When an EMBA classmate asked Rich Kerr, WG’20, if he had experience that might help in developing a COVID-19 test, he was intrigued. With a background in veterinary immunology and infectious disease, he had seen coronavirus before, but could not be sure if that experience would translate to humans.
Looking at reports, Rich recalled, “I got a shiver down my spine. While, genetically, SARS-COV-2 is reasonably distinct from the virus that infects animals, the clinical presentation is near identical. That coupled with a computational model of how the disease progresses pointed to an easily overlooked clinical finding: mild anemia.”
He explained that “mild anemia is a commonly reported clinical finding in COVID-19 patients and complicates low blood oxygen saturation. The anemia itself can be thought of as a symptom of an underlying condition that explains low blood oxygen levels in the early stages of disease.”
Rich is now working on a prophylactic treatment to reduce the severity of COVID-19 and plans to seek funding for clinical trials.
Focusing on Animal Health
Working on cutting-edge health issues is nothing new for Rich. He studied molecular pathology and designed predictive protein interaction models in his PhD program. As a graduate student, he led research projects on norovirus, a major cause of food-borne illness, and worked with the U.S. Department of Defense to study the effects of spent lead shot on animal health.
After completing his PhD, Rich joined IDEXX Laboratories, where he worked on animal health diagnostics for high-profile clients like the Walt Disney Company and Busch Gardens. Subsequently, he worked for Daisy Farms, expanding their diagnostic testing capability, and building machine learning models to improve dairy animal health and productivity.
Throughout his career, Rich had an interest in getting an MBA to help bring ideas from the lab into the commercial space. He explained, “My advisor always said that doing good science isn’t enough. We have a responsibility to get that knowledge out into the world. I wanted an MBA to learn how to do that at scale.”
Gaining New Perspectives
Looking at EMBA programs, Rich was “blown away” by the caliber of the faculty and students at Wharton. “I had visited several schools, but the quality of the people and level of alumni engagement at Wharton was outstanding. In the end, I only applied to Wharton,” he said.
One of his favorite memories of the program is the Quantico Leadership Venture, where EMBA students spend a weekend training with Marines to learn about fast decision-making, team-based problem solving, and effective strategic thinking. “The Quigley, a seemingly never-ending crawl through mud and swamp water, challenges you physically and mentally to dig deep for your teammates. That hands-on experience taught me a lot about making decisions under uncertainty and was one of the most valuable leadership experiences of the program,” he said.
As for the more traditional classes, Rich found them “eye opening.” “In the laboratory, we often develop a technology first and then seek a market. In our marketing classes, we learned how to find and analyze a market, then build a product to meet that need. It sounds like a simple concept, but it completely changed the way I approach technical design.”
Discovering New Career Opportunities
Throughout the program, Rich took advantage of the individual career coaching offered to EMBA students. Working with Steve Hernandez, director of career management in San Francisco, he was encouraged to reflect on his long-term career interests and goals.
“Steve asked, ‘What do you want to do with your career?’ I wanted to leverage my MBA and go in a different direction. Looking at job descriptions was a good start, but I didn’t want to make a decision based on reading a handful of those. I wanted to review hundreds, if not thousands of job descriptions, to really know what was out there,” he recalled.
Applying his background in data science, he created an algorithm to help identify interesting roles through keyword analysis. “I found that I had applicable experience across a broad array of roles, but was using the wrong language on my resume to describe it.” Using the keywords from the algorithm, he updated his resume and posted it to several job search sites.
“The impact was immediate. I went from receiving two to five recruiting emails a month to a dozen overnight and 250 in the first month. Revising the algorithm to make it smarter and updating my online resumes with the new keywords delivered more than 400 recruiting emails in a single month,” he said. “After running keyword analysis for several of my classmates, it became clear that the right keywords were the main barrier between candidates and companies. We went through a year of testing and founded Quuery to help job seekers struggling to find the right language for their resumes.”
Quuery also helped Rich find a new role at PepsiCo. He explained, “I received an email from a recruiter who found my resume online. When I talked to PepsiCo’s Data Science team, I was extremely impressed by the quality of leadership on display. My colleagues are an outstanding group of world-class scientists, engineers, marketers, and thought leaders bringing the power of data science and analytics to a global scale.”
Rich credits Wharton’s EMBA program with helping him leverage his prior education and experience in the business world to make a greater impact. “Wharton helped me to move to a customer centric, global perspective and opened the door to a new, more impactful way of thinking.”
— By Meghan Laska
Posted: September 24, 2020