So case in point, I sometimes have to encourage myself to actually build a relationship or to encourage myself at a conference to make sure I get 10 names, 10 business cards, or connect with 10 people on LinkedIn. So I would challenge anyone that is in that place, that omnivert stage or the introverted stage, or even if you’re an extrovert, challenge yourself on a weekly basis to make 10 contacts. Whether you reach out on LinkedIn, you do your link with people that if you’re on LinkedIn, what you should be, of course, if you’re a business student or in the business realm, but to actually investigate and to identify individuals that could actually be in your industry or be in an industry that you’re interested in and just let them know that you want to connect with them through just some keywords.

“Hello, I found your LinkedIn,” of course, do your due diligence and look at their LinkedIn, maybe investigate their company a bit. So you’ll have something to say and say, “Hello. It was fantastic that I saw your article, or I really enjoyed reading your article or your company is very interesting to me is it possible, I can speak with you again, or I can send another contact to you that we can have a conversation,” and just build… I mean, I’m kind of jumping a bit, because you do want an introduction.

Tell them about yourself and who you are, but you also want to keep it short and concise because people don’t have a lot of time. But do connect with people either again by business card or LinkedIn or an article, or sometimes what I’ve done as well, if I’ve heard a podcast or if I attended a conference such as BEYA, which is where I saw Dr. Wyatt; she received an award.

And after hearing the introduction to the award and her accolades, I said, “This is someone who I would like to contact, someone I would like to have in my ecosystem.” So I actually reached out to Dr. Wyatt on LinkedIn and we connected.

And basically I said, “We were both at the BEYA Conference. Congratulations on your award. It would be an honor to actually have an additional conversation with you. I’m Jeannice Fairrer Samani. And this is my background.”

And of course you’re in a pretty safe space on LinkedIn because you do have their information there in front of you to actually speak to. And Dr. Wyatt was so gracious to connect with me. We had several conversations on LinkedIn, and then we had one invoice. And from there we built a relationship.

So that’s a progression of how that could happen in two different settings. One being either a cold call where you can do your due diligence online and actually seek out someone on a LinkedIn profile or in an article that you’ve read or in a conference setting or in a meeting setting that you want to connect with. Or in a podcast, podcasts and webinars are really big now, too.

So those are areas that you can actually be inspired by someone or find a connecting thread with that individual that you said, “Let’s have an additional conversation. Maybe I could be of service to you. Maybe there’s some intersection of what you do and what I do. And we can actually create a new project together.” Those are some of my tools.

And as you see Dr. Wyatt, it was successful because we connected. And actually Dr. Wyatt is serving on a board with me, which is incredible. And she’s bringing great energy and bringing her strengths forward in the leadership role as a board member.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s a real-life example of, I would say, the 21st-century version of the cold call and how that can actually turn into something productive. So thank you so much for just highlighting that example. I think that’s great for all of our listeners.

So let’s switch to another area. I mean, you’re a pioneer. You’re a pioneer in terms of your career in terms of the initiatives that you’ve started and again, your academic background. And sometimes when you’re a pioneer and you’re the first, you also encounter many challenges.

So in some cases, people have preconceived notions of what they think you can and cannot do. So let’s talk about how there are inherent biases in the workplace and especially in the business field. So how do you suggest that someone identifies these biases and then how do they address or work through these biases if they encounter them?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: Wow, that’s a powerful question. A lot of challenges, being a woman, and being a woman of color, there are definitely preconceptions of what one can do or what I can do or not.

Although I may be hired for a particular role, individuals, generally speaking, do hire based upon what they read on paper. They really don’t have any further information other than what is in black and white.

So what I would challenge individuals to do, and it has been a challenge for me because I have a broadband if you will, of skillsets. So what I would challenge individuals to do is so you can be happy and have the best fit in your particular role in your company is to allow yourself to go into a position and contribute what you can at the level that is highest to where you perform.

So if you perform at a higher expectation than what is given of you, then do that and make sure that you document the additional, what you’re doing, the additional added value that you’re bringing to your organization.

Because quite often it is a challenge. If you’re given a project that is lower than what is your skillset, which quite often happens. So what I have had to do is do exactly what I suggested is, just to perform at your ultimum and to say that, “Well, this is what I’ve provided, but this is additional information.”

I can give you an example. I was hired by Cisco Systems, and this organization brought me in as a developer for a new product that they were creating. So I actually was starting in an internal business within an organization. And it was fantastic, but all the pieces were not aligned when I came in.

So they just said, “Well, we’ll bring you in, and then we’ll ask you to do other things.” So I began to work as a business analyst and did other projects, but meanwhile, my skillset allowed me to do predictions and to do advanced work and the actual development within the scope of this business analyst role.

So I was reporting, I was two layers down from the VP at that time. So I actually did the scope of work that was asked of me, but then I said, “Oh, this is kind of fun.” So I actually moved into doing more predictive analysis and providing graphs and actually just elevated what they asked me to do as an analyst and provided additional information.

And it was much appreciated. It was acknowledged actually by the VP, but of course I gave it to my boss first to sign off on it and to say, “Well, this is how we could take this down the road.” And it was much appreciated.

So that was one example of how I took a position that had lower — I’m just using the terminology, lower — expectations of my skillset and allowed it to actually blossom into folding into my actual next role with them.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: You are such a wealth of information, and I’m almost sad that we’re toward the end of our podcast. So as we start to wrap this up, what resources would you recommend, or maybe what are some resources you’ve used or provided in the past that could help individuals not only become more business-savvy, but help incorporate business into what they’re doing in their current position or everyday lives?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: I highly recommend taking MOOC classes. As many, and of course, if you’re in an existing program, challenge yourself within that existing program and allow yourself to bring in your particular passion projects.

