Engineers are useless at business!

In a recent episode of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar said “I’ve never met an engineer that was any good at business.” Let me tell you, I’ve worked with many engineers as a leadership and management specialist, and I know different.

Engineers can make excellent managers, who produce good business results; they just need to be shown how. They’re usually bright, open to learning, work well with the right processes and aren’t afraid to experiment and adjust until they get it right. All the same qualities that makes them good engineers.

Whether you believe your engineers were born with those qualities or not, they still needed to be taught the technical skills and given the chance to practice them on the job.

My management development programmes provide the same kinds of learning opportunities and I structure them to suit how engineers prefer to learn.

How are you supporting your managers to increase profits, performance and productivity?

If you’d like to know how I can help, please email me at

14 Responses to Engineers are useless at business!

  • One of the smartest business men I know is a young civil engineer who’s remarkable business sense has kept his company out ahead and working in this current harsh environment. He’s about to become a partner. Yeah…He’s a real business moron…Any company would love to have this rainmaker.

  • My experience (both personal and as a long-time learning and development practitioner) suggests that your headline could have “engineers” replaced with “accountants, chemists, doctors, etc”. In most professions the initial training relates to the technical aspects of the profession and any ‘business’ training is incidental and/or as add-on modules.
    I spent 10 years learning ‘how to shake test-tubes” effectively (I started out as an analytical chemist) and only when I had been in supervisory/management poszitions for a while did I realise that the ‘technical’ aspects (and I include both hard and soft skills) were a whole new field of learning upon which I needed to embark.
    We would not let anyone design a bridge without engineering qualifications, how come we let people supervise/manage/lead other people without the appropriate modicum of learning about how to do that job effectively?

    So, engineers/accountants/doctors etc CAN be good managers, they just need to learn how to do it.

  • I am communication engineer, used to have my own company for media & advertising for 3 years, but at the end I failed, I knew that am not that good in business,
    But after that failure, another gift waited me, I found out that am very smart in planing strategy & vision, I have planned organization chart for the state.

    Thank you

    • “As one door closes another one opens.” and sometimes you need to know when to shut the door yourself! It’s great that the process you came through, although no doubt painful at times, allowed you to find and make the best use of your strengths. Thanks for contributing your experience.

  • I worked as and Engineer for 30 years. The best managers and business people I have ever known were & are Engineers. I worked under people with business degrees who ran companies into the ground. Engineers know if you make a good product that works as advertised and last the comsumer will come back time after time. Business people just worry about the bottom line.
    Besides where would the world be if not for Engineers.
    My openion
    Great Blog.

  • You hooked me with the title! It’s easy to understand why some people feel this way and it may be true in part but to compartmentalize ALL engineers this way is simply short-sighted. Engineering demands a focus and attention to detail on mostly non-business applications. You’re right – they just need to be shown how. Their minds are programmed to be analytical and channeling those analytical skills in another direction can be very effective.

  • “Engineers are useless at business!”. Well, if I use my example – I studied and practiced engineering before moving on to business. I have served at the VP level (commercial) in more than one companies and currently sit on the board of two companies. I have also had success as an entrepreneur.
    As with anything else, the change was not achieved overnight. I have an MBA and have been on several management devellopment programs.
    BTW – Many leading management thorists are engineers – Kaplan and Norton comes to mind readily. Unfortunatley, in many/most anglophone countries engineering skills are highly undervalued – to the countries’ detriment.

    • Thanks for the useful insight Anthony. Although I have worked quite extensively with engineers, I haven’t been aware enough about this issue of being undervalued, or of the strength of feelings around this. Why do you think it’s happening? I’d really appreciate knowing more about where this perception of engineers comes from and the impact it’s having.

  • “Engineers are useless at business!” That’s really funny! Back when I was in Engineering school (and I mean Engineering, not Computer Science), we were learning about economics, project management, ethics and law to prepare us for the world of business. We were also hearing that most of will wind up in management or business consulting at some point in our careers. Fifteen years later, I can confirm that is the case. Some Engineers, just like some artists, even accountants, are not cut out for running a business. That’s fine. The business needs them to continue excelling at what they do best.

    Good management development programs will help leaders/managers grow, regardless of background.

  • Well said Julie

    This is a dangerous myth we need to dispel. As a professional engineer / manager and management educator, I was incensed by Lord Sugar’s ill informed comments and blogged about it the following day.

    There are major issues about both how we view Engineers in this country and our attitude to management training – these hold the country back!

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for your comments. I have read you blog now and we’re aligned on many points:

      Our opinion of Alan Sugar and his comments
      The general mis-perception of engineers
      Our integrated approach to management development

      I find that re-assuring. Thanks for the link to your blog

    • Jim. Please see my response to Anthony. Why are engineers undervalued? How does this manifest itself and what is the impact. I’d really appreciate your views?

  • After 30 years in engineering and large capital equipment sales, there are plenty that need your help, Julie. I have a hall to fill in February 2012. Want to join me?

    • I’d love to join you Charles. Lets talk!
      Meanwhile, just send any of those engineers that need help with their management development my way. I’m here and waiting! 🙂

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