Engineering a turnaround? From MIT to Nutrisystem

No offense to chief executives, but why would someone with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT choose to run a non-engineering business -- even a big business like Nutrisystem? Shouldn't someone with that kind of top-notch pedigree be off inventing something?

That's the question I posed to Dawn Zier, the CEO brought in to turn around Nutrisystem Inc., the Fort Washington weight loss company that had been losing pounds (in revenues and profits), if U.S. currency matched Britain's.

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Dawn Zier

"I loved math and I loved numbers and I thought it was interesting and I went and studied it and it was interesting, but I really couldn't see myself sitting in an office all day and writing software code or putting circuits together," Zier told me during our Leadership Agenda interview, published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "But I have to say that it was the best thing I ever did, even though I only practiced engineering for two years at AT&T before I went off and did something else. My electrical engineering and computer science degree taught me how to think. It taught me how to solve problems," she said.

I asked her to elaborate.

"What I learned to do was take complex issues and break them down into modules or components," she said. "That’s how you write software, you write modules and so, I use that in my thinking to this day.

"if we have a complex business issue, I try to break it into its sub-parts which makes it manageable and then you can see progress along the way," she said. "If you find something that’s not working, you can go back to the individual blocks and be aware of what went wrong instead of having to try to figure out what went wrong from scratch. It really takes things that can seem overwhelming and makes it manageable. It makes it less daunting."

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