So if you’re given an assignment and the professor or the instructor may leave it open-ended for you to actually bring in your ideas to it, I highly recommend that. Think about projects that will challenge you and allow you to do that next level of investigation as I gave in my last example. That you can actually build out your strengths from where they are to apply or your existing strengths to actually apply them, I think would be amazing.

And also to develop opportunities for yourself within partnerships and being able to work with other individuals on other opportunities. And Dr. Wyatt, what were some of your other areas that you were asking about there?

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So I was asking just for resources. So for someone who’s listening today and they want that to become more business-savvy, what would you recommend or maybe another way to phrase the question is looking back on your career, what is something that maybe you wish you had known earlier in your career that might help someone now as they’re venturing forward and they’re trying to become more business-savvy or just enhance their business acumen skills?

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: I read a lot. Some of the resources were “Lead and Disrupt.” That is by Michael Tushman. I read books from Christensen, MIT and Michael Porter.

So Harvard-type business reviews, always keeping abreast of new and exciting materials coming down the pipe and also subscribing to Wall Street Journal. I still subscribe to Wall Street Journal and read certain segments of Wall Street Journal on a daily basis.

So keeping fresh and alert as to new theories, new ideas and new practical, best practices that are coming down the pipe. So articles and newspapers are usually more current if you will then textbooks, but definitely some of the key textbooks from Tushman Christensen, as well as Porter, and Collins, “Good to Great” is always a nice foundational book as well.

And some of the things that I wish I would have known. Time management, I said in grad school, I think that it should be a course that they give you within a project management type of idea.

I mean, I completely see the course, but time management is an incredible, incredible, essential tool that I utilize. And that’s how I’m able to spin as many places I can.

And sometimes it is to the point where you feel as though there’s only one pie and maybe those slices you’re taking away from one slice of the pie to move to another. And in a lot of cases, that’s true. But also as you work through those particular projects or pieces of the pie, you’re actually able to shrink those naturally because you can bring in other resources, other individuals with skillsets. You may recall, I mentioned about having diverse thought that also brings in the diverse skillset.

So you can partner with other individuals to help you along the way. So you can actually continue to spin those plates that you really enjoy to utilize those projects that you truly enjoy doing. And you can continue to build and build a resistance, build sustainability around those and move forward with your initiatives. So again, time management is key, as well as knowing that business is founded on relationships and building your ecosystem is fundamental to success in business and in life.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Wow. All of those are really great pieces and nuggets that I think all of our listeners can take away. I’ll tell you at American Public University, we have a very large contingent of our student population that’s in the military, and we have a very large contingent that are working adults. So definitely I can resonate with the fact that time management is critical, no matter what you’re doing, but especially when you try and balance work and home and education.

So thank you for that. And just thank you for today. Thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on this issue. And thank you for joining me for this podcast.

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani: It truly has been an honor. And a pleasure. Thank you, Dr. Wyatt.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: All right. Thank you. And again, this was Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani and I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Thank you to our listeners for joining us, and please be well and be safe. Thank you.

About the Speakers

Dr. Kandis Wyatt, PMP, is a full-time professor of Transportation and Logistics Management in the School of Business at American Public University. Professionally, Dr. Wyatt has implemented process development practices, designed and created instruction, and developed procedures and programs for civilian employees. Dr. Wyatt’s teaching philosophy includes emphasizing the importance of being an information facilitator and content guider to help students apply real life experiences to foundational principles. Online teaching is more than teaching to the test; it is creating an online learning community. The traditional role of the instructor has changed from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” Dr. Wyatt’s teaching style includes creating an environment that emphasizes diverse talents and ways of learning, prompt feedback, and active learning. 

Dr. Jeannice Fairrer Samani, MBA, takes a vision and makes it a reality. She is a rarity and distinguished executive leader in technology and business intelligence. Jeannice has had a 20-year technical career in Silicon Valley as an executive manager and as a lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University and Santa Clara University in the School of Engineering. Currently, she is the CEO at Fairrer Samani Group, LLC, a global business intelligence consulting firm; Fifth Wave, a STEM education initiative; and the managing director of Nextogen, integration of business and IT engineering. Jeannice has led successful scaling to global markets and led innovative initiatives to build top-performing organizations with management “bench strength” and staying power.

Jeannice led cross-functional teams, managed and strategized diversity and inclusion initiatives to drive change for women in technology. She developed and managed a dashboard platform for the engineering department at Cisco Systems and business system manager for the information technology products. Jeannice has received a number of awards from community and business organizations. An architect and mentor for the TechWomen program for eight years, Jeannice has traveled to Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East as a delegate on behalf of the U.S. Department of State as an advocate for girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She serves as advisor for Space Apps NASA in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, Ignite Stanford University graduate business school program, and an advisor for Santa Clara University School of Engineering and Carnegie Mellon graduate students.

Jeannice holds a bachelor’s in political economics/city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley; a master’s in city and regional planning-transportation engineering from UC Berkeley and an MBA in management and sustainability from Golden Gate University. She also holds a Ph.D. in business administration from Columbus University, and management development entrepreneurship (MDE) certification from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her postdoctoral work from Stanford is in business management.

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